The Big Picture

Thoughts on big issues, challenges, and celebrations of the education work we do....

Success story: Paul Smith

Building a healthy work and life routine, with Paul Smith


What’s better than having a job you like? For Paul Smith, it’s having a job that fits his personality, his strengths, and his passion for staying fit.

Smith, age 21, is in his final year as a transition student at the Community Transition Program (CTP) in Lake Oswego. He’s been employed at Cabela’s, an outdoor gear retail store, for more than a year. Smith also joined the fitness center located next to his work. He starts most days with a workout at the gym, followed by his shift at Cabela’s. Smith no longer attends his transition program full-time, but continues to check in regularly with his teacher, Rollie Wilson, and classmates. Between work, exercise, and school, he’s built a busy and healthy routine.

“Going to the gym early is like coffee for me. It gets my energy up and then I’m ready for work,” said Smith. 


Finding the right fit in employment.

At first, Smith worked in the warehouse, but he’s been promoted to the footwear department. He keeps the shelves stocked to be sure there are no inventory gaps in shoe styles or sizes. Working in the store fits his personality—he enjoys talking with people.

“I like this job because I’m around really positive people. Both the shoppers and the people I work with. Also, I do like shoes! I wear a size 13 so I appreciate having all the sizes out and available,” said Smith.

Previously, Smith worked at Best Buy. While he didn’t feel that was a perfect fit for him, the job was a valuable opportunity to learn about work environments. He also learned how to use job coaching and other employment support services. According to Nan Deane, Transition Specialist at CTP, even the jobs that aren’t a perfect fit are good learning experiences. “A job doesn’t have to be forever—every work experience teaches important lessons about communicating and about yourself,” said Deane. 

For his job at Cabela’s, Smith worked with Good 2 Go. This organization provides services in employment, independent living and community integration in the Portland area and in Central Oregon. Their job development coach helped Smith define his goals and find businesses that matched his interests. Once he was hired at Cabela’s, the Good 2 Go job coach helped him get comfortable with his work responsibilities. Smith still stays in contact with his job coach.


Getting out of the comfort zone to self-advocate

A few challenges have come up along the way. Smith had to learn new technology on the job, like online ordering for customers. He mastered that with practice,  repetition, and with coaching support. He’s also had to advocate for himself and communicate with his supervisors about what he needs to do his job well.

“There were times that a lot of things came at me at once. I had to explain my disability and say that I do better with one thing at a time. I need to break the work up and do one step at a time,” said Smith. He’s created a system for himself to limit the time he spends on one task, so that he’s sure he’ll get through his whole list of duties. 

Smith recognizes that self-advocating is key to his success. Sometimes it can feel uncomfortable but speaking up is worth the effort. “I used to hide in my shell like a turtle,” he said with a smile, “but I had to get out of my comfort zone. If I still acted like that turtle, then I’d never start doing the things I really want to do.”

As Smith’s transition specialist , Deane has seen his communication and self-advocacy skills get stronger. “Paul has realized that asking questions is not a sign of weakness, but propels him forward. He’s always been a kind and compassionate student and thrives as a leader. Now he’s managing his schedule so well. We are super proud of him,” she said.

What advice would Smith share with other transition students? He’s got a few principles that he finds helpful to make the most of every day. “Do your best, bring a smile, keep your head up and look presentable!” he said.



Lizzie Alphonso

Success Story: Staying in touch with Lizzie Affonso,

A transition co-op alum keeps her relationships strong

Can you imagine life after graduating from your transition program? How about ten years, or even twenty years after graduation? Do you wonder how all those lessons learned as a transition student will make a difference, decades down the road?

If you asked Lizzie and Sandy Affonso, they’d answer that transition program experiences do matter. And they would know, because Lizzie was a transition student in Bend almost twenty years ago. Lizzie and her mom, Sandy, agree that the people that she met and the skills that she gained during those years still make a positive difference in her life, every day.


Meet Lizzie: A magnetic personality, and a whiz in the kitchen!

