Partnership Immerses Athletes in Health Care Internships

Nick and Janira

Special Olympics Florida athletes are learning valuable job skills, thanks to an innovative partnership between Orlando Health South Lake Hospital, Lake County Schools, and Bishop Grady Villas, a Central Florida nonprofit serving people with disabilities.

Nick Tortorici and Janira Novak are part of Project SEARCH, a one-year immersion program for students with intellectual disabilities in their final year of high school. Special Olympics Florida athletes Missy Richard and Amelia Torres have already been through the program.

Project SEARCH interns participate in three different rotations at South Lake Hospital, picking up new skills and exploring possible career paths. Their goal is to be job ready when the internship ends. So far, Special Olympics Florida athletes have worked in the kitchen, gift shop, and hospital lab. They’ve prepped food, escorted patients, cleaned common areas, organized linen carts, and much more.

“Working at South Lake Hospital has been great,” said Nick, a Lake County athlete. “I’m meeting new people and learning new skills. My new skills taught me how to organize and stock shelves and pick orders.”

Janira, an Orange County athlete, said the experience has helped her speak with new people and learn how the hospital operates. “Everyone,” she said, “is kind and very helpful.”

Andrea Vineyard is the Project SEARCH Instructor and a longtime Special Olympics Florida coach and volunteer. She thanked Orlando Health for being part of the program and said hospital staff members have been “so welcoming” to our athletes. Orlando Health is the Official Central Florida Health Home of Special Olympics Florida and works tirelessly to support the health, fitness, and well-being of Special Olympics Florida athletes.

“I love this program, because it gives hope to the athletes for a job and a career,” she said. “The hospital gets to see first-hand how capable our athletes are. It provides an inclusive environment where the athletes are treated as equals.”