PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s something all parents worry about – where their child will go once they graduate from high school.
That’s especially true for parents of children who have special needs.
However, there is a program that is making the transition a little easier.
Natalie Dagger is 29 years old. She’s from Elizabeth and works in anesthesia at UPMC Mercy Hospital.
However, getting there was something her parents weren’t initially sure she could do.
“She struggled with reading, math, writing, socialization, which are a lot of the fundamental things you need in life,” Natalie’s mom, Sharon, said.
Natalie has an intellectual disability.
“That’s hard to take as a parent. You think everything is fine, but then you get that news and you worry. How do we adjust? What do we need to do to make her life successful?” Sharon said.
Thanks to a program called Project Search, worrying is something Sharon is doing less of.
Natalie got involved in the program through Elizabeth Forward, which is one of seven districts in Allegheny County, participating in the program.
“It’s a unique, business-lead, one-year, high school transition program that students with disabilities can apply to,” Amanda Suski, of UPMC Mercy Hospital’s Human Resources Department, said.
Students are trained at UPMC Mercy Hospital.
They go through an intense orientation program. Then, they take part in three, 10-week rotations in various departments throughout the hospital.
“Some of the tasks they do are those complex repetitive tasks so they can essentially take those skills that they learn and be successful,” Suski said.
It’s all done with the goal of getting a job at UPMC after the program, or somewhere else in the community.
Natalie works three days a week, four hours a day in anesthesia. She restocks bins, folds towels, and fills IV carts.
She’s been doing this for eight years and says she feels like she’s making a difference.
“I’m helping the workers out and all that to where they’d have to do it themselves,” Natalie said.
Linda Abate has been overseeing Natalie for years.
“She does everything she’s supposed to do. She’s very good. She’s a pleasure to work with. She never gives me any problems,” Abate said.
Natalie also uses the skills she’s learned on the job in her personal life, too.
“She helps out more at home. Even day to day life decisions you have to make or situations you have to go through,” Sharon said.
“I’m pretty proud of myself for all the things that I did,” Natalie said.