Select Page

Bergen County’s Project SEARCH

Program Overview

Project SEARCH Transition-to-Work Program is a unique, business-led, one-year employment preparation program that takes place entirely at the workplace. Total workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through a series of targeted non-paid internships.

The hallmarks of Project SEARCH are total workplace immersion and a singular goal of competitive employment within the community for every program graduate upon completion of the skills-building experience. We strive to achieve that goal by creating an atmosphere of high expectations.

The Project SEARCH model involves an extensive period of skills training and career exploration, innovative adaptations, long-term job coaching, and continuous feedback from instructors, skills trainers, and business mentors. As a result, Project SEARCH helps young adults with disabilities develop the habits and mindsets needed to make them successful for the duration of their working life.

Program Overview Flyer

Beyond hard and soft skills acquisition, Interns learn the expectations of employers in both the recruitment process and in the workplace. Once Interns complete the program, they receive effective follow-along services to enter and advance in the workforce.

Follow us on Facebook


Bergen County Project SEARCH Information Sessions give prospective interns, families, and special needs support staff an opportunity to learn about the program. These sessions will allow you to hear a presentation from our program coordinators, who will answer all of your questions about the program and the application process. Additionally, when you register for a live virtual information session, you will have the chance to participate in a real-time Q&A.

Live Virtual Information Sessions

Information Sessions for Program Applicants (High School & Adult Programs)

  • March 14, 2024 @ 6pm
  • April 18, 2024 @ 6pm


Some of the key documents discussed in our information sessions can be found below. Scroll down further for the application and key dates.

Historical Background

Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996 when Erin Riehle was Director of Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department. Erin wondered if it would be possible to train people with developmental disabilities to fill some of the high-turnover, entry-level positions in her department.

As a starting point, Erin presented her ideas to Susie Rutkowski, then the special education director at Great Oaks Career Campuses. Erin and Susie formed an instantaneous partnership, and together they launched Project SEARCH.

Since its inception, Project SEARCH has grown from a single program site at Cincinnati Children’s to a large and continuously expanding international network of over 400 sites in the United States, as well as in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

In 2016, Project SEARCH launched in Bergen County, New Jersey when Hackensack University Medical Center and Holy Name Medical Center hosted the first two high-school transition program sites.

In 2019, Bergen County’s Project SEARCH expanded its program to serve young adults, both in-school and out-of-school.

Which Program Should You Choose?

Project SEARCH High School Program

The High School Program serves:

  • students,
  • ages 18 to 21,
  • who are on an Individual Education Program (IEP),
  • have completed all of the credit requirements for graduation, and will be entering their last year of high school or high school eligibility *

Project SEARCH Adult Program

The Adult Program serves:

  • young adults,
  • ages 18 to 30,
  • who have a documented disability, and
  • have exited the school system or special education program (exhausted educational entitlements; beyond high school eligibility)

* High school program participants must agree to accept their diploma and exit the school system upon program completion; they may enter the program during the school term in which student turns 21 years old or earlier if decide to graduate. Many successful students come to Project SEARCH after 1-2 years in traditional transition programs. High school students must get approval from their school district to apply.

Applications and Intern Selection

Interns are typically referred to the program through their schools, 18 to 21 programs, a family member, or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. Interested candidates must apply to be considered for acceptance into the program. Space is limited to approximately 6-12 interns, per site, each year.

Applications are accepted year-round. The Bergen County Project SEARCH Advisory Committee carries out the selection process, which includes an application packet review, hands-on assessments, interviews, and scoring on a rubric related to entrance considerations. Selected interns will be matched to the most appropriate program site based on location, interest, and skills.


  • April 25: 2024-2025 Application + DVRS Intake Deadline

    NOTE: Please let us know if you have an application on its way and if you need accommodations (or extension) to complete it. We can accept a partial application while you work to complete it.

  • May 09: Mandatory Skills Assessment & Interview Day for All Applicants
  • May 22: Intern Selection (applicants will start to be notified)
  • July 11: Incoming Intern Orientation (1PM for Adult Program; 6PM for High School Program)
  • July – August: Travel Training
  • September: 2024-2025 Program Starts

How is Project SEARCH Funded?

The cost per participant for both programs is dependent on the budget and number of program participants for a given year using the following formula: Total Budget / # of Program Participants.

The High School Project SEARCH program is funded by combining funds from the County of Bergen, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS), and the sending school district.

The Adult Project SEARCH program, for non-high school students, is funded by a Developmental Disability Agency (Long-Term Service Provider/DDD)* funds or private pay.

* The Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) is a division within the NJ Department of Human Services that provides funding for services for adults, age 21 and older, with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Eligble individuals are assigned a tier and a corresponding individual budget that can be used to fund services such as Project SEARCH.

Basic Eligibility

The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a desire to achieve competitive employment (at least 16 hours per week) at the end of the program. The ideal candidate does not need sustained 1:1 job coaching and can reduce dependency on support as specific tasks are learned.

