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Opening Employment Opportunities
Johns Hopkins Hospital receives coveted EEOC award.

blank Kirk Swann
Kirk Swann, 22, a Start on Success graduate, says the opportunity the program gave him to get a job at Hopkins Hospital is "great."

When Hopkins Hospital's human resources department first considered hiring students with disabilities through a local program that transitions them from school to work, there were concerns that the students—all of whom had received special education services through the Baltimore City Public School System—might actually impede productivity on the job.

But once the students showed up, "eager to work and conscientious about their performance," according to a report on the Hopkins program, any wariness subsided. "I'm really struck by their desire to come to work and do a good job," says Deborah Knight-Kerr, head of the Office of Community and Education Projects. "That's why the program has been received so well, because they make very good workers."

The program, called Start on Success, is one of four employee initiatives for which the Hopkins Hospital and Health System Corporation just received the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Freedom to Compete Award. Hospital and Health System President Ron Peterson was one of only a handful of CEOs to accept the honor at the EEOC's headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26. The award, which was initiated five years ago, showcases "specific practices and concrete activities that produce results and reflect an abiding commitment to access and inclusion in the workplace."

In addition to Start on Success, the other initiatives for which Hopkins was recognized include Project REACH, which used U.S. Department of Labor funds to train more than 400 Health System employees in lower-skilled positions for better-paying Hopkins careers; the Skills Enhancement Program, in which about 500 employees a year receive free skills assessments, academic counseling and tutorial instruction; and a mediation program for settling discrimination complaints confidentially and fairly.

The newest of these initiatives, Start on Success has accepted 41 special education students for 16-week internships since its inception in 2003 and boasts a 90 percent completion rate. Of those, 35 percent of students have gotten full-time jobs at Hopkins, including Kirk Swann, a food services worker.

"It's great," Swann says. "I get along with people and we work together as a team." On an 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift—or coming in as early as 6 a.m., if needed—he shelves dry goods, such as cups and plastic cutlery, or food items, such as bread and sodas.

"The key," says Swann, "is to have confidence and self-esteem, be loyal to yourself and your job, keep your head up, and don't let anybody take your joy away from you."

Start on Success is one of the programs created by WorkFirst, a division of Humanim, a nonprofit human services organization based in Columbia, Md. "There are so many wonderful employees of Hopkins Hospital who graciously volunteer their time, year after year, to serve as mentors for our students," says WorkFirst's director, Marsha Legg. "In addition to the actual skills and work experience that the students acquire, they also gain absolutely invaluable life skills, guidance and support from the relationships that they build with their mentors."

Meanwhile, the program has proven to be a win-win for Hopkins. "This is an opportunity for these kids that they wouldn't otherwise have to get a job at a major institution," says Knight-Kerr. "The program gives the supervisors a chance to observe their work performance and behavior and determine that they would make very good employees."

—Neil A. Grauer



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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