Project Search opens door to employment for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities

Eight young adults from across South Jersey were introduced as the newest interns at TD Bank during a signing ceremony last Monday. TD Bank and the Camden County Educational Services Commission have partnered together for Project Search since 2017.

Nina Longer (right), education program manager for the Camden County Educational Services Commission, shows Madison Hyland where to sign her contract for her internship at TD Bank. Last Monday, Hyland was introduced as one of the eight new interns in TD Bank’s 2019-20 Project SEARCH internship class.

From the moment she stepped through the doors of TD University’s lobby in Mt. Laurel, Madison Hyland couldn’t stop smiling.

The Marlton resident came dressed to impress in a long blue dress and spent much her time accepting congratulations from people who will soon be her colleagues in TD Bank.

Last Monday, Hyland was one of eight people introduced as the newest Project Search intern class at TD Bank. This internship program allows adults 18 years and older with developmental or intellectual disabilities to gain skills and experience in the workforce to help prepare them for long-term employment. For Hyland and her fellow interns, the event was the start of an incredible journey.

“I’m looking forward to working in an office,” Hyland said. “It’s going to be exciting.”

The eight interns introduced at last Monday’s event will be the third class of Project Search students to work at TD Bank. Project Search is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based organization with a network of affiliates across the nation. The goal is to provide real-life work experience for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The Camden County Educational Services Commission was looking to start a transition to work program in South Jersey in 2016 and decided to join Project Search.

“We were doing research on transition programs,” said Nina Longer, the education program manager for Camden County Educational Services Commission. “We found out about Project Search and we contacted them. We purchased a license and started our planning year in 2016-17.”

The commission needed a business partner to make the program work. A relationship with TD Bank was established and three interns became the first group to join the bank as part of Project Search in 2017.

Jocelyn Weyrauch, the diversity vendor manager for TD Bank, said the biggest challenge was figuring out how the bank was going to incorporate the interns, as TD was one of the first banks to participate in Project Search. At the start of the first year, interns worked in three different departments within the bank. Over the past couple of years, more departments have incorporated the interns. This year, 26 different TD Bank departments are going to be a part of the program.

Jocelyn Weyrauch, diversity vendor manager for TD Bank, speaks about the bank’s Project SEARCH internship program during a signing day event at TD University in Mt. Laurel last Monday.

“Our employees completely embrace the interns,” Weyrauch said. “They take them under their wing, show them around, invite them out to lunch. It has been embraced.”

The interns participate in three, 11-week rotations. They learn hard job skills such as data entry and filing while also learning day-to-day life skills like showing up on time for work and dressing professionally.

Longer said the growth of the interns who previously completed the program was extraordinary to see. Last year, eight interns participated in Project Search. Four of them were able to find jobs by the end of the program, with one of them being hired by TD Bank in the marketing department.

“It’s an amazing transformation to watch the interns grow,” Longer said. “They come in very anxious. They don’t know what to expect. They’re very timid. They leave really ready for employment.”

There may have been no one more excited for the start of work than Hyland. Hyland was all smiles as she signed her internship contract and then received the TD Bank pin all employees wear when they work for the company. All of the interns will also receive their own badges and email addresses.

“It just felt like I was signing the president’s contract,” Hyland said about signing her contract.

“You felt important, didn’t you,” Hyland’s mother, Jennifer, asked her.

“Yeah,” Madison replied proudly.

Jennifer Hyland couldn’t help but smile. She saw how excited her daughter and the other interns were at the ceremony and was thrilled to see TD Bank employees embrace the interns as one of their own.

“It’s very exciting for me, as a mother, just to see, in this day and age, community is coming together to support (special needs adults) and give them opportunities that 20 years ago would never happen,” Jennifer said. “I’m grateful for a company like TD Bank to open up their doors and even to host an event like this.”