Lizzie started in the Bend-LaPine school district in the fourth grade at Kenwood Elementary (now named Highland Magnet at Kenwood School) in fourth grade. That year, she forged a strong bond with her special education teacher, Lauri Powers.

As Powers said, “Lizzie has one of those irresistible personalities. Anyone who becomes part of Lizzie’s tribe will never want to leave. She has that kind of impact on people.”

The Affonsos stayed in close contact with Powers as they moved to Sisters for high school, then back to Bend for the transition co-op. They still enjoy spending time together today. Lizzie, now age 37, lives in her own apartment exactly one floor below Sandy’s apartment at Touchmark at Mount Bachelor Village. She keeps a busy schedule. In addition to caring for her dog and lush garden of plants, Lizzie cooks for herself (and often for Sandy, too).

As Sandy explained, Lizzie learned the basics of cooking at the transition program. Lizzie worked with Sandy in the kitchen of their bed and breakfast in Sisters. “I thought she could help me in the kitchen. But I was her helper instead! Lizzie did all the prep and mixing from scratch for biscuits, eggs, casseroles, and hash browns. I just worked the oven and stove,” said Sandy. These days, Lizzie loves to make spaghetti or BBQ ribs.


Working on the river with Tumalo Creek Rentals.

This past summer, Powers helped Lizzie settle into a new job that matched her outgoing personality and her love of organization as well. At Tumalo Creek Rental Kiosk, located at Riverbend Park in Bend, she was part of the team that rented the big orange float tubes and life jackets for floating the Deschutes River.

Lizzie would arrive early at the rental kiosk, and start her work day by lining up the life jackets by size. Then she stacked the float tubes so they were ready for easy pickup. When people arrived, she greeted them with her sign that said:

Hi I’m Lizzie. Welcome to Tumalo Creek. Please line up at the black tent.

“Lizzie is great with people, and she’s very reliable so she is an excellent employee. It’s also a nice introduction to Tumalo Creek’s business, when people see someone with diverse abilities as the greeter,” said Powers.

For Lizzie, taking her paycheck to the bank was just as enjoyable as the work itself. She learned how to use a bank account and manage money while at the transition co-op. Powers often accompanied her to the bank, but Lizzie made her transactions on her own. She usually chose to deposit part of each check to save for bigger items like an iPhone or computer. She’d also keep some cash to go shopping for books, clothes, or video games. Another reward for her work came at the end of the season, when she joined the employee party to celebrate a successful summer on the river.


Part of the Touchmark Community

Now that the river rental job has finished for the year, Lizzie is focusing on life in her Touchmark community. She works regularly in the Life Enrichment office, with a supervisor who puts together a daily task list with responsibilities that match her strengths. For example, she posts information on bulletin boards and in elevators, keeping all the pages neat and up to date. She writes anniversary and birthday cards and delivers them to mailboxes throughout the Touchmark compound–through the cottages, apartments, and the river lodge. Lizzie hopes to begin working in the Touchmark dining room soon, as well.

Looking back, Sandy sees how the transition co-op accelerated Lizzie’s independence. “She learned things like calendar skills, managing money, and how to use the dial-a-ride to get to school,” said Sandy. And along the way, she created a team of supportive friends, like Powers, who plan to be part of her tribe for decades yet to come.



Central Oregon community agencies say YES to outdoor programs for kids

Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests team up with Children’s Forest of Central Oregon and 10 local agencies to engage youth during difficult times

While 2020 was a particularly challenging year for many — especially youth — there were a few bright spots in Central Oregon shining through the frustration and isolation that came with a global pandemic. With Children’s Forest of Central Oregon and 10 partner agencies coming together to get kids outside, there was fun and learning to be celebrated throughout the region.

Thanks to $35,000 in Youth Engagement Strategy funds from the U.S. Forest Service,  CFCO and its community partners rallied to support the social and emotional needs of kids by connecting underserved youth to public lands through conservation education, service projects, or career pathways initiatives.

“During a year when youth faced many social and emotional challenges connected to the stresses of the pandemic, our partner programs helped connect them to the healing power of nature,” said CFCO’S Executive Director, Katie Chipko.

