Project SEARCH Interns Overcame Social Distancing to Get the Job Done

Project Search Class together

July 20, 2020 - Diversity & Inclusion New Jersey, New York and PA

Interns are filled with optimism about their future

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law 30 years ago on July 26, 1990. This landmark legislation aims to provide equal opportunities in all areas of society for people with diverse abilities. This is a cause that TD Bank has supported for many years -- with programs such as Project SEARCH, sponsorships of events such as Achilles Virtual Hope & Possibility, a race for all with and without disabilities, and in many other ways. We will be highlighting their stories throughout this week.

When Drew Bass joined Project SEARCH’s internship program, he expected to face some of the biggest challenges ever in his young life. What he didn’t anticipate was a global pandemic forcing him to complete his training remotely.

Seemingly overnight the high school senior went from on-site meetings and in-person collaborations to video calls and digital training. But Drew was able to more than rise to the occasion, juggling multiple deadlines at once.

“Once I was working from home, it was challenging for me not to go to TD Bank because I like working with people in person,” said Drew. “I did enjoy working on assignments and my film project from home because I had a lot of freedom to do work on it anytime of the day.”

Not even a power outage could stop intern from working on project

Drew is part of a group of eight high school seniors who graduated from TD Bank’s third Project SEARCH High School Transition Program last month. Project SEARCH, which operates out of TD’s Mount Laurel, New Jersey campus, is a one-year transition program for high school seniors with cognitive disabilities, providing them with hands-on job training and education. Project SEARCH, an international transition program, partners with TD through an extension of TD’s Ready Commitment platform, aimed at building an inclusive future.

Project SEARCH interns complete a comprehensive orientation and then rotate through three eleven-week internships in various business lines around the campus for 20 hours per week to experience a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training. In previous years, Project SEARCH culminated with a high-school style graduation at TD’s Theater in Mount Laurel, New Jersey followed by a reception.

This year was different because of social distancing.

“The biggest challenge was ending the year with a virtual graduation. We did it live virtually and recorded it," said Jaimi McWilliams, TD Bank Project SEARCH Teacher.

Jami and Drew at graduation

While Project SEARCH interns spent their third rotation homebound, they gained a plethora of hands-on training in the six months prior to the pandemic.

“For my first rotation I developed TD Crush, an educational platform for employees that helps them expand their knowledge around banking and services,” said Drew. “I had the opportunity to give a speech to TD employees from the digital channels team at the WOW Theater to explain how the game works and provide status regarding engagement and usage.”

When the pandemic hit in March, Drew was in the middle of making a film about the history of TD’s WOW! awards, the annual event that honors top performers through a night of celebration and performances. He had already learned how to set up and operate audiovisual equipment, conduct interviews, and put it all together into a film. At home, Drew continued to work for the marketing team and simultaneously completed his film. Even a power outage for two days at his New Jersey home didn’t stop Drew from meeting his deadlines.

Meeting any challenge

For Jason Lasick, even though a portion of his internship was at home, he walked away with all the necessary skills to thrive in a workplace. “I gained more knowledge on soft skills, hard skills, professionalism, how to work within a team setting, and set better work goals for myself,” Jason said. “Overall, Project SEARCH has provided me with the work qualities that I need to take with me to start my career journey. “

Transitioning to remote work for any organization can be challenging but for a hands-on transition program, it may seem impossible. TD was able to pull it off largely due to a great team of hard-working interns and an assist from video conferencing, digital training, telephone calls, and excellent Project SEARCH staff.

Project SEARCH intern Jacob Crotty is excited about meeting the challenges in the future. Initially skeptical that he would like an office setting job, Jacob was able to thrive and build the confidence he needed to succeed in that type of environment once high school is over.

“I learned that it is ok to ask questions and that is what my coworkers are there for,” Jacob said. “I also learned that I can become a great leader since I was in charge of leading a holiday party.” The program allowed Jacob to open his career mind to other opportunities. He has a career goal to work in an office setting.

As cool as a cucumber

“Our interns already knew our expectations and knew our style so the transition to remote learning was relatively seamless,” Jaimi said. "Drew was as cool as a cucumber when on TD campus. We challenged him remotely, and not surprisingly, he remained unruffled by our deadlines.”

Although Drew’s internship didn’t proceed as anticipated, his strong work ethic, time management skills, and tech know-how enabled him to seize the day.

He hopes to take what he learned at TD to realize his dream of becoming a video editor, a top choice in an ever-changing list. But even if Drew pursues a different track, he’s walking away with a slew of marketable skills and valuable lessons that can be applied to any job. And a bit of knowledge that is one of the keys to success for all of us.

“It's important to communicate verbally by asking questions and speaking up for myself,” Drew said.


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