“Today’s the best day ever!” Sam Doherty

It only takes a short walk with Sam Doherty to see he captures attention and inspires happiness even in the briefest interaction.

He whisks by a woman behind an information desk who calls out, “Hi, Sam!” Sam beams, keeps pace, but calls back, “The interview went great!” A nurse enthusiastically waves to him from afar. Just a few feet later, a man in a suit calls a greeting across a crowded lobby. Sam keeps moving. In the elevator, a man asks how Sam’s been. By the Rotunda, a security guard lights up when he spies Sam and shifts his route to shake his hand and get a quick update.

“I love my job because I go in and make people happy,” Sam says. “I always put a smile on my face, every morning and every day. I love it – I love working with the patients.”

In March 2016, Sam landed his first job as an assistant in the Cancer Institute’s Infusion Clinic after a successful internship through the workplace-based, school-to-work program Project SEARCH. Penn State Health Project SEARCH is a partnership between Penn State Health, the Capital Area Intermediate Unit and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation that helps high school students with disabilities in their senior year of schooling learn job and interview skills to land jobs with area employers. After Sam’s 10-week rotation in the Infusion Clinic, Practice Site Manager Heather Fanus knew he was a perfect fit.

“At first, it was his interaction with patients – how much he enjoyed them and how much they enjoyed him. His demeanor and love of life are so contagious,” Fanus says. “But as his list of duties increased, I also noticed he was a huge service to patients and staff because he allowed us to have more direct patient care.”

Sam is the first Project SEARCH hire at Penn State Health. He stocks linens, refrigerators, procedure carts, blankets and gloves. If he has time, he offers snacks to patients. After his shift, Sam also puts in a volunteer shift straightening and stocking in the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the Penn State Children’s Hospital.

“Sam has a natural spirit of service and compassion that just radiates from inside,” said Vickie Shutt, HR Communications. “You cannot help but smile and be in the moment when you’re with Sam. On a campus shuttle ride one day, I watched him greet every person and listened to him talk about his job with so much joy. I was humbled and inspired by him – how dare I ever have a bad day?”

Sam loves gainful employment – he used his first paycheck to take his parents, Andy and Margaret Doherty, out to dinner.

“It’s been a real life-changer for us and for Sam,” Andy says. “We saw Sam graduating and weren’t sure what his future would hold. We didn’t know if he could get a job or keep it. He could be home playing videogames all day, but instead, he’s found real meaning in life.”

Margaret says Sam’s transition from a Lower Dauphin High School student to a professional employee gave him confidence to tackle challenges without guidance, including making his way to work via Share-A-Ride.

“Sam was ready to move on from high school to work and Project SEARCH was a key component to that,” she says. “He’s definitely more responsible and becoming his own person. He loves coming to work and making people happy.”

The gain was not one-sided. Sam helps the Infusion Clinic run smoothly, lightens the mood, and inspires patients and coworkers with his motto, “Today’s the best day ever!”

“Sam’s job was being done by five or six people, but when it got busy, it wasn’t always getting done,” said Danielle Iovino, Project SEARCH Business Liaison. “The interactions Sam had with patients came naturally to him and he picked up the skills easily. And Sam has made relationships in every avenue of the hospital. Our dean and executive director know exactly who Sam is. We call him the ‘Mayor of the North Entrance.’”

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