With YES grants of up to $5,000, CFCO partners implemented 10 programs specifically targeting underserved youth and communities, including Tribal youth, Latinx youth, youth with special needs, or other underrepresented groups.

“These YES partnerships are resulting in a significant increase in the number of participants coming from historically underrepresented communities,” said Chipko. “Our partners really invested energy and attention into recruiting kids and families that we haven’t had the opportunity to work with in the past, and have strengthened partnerships with these communities along the way.” 

Overall, the YES funds reached 1,023 youth and families in Central Oregon with 12 weeks of summer camp, 4 outdoor leadership expeditions, paid job training, and more. In addition, 555 students learned about watersheds and careers in conservation and 125 nature kits were delivered to families.

The YES grants resulted in the following:

Boys & Girls Clubs of Bend successfully implemented Ultimate Journey, an environmental stewardship and cultural heritage program for youth ages 9 to13. Designed by Boys & Girls Clubs of America specifically for Clubs, the Ultimate Journey includes more than 25 hands-on activities to promote environmental stewardship and help members appreciate and care for the place they live. The program served 51 youth who attended the summer program on a weekly basis. The participants took part in healthy outdoor activities and learned about becoming good stewards of the environment through fun and engaging STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities. 

The Middle Deschutes Watershed Council and Trout Unlimited collaborated to provide virtual and in-person after-school programming and field trips for 133 students in kindergarten through 8th grade from Warm Springs Academy, Madras Elementary School, Buff Elementary School and Black Butte School. Trout Unlimited also created an online Deschutes Watershed Story Map, which was a resource for schools across Central Oregon.

Heart of Oregon Corps provided six weeks of summer day-camp programming for 16 youth ages 16-22. With additional support from Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Oregon Department of Education, and the US Forest Service, youth participants earned minimum wage to work at Camp Tamarack, States Parks and the U.S. Forest Service to help complete trail work, remove invasive plants, plant native plants, spread mulch, construct and repair barbed wire fencing, complete fire fuels reduction projects, painted and stained park benches and tables. 

Bend Park and Recreation District provided seven 1-week camp programs, Aventuras al Aire Libre (Discover the Outdoors) serving 79 youth ages 11 to 15-years-old, 95% of whom represented Latino communities. 

Redmond Parks Foundation provided 87 free STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) project kits to help kids explore the Deschutes River. The kits were filled with equipment, activities, and information to help them explore their natural environment with their families or other important adults in their lives. 

Camp Tamarack provided 4 Outdoor Leadership Program expeditions so 26 high school students had an opportunity to be outdoors and connect with nature and their peers while developing leadership skills. The expeditions included primitive camping and backpacking. 

Camp Fire Central Oregon provided enhanced programming for Latinx youth ages 12 to 14 by hiring bilingual personnel to help plan and lead Teen Leadership and Service Programs and to be present at Tumalo Day Camp and SummerKids Camps. Students visited Smith Rock, Riverbend Park and Mt Bachelor while learning about watersheds and picking up trash.

Juntos Aprendemos partnered with Vamonos Outside and the High Desert Museum to connect more than 200 participants (52 families) with outdoor events and activities including trips to Bend Pine Nursery, Redmond American Legion Park, High Desert Museum, and Tumalo State Park. 

The Environmental Center partnered with Campfire Central Oregon and the City of Bend to pilot Aguas Frescas, a 4-day camp program for 12 LatinX youth in grades 7 through 12. The goal was to host a small group with a focus on relationship building and inspiring a love of the outdoors. The students explored nature, learned about watersheds and the importance of conservation, and were introduced to various career pathways in recreation and municipalities.

“The outdoors can be such a catalyst for personal growth and confidence, which is so important for this particular age group. My hope is that through these programs, we are creating more confident students that will be empowered to take on leadership roles, as well as a sense of responsibility for their environment,” said Geneva Mayall, youth education program coordinator for the Environmental Center. 