In addition, a prospective Project SEARCH Intern must:

  • Have a significant barrier to competitive employment (this program serves individuals with a range of abilities; selection is not based on an education label or diagnosis; rather, the selection committee endeavors to develop a cohort that is diverse in its abilities)
  • Be between the ages of 18-21 (high-school program) or 18-30 (adult program)
  • Be eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation Services
  • Commit to 100% attendance
  • Be willing to utilize independent transportation options and travel train if necessary
  • Be able to maintain appropriate behavior, hygiene, and social skills in the workplace without immediate supervision (interns are supported by site staff and mentors; however, the expectation is that support fades as interns gain skills and confidence within a rotation; a young adult requiring constant one-on-one supervision would not be a candidate for this program)
  • Be able to meet host business clearance requirements (i.e., background check, drug test, health screening, etc.)
  • Be able to communicate effectively (may be other than verbal) and take direction from a supervisor

How Does the Program Work?

Project SEARCH utilizes a combination of classroom instruction and workplace internships. Program participants (interns) attend the program for 9 months at the host business site. Many Project SEARCH sites are located within a hospital but can be done with any large employer where there are a variety of jobs. Each site can accommodate up to 12 interns. The site is staffed by two to three instructor/skills trainers to meet the needs of the interns, and a department mentor is identified at each internship site.

The first few weeks of the program are focused on intern orientation, hands-on skill assessment, familiarization with the business environment, and developing an individualized employment plan.

Throughout the program year, the interns work on employability and functional skills for approximately one hour a day in the training room. Interns spend approximately five hours each day at the internships, which includes a thirty-minute lunch.

Sample Project SEARCH Daily Schedule

  • 8:00 Employability Skills Training
  • 9:00 Internship site
  • 11:30 Lunch
  • 12:15 Internship site (continued)
  • 2:00 Return to the training room for daily review and journaling
  • 3:00 Depart

Project SEARCH interns complete three different workplace rotations over the course of the program. The first internship or rotation is typically assigned by the Project SEARCH staff with input from the interns. The remaining rotations are a joint decision of the intern, Project SEARCH staff, and the employer. Working from a task list, they acquire the core skills necessary to be hired in an entry-level position at the host business site or within the community. Once the interns master the core skills, additional skills are layered on to improve their marketability. Skills trainers and department staff collaborate to provide support for interns.

Individualized job development ramps up during the last few months of the program. Job development is based on the intern’s experiences, strengths, interests, and skills. Upon satisfactory completion of the program, interns receive a Career Portfolio. The contents of the packet will vary, but generally, they contain a resume, letters of recommendation, a competency profile, and any awards or special recognition received while in the program.

Program Outcomes

Program SEARCH is an internationally trademarked and copyrighted program assuring model fidelity and best practices by adherence to critical core model components taught in an integrated business environment. The Project SEARCH programs across the United States have had great success assisting individuals with disabilities to obtain employment.

2016-2021 Employment Outcome Summary:

Bergen County’s Project SEARCH has been formally awarded the Employment Outcome Award several times at the Project SEARCH International Conference.

Project SEARCH’s outcome measures are based on a rigorous definition of competitive employment that includes the following criteria:

  • Competitive employment in an integrated setting (i.e., among co-workers with and without disabilities)
  • Year-round, non-seasonal employment
  • 16 hours/week or more
  • Prevailing wage

Opportunities for Businesses

Business Host partners include but are not limited to banks, universities, government agencies, hospitals, and in other settings. Project SEARCH’s primary objective is to secure competitive employment for people with disabilities.

For more information on partnering with us as a Host Business, contact us or download the Business Host Application.

If you are interested in hiring a Project SEARCH Intern or becoming a Business Mentor, let us know about that too!

Benefits of Being a Business Host

  • Access to a new, diverse, talent stream with skills that match labor needs
  • Gain intern/employees with disabilities who serve as role models for customers
  • Access to a demographic of the economy with intense buying power. (People with disabilities and their families represent one of the fastest growing market segments in the US.)
  • Experience increased regional and national recognition through marketing of this unique program
  • Increased performance and retention in some high-turnover, entry-level positions

Program Partners

Bergen County’s Project SEARCH is driven by a collaboration with the following community partners all centered on providing employment opportunities to young adults with disabilities:

  • County of Bergen (Business Host)
  • Holy Name Medical Center (Business Host)
  • New Bridge Medical Center (Business Host)
  • Hackensack University Medical Center (Past Business Host)
  • Bergen County Workforce Development Board (WDB)
  • Bergen County Special Services
  • Arc of Bergen & Passaic
  • North Jersey Friendship House
  • Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS)
  • Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD)

The Project SEARCH Team will do everything possible to help its interns succeed, but they must have a desire to work, be active participants in the entire process, and (ideally) be backed by family and friends who strongly support that desire.