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Project SEARCH Expands Into Danbury

The transition from high school and into the workforce can be a daunting challenge for many people with disabilities. But through ProjectSEARCH, we’ve been able to help dozens of our clients learn marketable skills and receive gainful employment in the community. 

Because of our success, we’ve been able to grow the program and provide more opportunities for students throughout the region. Our newest program is launching this fall in Danbury  thanks to a partnership with Nuvance Health. 

The SEARCH is on in Danbury

Thirty weeks. Five days a week. Six hours a day. 

That’s the amount of work experience that a high school intern gains when they participate in Project SEARCH at Ability Beyond!

Project SEARCH is a nine-month internship program that matches talented young adults in their last year of special education with real-world job training. We deliver the model with educational partners at New Rochelle High School and Norwalk Public Schools; and with host business sites such as Montefiore Medical Center, Norwalk Community College, and Norwalk Hospital. 

These notable institutions are where Project SEARCH interns learn, work, and build friendships during their time in the program. 

Beginning in September 2023, interns will also get to work at Danbury Hospital thanks to our partnership with Nuvance Health! Email our team to learn more and join the cohort.

“Project SEARCH is a good opportunity to obtain skills for independent living and learning more about yourself,” said Antonio, a 2022 graduate. 

Last year Antonio was hired straight from his internship at Norwalk Hospital to work as a patient dining associate with Morrison Healthcare, the hospital’s food service provider.

Since 2017, 68 students have participated in Project SEARCH at Ability Beyond. Our goal is for all interns to secure competitive, year-round employment in their community, at or above the prevailing wage rate. On average, 80% of graduates have done so—and counting! 

Project SEARCH is a win-win for young adults who gain exposure to diverse job options,  and companies that benefit from the unique talents our interns deliver. “It’s a great feeling:  helping an intern learn and also getting help at the same time,” says Cassandra Dias in the psychiatry department of Norwalk Hospital. 

Experts in job placement 

Since 1968, young people with disabilities have come to Ability Beyond for employment support as they transition from high school into the working world. 

That’s what inspired us to bring the award-winning Project SEARCH model to those we support. Project SEARCH was developed in the ’90s at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to prepare young people with disabilities for “success in competitive integrated employment.” 

Ability Beyond adopted the model in 2017, leveraging our strong community partnerships and expertise in job placement to connect young adult clients with life-changing work opportunities. 

The results have been outstanding: 

  • Between 2017 and 2021, an average of 8 in 10 graduating interns from our Montefiore program found non-seasonal work with a prevailing wage for more than 16 hours a week.
  • In 2021, 100% of interns from Norwalk Community College did so.
  • Among Norwalk Hospital interns in 2022, 75% have secured employment—and graduates are still being placed in jobs!

A day-in-the-life of a Project SEARCH intern

Over the course of a Project SEARCH program year, interns will complete three 10-week internships, each focused on a different area of employment. For instance, Norwalk Hospital interns have gained experience in food service, the maternity and emergency units, the post-anesthesia care unit, and the ambulatory surgery department.

Interns report to work in the morning and take a skill-building class with peers before they begin their shifts. Reflection and planning are also built into the daily schedule. Twice per internship cycle, family members and support staff come together to discuss a student’s progress and how to foster their continued growth. 

“In Project SEARCH, I was able to learn how to get a job, save money, be a better self-advocate, and how to talk to people,” said our 2022 graduate Antonio.

Even after a young adult graduates from Project SEARCH, Ability Beyond continues to provide coaching, progress check-ins, and skill building. Our ultimate goal is to place individuals into permanent competitive jobs after they complete the program. 

“It’s a super fun and creative program embedded in the workplace,” says Carrie O’Connell, Senior Director of Programs and Services. 

Help us find our next cohort of interns!

Do you know a young adult with special needs who is graduating high school soon and wants to prepare for the workforce? 

We are currently accepting applications for the 2023-24 Project SEARCH year at Danbury Hospital. To  learn more about Project SEARCH and how you can get involved, please contact Kaitlyn Appley at