According to Tyler McRae, summer program manager for Heart of Oregon Corps, the ability to safely serve youth during the pandemic was impactful.

“We adapted the program this year from an overnight camp to a day camp to keep everyone safe, and still were able to see growth in campers. Though we are looking forward to camping out again, we know Camp LEAD is remarkably consistent in the magic that it creates. Young people experiencing disabilities connect with public lands and career options, and bond with each other and the camp counselors through the days spent outside,” said McRae. 

Gabriela Peden, Juntos Apprendemos program coordinator was most excited about the engagement of families in the summer programming. 

 “We see the commitment these families have towards their children’s education and community building. Families came to the High Desert Museum, which is far and not very accessible for many families. We had over 100 people there from Bend, Redmond and Jefferson County. Whole families came and we had the opportunity to meet some grandparents as well. It was a magical experience for us and I believe it was a magical experience for them,” said Peden.

For more information about Children’s Forest Central Oregon, visit and watch this short video about the YES grants

More than a job fair:

The Southern Oregon Trade Career Expo

Where might you find a marine, a bulldozer, a geologist, and a transition student all in the same place?

If you were part of the Southern Oregon Trade Careers Expo, you’d have seen all those folks, and many more. The expo was held on September 28th at the Seven Feathers Convention Center in Canyonville, Oregon. More than a jobs fair, the expo served to introduce high school students and transition students to a wide range of trade and industrial careers.

“This career expo is such an eye-opener for our students. They see so many new opportunities for what can happen after graduation. These are great options that pay a living wage, but do not require a college degree,” said Darci Shivers, transition network facilitator for Douglas, Coos, and Curry Counties. Shivers made sure that transition students from all across Southern Oregon had the opportunity to attend the expo.


Empowering the Possible

The expo’s slogan, Empower the Possible, came to life inside the convention center. Tables and booths filled the building, each representing a career field or a business where interested students could find their next opportunity. Businesses ranged from manufacturers like Amy’s, an organic frozen food company in Medford, to construction materials, like Knife River. Students could stop at booths for trade schools, like the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute to talk about the apprenticeship programs they offer.

Every branch of the military hosted a booth as well, along with utility companies, forestry agencies, and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT.) Outside, tents and large equipment covered the grounds—including large commercial trucks and engines to check out. As Shivers noticed, the most popular display was a real backhoe that students could climb into and operate.

Shivers checked in with several transition students as they toured the expo. A couple of students loved a virtual reality activity offered at a booth, another student appreciated talking with the booth for Oregon Institute of Technology. One student captured what many were feeling when she said, “I don’t really know what I want to do, so it’s pretty cool to see all these different jobs that I never even thought of before.”


The expo that’s not just for students

The morning session at the expo was reserved for students, giving them time to explore new ideas for future jobs. During the afternoon, the expo opened to veterans and the general public who might be interested. Businesses and agencies benefited as well, by connecting with potential new employees, which they need to keep their work flowing smoothly. Just as importantly, they connected with the transition teachers and Youth Transition Program (YTP) specialists who brought their students to the expo.

“This was the third SOTC Expo, and each time it’s been a fantastic way to network with local employers. This group of employers is an important resource for YTP and transition teachers who are looking for work experiences for their students,” said Shivers. Many of the employers she met at previous SOTC Expos have since participated in Employment First job fairs in Southern Oregon.

Networking at the SOTC Expo gives her the chance to approach potential employers about working with transition students. “I tell them about our students, who have some barriers that they’d never notice and some that they would. I tell them about how we support these students. And that our students are highly motivated—they’re not just passing time. They want to learn the job and do it right,” she said.

The next SOTC Expo is scheduled to take place in September of 2023. 


Beat the Bus Stop Blues!

CET bus rides  just got better for transition students.

