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Stories From Main Street: Disabled Students Excel In Bergen County Internship Program

TEANECK, N.J. (WCBS880) -- Dumont 20-year-old Elizabeth Gongora has faced several challenges in her life.

"Severe hearing loss, different spinal issues, and I have epilepsy," she told WCBS-880's Sean Adams.

Growing up there were concerns that her disabilities could hold her back.

"When I was younger doctors were saying oh no, she won't be able to learn colors, she won't be able to do this, she won't be able to do that. My parents were very persistent saying we're gonna teach her no matter what you say, and now here I am," she said.

Gongora has a special internship at Holy Name Medical Center with Project Search which offers young people with disabilities real world work experience.

"Heart rate and their blood pressure and all that stuff. I go around with nurses and help them out with patients. We make beds, we see what the patients need themselves. Sometimes they just need somebody to talk to and we talk to them," she said.

Tracy Zur, Vice Chair of the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders said the key here is identifying abilities and matching the person with the proper job.

"This has been a passion for me. I have a nephew with autism. As I talk to all the parents their biggest concern is, what happens when I'm not here? How do we make sure that our kids can sustain themselves going forward? This provides meaningful employment at the end of the road," she said.

Hackensack University Medical Center is participating too. Holy Name president Mike Maron said the program also teaches hospital employees about empathy.

"Everyone of our staff who encounter and engage with one of these students is better for it at the end of the day through the care that they're going to provide for everybody else," he said.

"They're more than able, we've just found them the right place to excel," Bergen County Executive James Tedesco said.


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