Special needs Westside students get work at...

Posted at 2:54 PM, Apr 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-19 17:41:17-04

It's a taxing morning in the gift shop at Children's Hospital and Medical Center. The day is full of tasks for Shannon Burke, 20.

Sorting merchandise, scanning and checking out customers, chatting up people who stop through. That's the whole point though. Burke says she enjoys interacting with the patients.

"They're stressed out because of the surgeries. They're recovering, and that kind of stuff. And they come in here and it makes their day better," she said.

Burke is one of ten Westside students participating in Project Search. The program provides a transition for high school students with disabilities, putting them in jobs that already exist. Roles like lab cleaning, cashier work, cafeteria and even assisting in the rehab lab. It's in the first year at Children's Omaha, but nationally Project Search has been around for a few decades.

Children's is just one company working with omaha school districts through Project Search. Companies like PayPal, Valmont, and Embassy Suites have gotten in on the action too.

At Children's, the students are inspiring their coworkers too, and bonding with them.

Sydney Hanel turned 21 this year, and enjoyed celebrating her birthday with the team she interns with in the phlebotomy lab. It's a lab she knew well as a child.

"When I was little, I had a stroke. So I was paralyzed on my left side. I can't use my left side, I was born with half a heart," she explains. 

But her setback hasn't changed her work ethic. Hanel says she enjoys when the lab is at its busiest, making cleaning and putting patients on a paging system go faster.

"It feels great," Hanel says.

The inspiration goes beyond the coworkers. Rhonda Ervin, director of rehab for Children's says the students on the rotations patients.

These students aren't only inspiring the people they work with, it's uplifting the patients. Ervin says there's things patients families relate to the interns.

"When they see kids with different abilities actually working in Children's, it just has them open to seeing their kids could have jobs too and be contributing members of society," she said.

"It feels great," Hanel says.