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A completion ceremony was held June 6 at Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Dells for six Project SEARCH interns.

The interns wore black gowns and mortarboards — just like high school graduates — and each person received a completion certificate.

The program was founded in 1996 by Erin Riehle, director of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Emergency Department, and Susie Rutkowski, then-special education teacher at Great Oaks Career Campuses in Cincinnati.

Riehle came up with the idea when she decided the hospital should commit to hiring individuals with developmental disabilities since it served this population. Riehle then presented the idea of training developmentally disabled individuals for entry-level positions with a high turnover rate to Rutkowski and Project SEARCH was born.

The program is now international and its goal is to secure competitive jobs for people with disabilities.

The Dells chapter of Project SEARCH is hosted by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions. Kalahari provides a classroom and internships.

The project is able to host 12 individuals annually for on-the-job training; however, only six participated in the 2018 internship program.

The six interns who participated are: Taylor Cook, Daniela Hix, Paula Maheu, Kayla Mundt, Travis Shallenberger and Curtis Shoemaker.

Skills trainers, a job developer and an instructor work with the individuals to help them develop the proper skills to secure employment while Kalahari provides the positions for placement.

“Our goal is to hire the students at Kalahari,” said Pamela Sorci, Project SEARCH instructor for Wisconsin Dells at Kalahari.

The job developer works with employers in local communities to secure employment for the students and the skills trainer works with Kalahari employees to train the interns in their positions at the resort, Sorci said.

Sorci teaches job skills, interviewing skills, team building, communication, money management and resume development. The students also are taught skills to help them maintain their positions, she said.

This year’s interns were placed in various positions in different departments: housekeeping, kitchen, banquets, water-park, indoor theme park and laundry.

“Some of these positions require a lot of patience and attention to detail,” Sorci said.

The program was introduced to Kalahari by Traci Jones, corporate director of human resources, Sorci said.

There also is a Project SEARCH hosted by Sauk Prairie Healthcare in Prairie du Sac.