Canadian Valley's Nunez Imagines a Limitless Future
Annali Nunez explains her role in the Project SEARCH program at CVTC to Special Needs Coordinator Amy Perkey, Project SEARCH instructor Megan Haley, and El Reno High School students Tangela Franklin and Traisha Hester.
YUKON – Annali Nunez chooses to focus on the brighter side of the wheelchair on which she sits. The mobility it provides suppresses the reason she needs it.
Nunez, 18, of Union City, was born with spina bifida, the most common defect among newborns. It caused paralysis from the waist down, because the bones of her spine did not form properly around part of her spinal cord.
The 2014 Union City High School graduate enrolled at Canadian Valley Technology Center last year looking for career inspiration.
She found it months later as a participant in CV Tech's new Project SEARCH program that is designed to teach employability skills for students with significant disabilities.
The program originated at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in the mid 1990s. Canadian Valley launched its program this year in collaboration with INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital, the Department of Rehabilitation Services, Dale Rogers Training Center, and the National Center for Disability Education and Training.
Completion of the program requires Nunez to finish three rotations during a year-long unpaid internship in various departments at the Yukon hospital, which is the host business. Hospital staff provide facilities and opportunities for six student interns.
"I worked in medical records for 12 weeks, and I'm working in admissions right now," she said. "I'm using the skills I have learned to help people."
The considerable amount of personal satisfaction has inspired Nunez to consider a career in the health care industry.
"This helps me prove to people that I can succeed," she said. "The program mentors at the hospital have accepted me, and my instructors are so good."
Nunez plans to enroll in college courses upon graduation next spring. She said the program inspired her to complete driving school and obtain a driver's license.
Such independence will be a huge benefit driving to and from college classes and work, said Project SEARCH instructor Marti Brown. Nunez must purchase a vehicle that can be outfitted with hand controls, which will allow her to drive without her feet.
Nunez attends Canadian Valley thanks to the school's Next Step Scholarship, which provides free tuition to students under age 24 who live in the district.
Brown said Project SEARCH is a program that has the ability to not only change the lives of students but their entire families.
"Through on-the-job training, life skill instruction and mentoring and support, the interns have the opportunity to create a meaningful career path that will lead to successful employment in the immediate future and throughout their lives," she said.
"It has the power to change a life from receiving disability benefits and not having the ability to work, to a life of financial independence and the freedom to make choice in their lives."
The program builds a network of supports for the intern at the host business site, as well as in the community, Brown said.
"Through the work of the partners on the team, interns have access to resources for their employment, financial planning, budgeting, accessing needed medical services, independent living, transportation needs and personal care," she said. "This support system is crucial to the success of the intern and the program."
Brown said the program increases overall disability awareness in the community, which benefits families across the community.
"Project SEARCH provides more than a chance to simply succeed, but a chance to live," she said.
Rex Van Meter, president at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital, said the partnership with the technology center has benefited the hospital in many ways.
"The students are eager to learn and they have certain skills sets that are perfect for work in many departments of the hospital," he said. "Currently, we have students performing meaningful work in the departments of registration, materials handling, environmental services, and dietary.
"They have quickly become a valuable member of our team and their work helps us fulfill our mission to improve the health of the people and communities we serve."
Project SEARCH intern candidates are required to complete applications and undergo an interview along with family. They must have an active DRS case file and have a desire to be employed.
The invitation-only program is for high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24. Each student must have successfully completed at least one year of training at a technology center.
For Nunez and others, the program has made career plans possible that were never dreamed of before.
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