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From student intern to WellSpan team member

WellSpan recently explored the lived experience of being neurodiverse and having a brain disability during Celebrating Diversity Month in April. Alan Leash, a team member with autism, has been working hard and growing since we first met him in a Project SEARCH story two years ago.

Alan, a housekeeper at WellSpan York Hospital, dreamed of owning a home with his father, Scott Leash. Thanks to WellSpan’s Project SEARCH program, that dream came true just before Christmas in 2021, when they bought their first home together.

A 2020 graduate of Project SEARCH, an education and training program for young adults with disabilities, Alan, 23, was hired full-time as a housekeeping staff while participating in the program.

Project SEARCH is a one-year school-work program for 18-21 year olds at WellSpan York and Gettysburg hospitals. Students gain valuable experience through on-the-job training and classroom instruction.

Each year, student interns learn important communication and life skills, how to manage a budget, and how to search for a job. They rotate through various departments, including housekeeping/environmental services, food and nutrition services, patient transportation, laundry, retail store, and front desk.

During his time as an intern student, Alan acquired different professional skills as part of his training.

“I learned how to take out the trash all over the hospital, clean the stairs, the elevators and the parking lot,” he said. “It was like school, but I was also starting to work. I liked it!”

Currently, Alan is a member of a housekeeping team of over 175 responsible for cleaning the elevators and stairwells at WellSpan York Hospital.

Although working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has limited how Alan and others have carried out their daily duties, he has embraced his duties.

“When I started, I was a bit afraid of getting sick, but I knew I had to keep things clean so no one else got sick,” he explained.

Now, two years later, Alan continues with that same work ethic and follows his daily checklist, only now he’s armed with his own pager and available at all times.

“Alan has so much enthusiasm for the job that he’s excited to come to work every day,” said Alan Rasmussen, director of environmental services at WellSpan York Hospital. “When I offered him the job, he asked me ‘Can I work here forever?’ I told him yes, he can work here as long as he wants.

Through Project SEARCH and his permanent job, Alan said he gained the confidence he needed to make lots of friends, become more responsible and be successful in his job.

“Alan had such a positive impact on all of us in the department and the hospital,” Rasmussen explained. “He’s just a great example of someone who loves what he does, where he works, and he brightens our day with his unbridled enthusiasm, his desire to always do his best and his passion for cleaning.”

It also had a positive effect on Alan. “I don’t think I’m as shy and quiet as I used to be,” he said. “I wanted to help people, that’s why I wanted to be part of the SEARCH project.”

Impacting lives for over a decade

Project SEARCH is a collaboration between WellSpan, Lincoln’s Intermediate Unit, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), York/Adams Mental Health Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (MH-IDD) Program, and participating school districts.

Now in his 12and year at WellSpan York Hospital and seventh year at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital, graduates have not only been hired at WellSpan but also in area companies.

Since the program began at York, 96 student interns have graduated and 81% have obtained employment, with 31 of those students being hired by WellSpan. At Gettysburg, 32 students have graduated from the program since its inception, of which 25 students, or 78%, have obtained employment.

This year, one of the interns is working at Wendy’s while others seek employment at local businesses and area colleges, according to Nicolle LeGore, Project SEARCH teacher, WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital.

Like Alan, many graduates do remarkable things, added Ruth Moore, SEARCH project coordinator at WellSpan York Hospital.

In addition to working their way into full-time jobs, they got their driver’s license, bought cars, saved money for vacations, bought houses, and got married.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding to see the growth of interns – not just over the year at Project SEARCH, but over the years,” Ruth said.

As for Alan’s father, he thinks the impact of the training program on Alan is incredible.

“He’s more social in new environments and I think he’s gained tremendous independence,” Scott said.

What’s next for Alan? He works to get his driver’s license and owns his own van.

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