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!