Woman with Down Syndrome Marks 20 Years of Employment at Children’s

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This September marks my daughter’s, Gretchen’s, 20-year work anniversary at Cincinnati Children’s.

It’s an exciting milestone for anyone, but it’s particularly remarkable for her.

That’s because she has Down syndrome and 20 years ago it was not very common for young adults with her medical condition to have jobs – let alone meaningful ones.

I would occasionally see someone bagging groceries or bussing tables, but I wanted more for her. I hoped she could find a fulfilling job that utilized her abilities, and to ultimately become self-sufficient.

Fortunately, Gretchen’s teacher at the time was good friends with Erin Riehle. Erin came up with the idea to have some high school-age students work at Cincinnati Children’s to gain work experience. And ultimately, this concept blossomed into Project SEARCH. She thought that Cincinnati Children’s was doing an amazing job of providing medical care to patients but wanted to help them become capable employees there at the medical center.

About Project SEARCH

Today Project SEARCH collaborates with members of the community who have anything to do with employment and training of people with disabilities. They bring together experts from education, vocational rehab and developmental disabilities to create a 9-month program for teens in their last year of high school. They have a 75% success rate of helping youngsters in the program get jobs after graduation.

When Gretchen started working at Cincinnati Children’s through Project SEARCH 20 years ago, she was quiet and shy. She began with a data entry position and then moved to materials management, where she cleaned and sorted bottles. As she got better at her job, she became more confident. She enjoyed having a routine, going to work five days a week, eating lunch with her friends, and feeling like she was a part of something.

Over the years as she gained more skills, her duties increased. And so did her self-assurance, determination, and personality. Today she’s a part of Child Life, cleaning toys for kids in the hospital and she loves it. She takes a cart up to different patient floors, collects toys and brings them back downstairs for cleaning. Every day she interacts with kids, families, and staff. And she sees how her role fits in with the mission of the hospital. She knows she’s helping babies and children stay healthy.

Having young people like Gretchen out in the workforce accomplishes many things. But the one that sticks out most in my mind is the hope that it brings. Families can ask their children with Down syndrome what they want to be when they grow up. And they’ll be able to look around in the community and see people just like them working jobs they may want to do in the future.

Not too many people can boast that they’ve loved every day of their 20-year career, but I think Gretchen truly has. Project SEARCH has given her a place to grow, learn and blossom into a self-sufficient woman. I couldn’t be more proud of her and everything she has accomplished.

Happy 20th Anniversary, Gretchen!


Florence Koetters

About the Author: Florence Koetters

Florence Koetters is the proud mother of two: Gretchen, age 42, and Joe, age 40. She is recently widowed, travels extensively with her family, plays bridge and belongs to a wonderful book club. She has served on many boards over the years, including CCDD, May Festival, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and has been a docent at the Cincinnati Art Museum for 30 years.

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  1. Jennifer August 31, 11:16
    Congratulations Gretchen 20 years with Cincinnati children's. My baby Ally just had surgery at Cincinnati children's to close a PDA heart. They were so good to her. Keep up the good work. ? ? ?
  2. Fran Palermo August 31, 16:06
    Congratulations, Gretchen! You are an inspiration!
  3. RG September 05, 09:57
    Wonderful!! I've been in awe of Project SEARCH since the first day I learned about it. Such an amazing program. The beautiful team of people running the program is only outshined by the incredible program participants and alumni. Gretchen is an inspiration for so many individuals of all ages and abilities. Thank you Proud Mama for sharing her story with us!
  4. Linda September 06, 16:37
    Way to go Gretchen! My daughter Eden started her first internship rotation yesterday in a Project Search program in Southern California. Wow! She came home so happy and enthused! Thank you both to you, Gretchen, as well as to Cincinnati Children's Hospital for paving the way for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities around the world -- giving them a chance to share their abilities and gifts to serve others in meaningful jobs.
  5. Alison Kissling September 07, 09:18
    I had the pleasure of working with Gretchen when she first started 20 years ago in the Rubinstein Library. Gretchen is wonderful, hard working young woman who came work everyday with a big smile and positive attitude, ready to do whatever we needed. I miss seeing her but am so glad that she continues to spread joy here at Cincinnati Children's. Gretchen, congratulations on your 20th anniversary! You are amazing!
  6. Candy September 28, 23:10
    You go Gretchen. What an awesome story, one that deserves going viral. We are partnering with Project SEARCH at our hospital, and I only hope I can be involved in the process.
  7. stacy October 09, 12:02
    Congratulations Gretchen! on 20 wonderful years!