Navigating the bus routes in Central Oregon just got a whole lot easier, according to Ashley Mohni, strategic programs and partnerships coordinator for Cascades East Transit (CET),

“Every bus in Bend is now equipped with audio and visual technology that lets riders know where they are, in real time,” said Mohni. Previously, the bus driver would call out bus stops as they arrived, and riders would watch the streets to double check the location. Now, automatic announcements through speakers keep riders updated on location–these announcements are connected to geo-location technology. For those who prefer visual information, easy-to-read LED signs have been installed inside the buses. Like the audio announcements, the signs help riders know where they are along the route. “This integrated technology makes bus stops very clear and makes services easier to navigate,” she said.

In her role, Mohni works to make public transportation more accessible for everyone. That means finding ways to make all riders feel at ease, and confident that they’ll know where to get on and off the bus. In addition to new audio and visual aides on the buses, the updated Transit app can keep riders on track.


Transit app updates

For many transition students, using the bus system starts with the CET trip planner tool. This lets them preview the route they’d take to get to school, to work, or out shopping. Then while traveling on the bus, they use the Transit app on their smartphones to follow the route.

This autumn, the Transit app has taken a giant leap forward in real-time, geolocation technology. That means that bus riders can see the bus as it moves along the mapped route, much like on the Uber or Lyft ride-sharing apps. The wifi symbol indicates the bus information displayed is accurate. Along with the real-time map, the app clearly labels how many minutes until the bus arrives or departs. Although the reliability of the app has improved tremendously, CET still recommends arriving at your bus stop at least five minutes early–just in case.


More routes = more access

During the pandemic, the bus system had to be reduced to follow social distancing guidelines. Many CET services have now returned to pre-pandemic levels, like the Dial-A-Ride systems and the Community Connector buses that run between towns in Central Oregon. A new connector route between La Pine and Sunriver recently launched to help people get to and from jobs at the Sunriver Resort. Some riders combine Community Connector buses with Dial-A-Ride for their travel commute. For example, a student might take a Community connector bus from Redmond to Bend, and then use Dial-A-Ride to get to their final destination.

Within the city of Bend, the buses follow nine fixed routes. These routes allow riders to travel almost anywhere in town. CET has plans to expand service in Bend, by adding additional routes in northeast and southeast areas. Currently, the buses follow the Saturday schedule every weekday. The schedule may expand as more drivers become available, according to Mohni.


Travel training: It just takes practice!

For transition-age students, public transportation can be vital to getting around town independently. While navigating the bus system may feel intimidating at first, it just takes a little training and practice to get familiar with the process.

The CET offers Travel Training sessions aimed at senior citizens, students, people of all ages with disabilities, or anyone who wants help learning the bus system. Training sessions can be held remotely or in-person. Topics covered during the training include locating bus stops, using the Transit app, communicating with the driver, and how to safely use mobility devices on the buses.       

 Ready to learn more about the CET bus routes? Here’s an introductory video to get started.

To arrange a Travel Training, contact Ashley Mohni at


HEP Celebration

The Central Oregon High School Equivalency Program (HEP) celebrated these four students as their first to complete the program and obtain their General Education Diploma (GED). HEP is an educational program sponsored by the federal government to help migrant students complete their studies and obtain their GED.

SUCCESS STORY: Starting strong at the transition co-op, with Joe Jones

Most new transition students are curious about what employment is all about. Joe Jones is a little different: when he started his first year at the Bend transition co-op this September, he was already established in a job, and had been getting a paycheck for almost ten months.

Jones, age 18, has been working at McDonalds in Bend since December of 2020. At that time, he was a student at Bend High School, and he applied for the job with the help of Adrianne Goodrich, the Youth Transition Program specialist for Bend HS and La Pine HS. This year, he enrolled in the Bend transition co-op’s half-day program, and continues to work at McDonalds every Wednesday.

“Students have to get used to a lot of new faces and new routines when they start in the transition co-op. Often they wait til they get used to things before they start thinking about jobs. So, to come into the program already working, like Joe—that is pretty impressive,” said Wendy Beall, Autism and TBI Consultant for the HDESD.

Jones felt a bit nervous about his job at McDonalds when he first started, he said. Another person on the McDonald’s staff helped him learn how to manage all the tasks he was expected to do, until he felt comfortable working independently. He is responsible for dishwashing, clearing and cleaning tables, and helping in other ways as needed.

