It's a big day at Erlanger Hospital as seven Hamilton County students find out some big news.

The students are part of Project SEARCH, a program aimed at helping children with intellectual or developmental disabilities learn job skills.

Bridget Fischer is the instructor and coordinator for Project SEARCH in Hamilton County. She said the goal is to help her students earn a competitive wage and employment in the community.

"For 10 weeks, they spend their day in their internship learning job skills, work skills," she added.

Kaden Witcher, 18, spent his first 10 weeks as an intern inside Erlanger's gift shop. He handled a number of tasks like running the cash register, taking phone orders and receiving merchandise.

"At first I was nervous, but I got better later on. And I realized I really like talking to people and also I'm a good helper when people need someone to talk to," he said.

Now, Kaden and his classmates will find out where they will spend their next 10 weeks.

"Their first internship won't look like their second. We want to make sure they have enough variety and skills so that when they leave and have that resume, they have lots of opportunities," Fischer said.

The seven students already interviewered for the non-clinical positions among several departments like Cardiology, the Infusion Center and E-Kids Learning Center.

For Kaden, it's off to Materials Distribution and Guest Services and he is ready for the new experience.

"I would say more confident than before. At first, I was like all nervous, what's this going to be about? But when I got to my first department, the more days and weeks, it got to be like this isn't too bad," he said.

Project SEARCH is an international program with 17 programs in Tennessee. This is the sixth year for the program in Chattanooga, but it's a first at Erlanger Hospital.

Fischer said the skills and lessons learned are ones that stay with those like Kaden for a lifetime.

"We see these interns from the very beginning to the end and the growth is incredible, in their confidence, in their ability to communication and advocate for themselves," she said.

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