Press Releases

Greenville, N.C. – June 4, 2021 – Project SEARCH, an educational program offered at ECU Health Medical Center (VMC), is proud to announce five students graduated from the program on Tuesday, June 1: Kahlil Green, Eric Kenney, Nick Smithson, Tolbert Wangila and Neil Williams. Project SEARCH is a one-year internship program for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities in their last year of high school with the goal of providing real-world practical skills and increasing the chances of competitive employment.

“I have learned a lot of real-world skills including proper cleaning and sanitizing methods as well as made a lot of new friends at my internships,” said Neil Williams, a Project SEARCH student. “My next steps are to work on getting my license, a job and a house.”

The Project SEARCH program at VMC began in 2015 through partnerships with Pitt County Schools, RHA Health Services and Vocational Rehabilitation. Students complete internships in various departments at VMC, including Central Services, East Carolina Heart Institute Cafeteria, the Main Cafeteria, Endoscopy Center, Grounds, Environmental Services and the Neuroscience Intermediate Unit.

“Project SEARCH gives us an opportunity to teach students trades and help them become employable,” said Tommy Cox, director of Community Employment Services at RHA Health Services, and a member of the VMC Project SEARCH Advisory Committee. “Project SEARCH at VMC brings diversity to the local workforce and makes a positive impact on the region economically. These students have completed three rigorous internships at Vidant during a pandemic and have grown tremendously. My greatest joy is to see them become employed.”

Students who participate in the program are enrolled at various Pitt County high schools including J.H. Rose, D.H. Conley, South Central, Farmville Central, North Pitt and Ayden-Grifton. Completing the program helps students transition into the workforce through employment and skill development and a customized job search in the second half of the program.

The employment rate for youth with disabilities is about 60 to 70 percent less than youth without disabilities, according to the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Many of the program’s graduates have gained competitive employment in the local community upon graduating from the program, and the program continues to help students become employed beyond graduation. The class of 2021 is the sixth class to graduate from the program.

The Project SEARCH program began in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and is now an international program with over 400 sites in existence now in at least 45 states and with programs in England, Scotland, Ireland and Canada.


Project SEARCH students (from left) Tolbert Wangila, Nick Smithson, Neil Williams, Eric Kenney and Kahlil Green graduated after completing three internships at ECU Health Medical Center during the school year.

Project SEARCH Vidant students (from left) Tolbert Wangila, Nick Smithson, Kahlil Green and Neil Williams at their graduation ceremony on June 1, 2021.