Chicago Zoological Society, Project SEARCH

  Interview regarding Project SEARCH

Kathy, Project SEARCH intern
Kathy, Project SEARCH intern

Georgina Lopez, General Manager
Georgina Lopez, General Manager
Chicago Zoological Society's Bz Red Hot, Dairy Barn and All American Popcorn

"Everyone deserves a second chance" is a phrase that we hear often, but what about those who don't get a FIRST chance. Project SEARCH put an end to that. They are advocates for people who have been searching for a first chance.

"Inclusion and other supportive work environment factors are essential part of the CZS mission. Our team, including Director of Guest Service Operations, Jennifer Petrik and Seasonal Assistant Manager, Ronye' Scott, worked together to make Project SEARCH a success at CZS

The Chicago Zoological Society Food Service Department has been part of this project since 2017 and even though we weren't sure what was going to happen we took a chance and we are proud and happy with the outcome. We currently have two interns working at BZ Red Hots as Food Service Associates, Kathy and Genny. Their responsibilities in the dining area include cleaning tables, windows, restocking condiments, cutlery and napkins, sweeping and emptying garbage and recycle containers throughout their shift. In the kitchen their responsibilities include preparing cheese cups, nachos, wrapping cookies, separating and stacking cheese slices and making pizza."

What positive changes or benefits have you noticed since you began working with Project Search candidates?

"We have found that partnering with Project SEARCH not only positively impacts the interns, but us as well. We are learning and increasing our soft skills, such as acceptance, tolerance, inclusion, patience and diversity."

What advice would you give other managers who are beginning to work with individuals who have disabilities?

"We as managers, cannot be scared to take the chance. Yes, it may seem challenging, scary, or even risky, but the greater good in the end is a life changing experience for all, the Project SEARCH interns, their coworkers and us, the managers. Each day not only do we teach and help them, but we learn something new from them or about them. Watching their growth within my restaurant is truly a heartfelt feeling."

What support from providers or the Chicago Zoological Society helped to make this employment partnership successful?

"As we know, all of us learn in a different way. For example: Some people are, visual learners, hands-on learners, others learn through hearing and listening. The Project Search Providers gave us so much support, that it became easy to identify the different resources and materials needed to develop plan of work action for them. Project SEARCH has NEVER left our side. The coaches keep in touch with myself as well as my management team, regarding the candidates, including the two Project SEARCH interns I mentioned earlier (Kathy and Genny), who graduated from the program last year. Checking in daily, to see what improvements the current candidates are making, and what they still need assistance with, are a few routine actions from the Project SEARCH Coaches."

I would like to share with a small conversation that I had with Kathy, a Food Service Associate (former Project Search intern).

Georgina: "Kathy, why Project SEARCH is important to you?"

Kathy: "Because I went to a class every day, I learned how to talk to people more, I learned new job skills that gave me more opportunities that not always have."

Georgina: "How do you feel about your Project SEARCH and CZS work experiences?"

Kathy: "Feels great, I feel more independent, I learned how to take the Pace service, I feel accomplished, people ask me how I got the job, I say just be friendlier and work when you are supposed to, If you see trays outside, just pick them up, work hard talk to guests, make them feel welcome. I love seeing little kids have fun."

Georgina: "How do we help you?"

Kathy: "You make sure I was welcomed here, people help me carry condiments, you help me whenever I needed, you help me to talk to people more and feel more comfortable with myself."

"As a society, we definitely need more programs like Project SEARCH, that support people with special needs. They deserve to feel included, accepted, and productive, but, the most important one is the feeling they are part of this society."

"Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud"

Maya Angelou