Shad Isaac’s dreams are similar to most 20-year-olds. He dreams of learning a trade, finding a career path and leaving a positive mark on the world.
Isaac simply dreams from the seat of a wheelchair.
Now, thanks to a unique partnership between Mercy, Francis Tuttle Technology Center, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services and the National Center for Disability Education and Training at the University of Oklahoma, Isaac’s dreams can become reality. Isaac is one of eight young adults with disabilities selected to participate in Project SEARCH, a school year-long employment training program at Mercy Health Center where interns are placed in various entry-level positions, from security to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to the emergency room.
Interns who successfully complete the program are eventually placed in permanent jobs across the metro. Other program interns working with Francis Tuttle instructors and Mercy co-workers include Jerry Ahlfield, Amanda Berkenbile, Alex Fruits, Justin Gambel, Kera Griggs, Lauren Nunn and Michael Walborn.
“What an amazing program,” said Dennis Moore, Francis Tuttle’s program coordinator. “I see these shy, timid young people come in here, unsure of their abilities. Then, before you know it, they are handling jobs in the ER and NICU. Suddenly, they have confidence and hope for the future.
“Honestly, it’s an uplifting and emotional process to watch.”
For Isaac, the program represents something even more profound.
Eighteen years ago he first arrived at Mercy in desperate need of therapy after a spinal surgery. Birth defects left him in danger of full paralysis. Mercy’s rehabilitation therapy harbored Isaac for the next nine years as he battled to develop strength and mobility. His rehabilitation was hard and arduous, but ultimately successful.
Despite being primarily bound to a wheelchair, Isaac now enjoys full strength above the waist and lives an extremely active life. Each day he engages in recreational activities such as weight lifting, kayaking, rock climbing and basketball.
This week Isaac returned to Mercy’s outpatient therapy as a Project SEARCH intern. He will work for a 10-week rotation in the very setting he first tackled life.
“Several of us have watched Shad grow up,” said Diane Pennington, a supervisor at Mercy Therapy Services. “To see him come full circle is so very rewarding.”
Isaac’s emotions mirror those of his Mercy mentors.
“I feel like Mercy has really become my home,” said Isaac, an Oklahoma City native. “Being selected to Project SEARCH means so much. There are people like me who feel they are not useful enough to live in this world. I want to work in a field someday where I can work with these people so they know the world can’t survive without them.”
Did You Know?
Valley View Regional Hospital in Ada – a Mercy-managed hospital – became the first medical facility in Oklahoma to participate in Project SEARCH last year with four graduating interns.
What is Project SEARCH?
Project SEARCH is a national program that first began in 1995 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is designed to provide skills, training and work experience for young adults with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 21. The program’s mission is to educate employers about the potential of this workforce while meeting human resource needs.