This job keeps him active and moving during his shifts, and that’s what Jones prefers. “I like to work hard, and I like keeping busy,” he said.

Jones plans to keep exploring other types of job opportunities through transition co-op activities. For example, he is participating in a new internship experience that the transition co-op has developed with Costco. Each week during the internship, a small group of students goes with a teacher to the Costco store in Bend. They learn how employees clock in and get to know how the store operates. The students also take on short projects, with the help of their teacher, to learn skills they’d need as Costco employees.

Between his current position at McDonalds and new learning opportunities, Jones is off to a strong start as a transition student!


Got college on your mind? 4 tips for visiting a campus this fall

The actress Audrey Hepburn had it right when she said “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m Possible.”

Her words are good advice for transition students who are curious about college. Compared to the small, close-knit community of a transition program, the idea of attending college could feel overwhelming, or even impossible. Fortunately, there is an easy way to make the idea of college less intimidating and more possible.

The best way to get started is simply to tour a college campus, according to Jamie Rougeux. Rougeux is the Disability Services Coordinator at Central Oregon Community College (COCC). She believes that every student, whether or not they experience disabilities, benefits from guided campus visits. And the earlier a student begins exploring what different colleges have to offer, the better they can find the right fit.



In Bend, Central Oregon Community College (COCC) and Oregon State University – Cascades (OSU) offer opportunities to compare different college campuses. COCC also has a smaller campus in Redmond. One way to start is just walking around campus with a friend or parent.  However, the best way to get familiar with all parts of campus life is to join a guided tour.

“A guided tour gives prospective students the big picture, a preview of campus highlights. Tour guides can answer most questions right from the start,” said Rougeux.

Getting familiar with the buildings, from libraries to lecture halls, makes students feel more at home on campus. Tours go through academic buildings, the gym, a dorm room, and dining halls. For transition students, learning where to find student support offices is just as important. Guided tours will introduce prospective students to departments like tutoring, counseling, and financial aid.



1. Know before you go

Spend some time online reading the college website. What kind of programs and degrees does it offer? What about placement testing for math and language classes? What kind of support services are available? Just as every student has a unique set of strengths and abilities, every college varies in the coursework it offers and in how it supports students with disabilities.


2. Think about your accommodation needs

During high school and the transition program, the IEP or 504 plan is at the foundation of learning for students with disabilities. But at the college level, those plans do not apply. It’s up to the student to understand their own disability, and to apply for the accommodations that will help them succeed.

College tours don’t always include the Disability Services office, because they work with students after they are enrolled. Rougeux and the Disability Services staff at COCC meet with students who have already applied to the college and are taking classes. At that point, she can set up accommodations like extended time for testing, and help with note-taking. Read more about COCC’s Disability Services –there is an information page for parents and teachers too.


3. Bring your questions to the tour

Come prepared with a list of all your questions. Otherwise, it’s easy to get distracted by the sights and sounds of a bustling campus! This is the time for asking any questions – tour guides love interaction with their group. No question is too dumb or silly, and if you are wondering about something there’s a good chance someone else is too.

You may also want to print out a map of the campus to keep track of where you are. Here are links to the Bend COCC map and the OSU-Cascades map.


4. Virtual tours work too

Over the past year, we’ve all learned to use online resources in smarter ways. Colleges have become better at that too. Virtual tours let students here in Central Oregon compare college campuses anywhere. Whether it’s a college close to home or across the country, virtual tours open a huge range of possibilities.

After all, more than one in ten college students have learning disabilities, and colleges want to work with them. Here is one list of twenty different colleges known for their programs for students with disabilities. This list links to thirty colleges with programs tailored for students with disabilities.


Ready to get started?

At COCC, in-person tours take place most Mondays and Fridays at 11:00 am. Sign up through their online calendar.

OSU-Cascades in-person visits happen Monday through Friday, at 10:00am or 2:00pm. Learn more about their tours or sign up for a time through their online calendar. 

