This is the third in a year-long series of articles about the Project SEARCH collaboration between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of RI and the Cranston Public Schools.
On Thursday, November 8 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Blue Cross Blue Shield building in Providence, Project SEARCH will hold an information session about their program and the opportunities, which exist for students looking for a high school transition program, which emphasizes school-to-work experiences.
Currently, the seven students enrolled in the one-year program are experiencing the benefits of that program, and are working in their first of three internship rotations at Blue Cross Blue Shield. To get to this point the students have undergone several weeks of preparations, including setting goals, honing in on possible job interests, and learning the ins and outs of working in a corporate setting. Now, they are putting all of that training to work. The internship opportunities are in a variety of settings throughout the building and students are seen interacting professionally with employees at Blue Cross.
“I work security here and I keep an eye on the people coming in and out of the building,” said Keenan McNeely. “I do patrols to make sure the loading dock is closed, that there are no vehicles parked in the cul de sac, and I check to make sure that there are no vehicles parked with their interior lights on or that no one is on the ground.”
McNeely has been instrumental in helping to alert his supervisors to suspicious behavior he’s seen, including a van that he red-flagged and called in when he noticed it parked in an unauthorized spot with a box placed nearby.
“I diverted my course, and took the longer way around the building because safety is very important,” he said. “I came back and we tried looking through the footage to see who it was.” McNeely takes his position seriously and dreams of working the border patrol one day in California, but in the more near future hopes to join the National Guard and eventually earn a bachelor’s degree. “This is a great stepping stone for those future goals,” said Cranston Public Schools Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Michele Simpson.
At McNeely’s first employment conference with his supervisor in October, he was told that he was already able to look for job opportunities with local security companies.
“He felt like I was ready for entry level positions,” McNeely said.
According to Kelly Starliper-Morris, special educator with the BCBSRI Project SEARCH program, McNeely is also part of the Youth Advisory Council for the Department of Health and helps to advise them at monthly meetings.
Over in the production and print services department, Tom Marcello and Nikolas Simijis were hard at work assembling folders filled with information about BCBSRI offerings. During this period of open an enrollment, Marcello and Simijis’ job is particularly important, detail-oriented and very time consuming as they each assemble kits with a half-dozen sheets inside. When they reach 50 kits to a mailing bin, their bins are stacked among the others against a wall, ready to be mailed out. As they worked, bins were stacked rows high nearby, showing how much they’d already done. “I also help Richard doing the mail,” said Marcell. “I go with him on every floor and we do ingoing and outgoing mail.” Wendy Kenyon works in their department and has been a long-time supporter of the Project SEARCH program.
“I they’re a great group of kids, they work hard,” she said.
BCBSRI supervisor Christine Mastrostefano oversees the work that intern David DiSandro does as he monitors the conference rooms on the entire first floor of the building and keeps track of what the needs are for each group using the rooms.
“David is doing a great job,” she said.
DiSandro is responsible not only for making sure the rooms have the equipment they need but also to make sure everything is back in order once the room is done being used. He also needs to put all of the related information onto data sheets and enter that information into the computer, passing it all on to Mastrostefano.
Starliper-Morris noted that DiSandro’s professionalism has allowed him to have an added level of responsibility and he’s been granted permission to learn the multi-step login process needed to use a BCBSRI laptop, which has been assigned to him to help manage the requests and reservations for the rooms.
In a room filled with large machines doing a wide variety of tasks, all of which may look a bit overwhelming to some, Joel Suarez is working carefully and diligently at a binding machine, binding together dozens of pages at a time, readying the booklets for shipping.
“These are evidence of coverage books, they have to do with Medicare,” he said. “I’m running both machines at the same time and I’ve learned how to hold the paper a different way so I don’t get paper cuts,” he said as he feeds a thick packet of paper into the machine carefully, checking the number at the bottom of the sheet on the last page to make sure the sheet is the correct one.
“I’m very organized,” he said.
He moved to another machine to reload several reams of paper into it for copying, noting the different types of paper-one for regular copies and one for more important things like brochures and pamphlets.
It was noted that he’s the first intern allowed to use the machine, which costs several thousand dollars.
When asked why he wears a pen behind his ear, Suarez is confident in his answer, reflecting his feelings of inclusion on the job at Blue Cross.
“We’re all a team here,” he said. “Whether we’re an intern or an employee, we’re all a team.”
He also noted that his professional manner of dress makes him a part of the team as well.
“How we dress here is very important,” he said. “There’s no sweatpants, no Red Sox sweaters. The workplace is not a place to wear those.”
As it neared lunchtime, the interns in the cafeteria were hard at work, gearing up for the midday rush. Gabby Warren was working with Anamaria Medina, an intern who completed the program in 2016 and secured permanent employment with Epicurean Feast, managing an area in the cafeteria. She is training Warren on the ins and outs of the work and Warren runs the register as guests cycle through with their purchases.
Nicauris Canelo is hard at work in the adjacent area of the cafeteria cleaning microwaves, a job which takes a great deal of time, as she has already spent three days cleaning them on each floor. She also makes sure that the paper towels are replaced and the towels in the gym are emptied and replaced. (Each BCBSRI employee has access to the corporate gym, as do the interns and they go each day as part of their health and wellness curriculum.)
Canelo is hopeful that she will be able to move into a permanent job after her three internship rotations, either in a nursing home setting or in a hotel, as part of a housekeeping type of staff.
After the interns finish their current rotation, they will have a one-week transition period, updating their resumes with new skills from the first rotation and choosing new job sites to interview at BCBSRI. They will update their initial goals and their career development plans. Their second internship rotations will start on January 9 and continue until April vacation.
“During that time their job searches become more of a priority,” said Starliper-Morris. “They attend job fairs, talk to employment specialists and take part in mock interviews. The third rotation is much shorter and the first and second rotations are where they are developing as many job skills as possible for future jobs.”
For more information about the Project SEARCH High School Transition Program, visit the program’s national website at projectsearch.us. To learn more about the Cranston Public Schools collaboration with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, attend the November 8 information session at 500 Exchange Street, Providence from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.