Photo courtesy of Dom Fou on Unsplash


Success Story: Dulce Dunham

A summer opportunity leads to a new career interest

When Dulce Dunham joined the Sisters Summer Work Experience, she knew she’d get to try several different kinds of jobs. What she didn’t know was that she’d find a new sense of purpose and a passion for helping people. Dunham, age 17, attends both Sisters High School and the Sisters transition program. This summer, her experiences sparked her interest in a career path that is all about helping others.

The Sisters Summer Work Experience is a program organized and managed by Amy Johnson, youth transition specialist in Sisters. From late June through early August, eleven transition students worked four days each week in a variety of local businesses, including Laird Superfood, Bedouin clothing and gifts, the Sisters High School greenhouse, and the Sisters Farmers Market. The program was funded through a grant from Oregon’s Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS).

As Johnson explained, this program offered kids an opportunity to sample different work environments while gaining job skills. Participating in the program required a commitment. Students had to prepare resumés, attend interviews, and meet with their school district human resources office. They also had to arrange direct-deposit for their paychecks.

“For many of the students, this was their first paid employment. Over the summer I saw growth in each of them, and especially with Dulce. She really showed up as a leader this year,” said Johnson.


Learning to help others

Dunham’s favorite part of the summer work program was not at any one specific business. The best part of her experience, she said, was the opportunity to help another student. The program leaders paired her with a student who needed extra support, and she served as his job coach at each work site.

“I’d wait for him to be dropped off, and be sure he signed in. Then I’d make sure he got where he needed to be, and help him learn what to do. It was fun to help him get the hang of it—like when we were putting together boxes at Laird Superfood. He is a person who brings out the best in people, and I really liked working with him,” said Dunham.

This summer’s experience helped Dunham recognize her own strengths. Working as a job coach requires patience and reliability to guide the client through new routines. Dunham found the work rewarding and challenging. She now plans to pursue job coaching as a career after graduation, and her teachers support that idea. “Dulce was wonderful as a job coach and we could really rely on her. She empowered her student at every step,” said Johnson.


Staying calm and focused

Stepping into the job coach role sometimes meant that Dunham had to set aside her own personal concerns. Whether it was a problem from home or dealing with people who might say things she didn’t like, Dunham practiced staying calm and focused on the job.

“One thing I learned is how to get along better. If another person upset me, I had to let it go and not be mad,” she explained. She appreciates the new relationships she was able to build over the course of the program, and is happy to have made new friendships with the other students.

After her experiences this summer, Dunham would like to encourage other transition students to give every new opportunity a try. “There might be coworkers you have to make an effort to interact with, but maybe you will become friends. There might be obstacles that come your way, but you can keep going til the job is done. Just try it out,” she said.

Dunham will continue to combine studying at Sisters High School and the transition program this fall, and hope to keep building the skills that will lead to a professional job coaching career.

“There might be coworkers you have to make an effort to interact with, but maybe you will become friends.

There might be obstacles that come your way, but you can keep going til the job is done. Just try it out.”

— Dulce Durham



Impact Oregon: Careers that make a difference

In the transition network, we talk a lot about jobs, because employment is important for young adults with disabilities. Topics like job shadowing, internships, and pre-employment skills are all part of the discussion. But there is another side to the story that often gets overlooked: the people with careers in providing developmental disability services.

From Adventure Specialists to Case Managers to Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors, these are the folks who support and enrich the lives of people with disabilities. Careers in developmental disability services are rewarding and interesting, but many job seekers are not aware of all the opportunities. Fortunately, finding jobs in disability services just got a lot easier.


Impact Oregon: Careers that make a difference

In January of 2021, the Office of Developmental Services launched a new website called Impact Oregon. Angela Yeager, Communications Officer for the Office of Developmental Disabilities Services/Employment First, helped develop the site.

“In order to raise the capacity of agencies and organizations that provide services, we saw the need for a centralized job clearinghouse,” said Yeager.

Impact Oregon serves that need. As Yeager explained, the mission of Impact Oregon is twofold. First, the site makes it easy for job seekers to find and apply for jobs that interest them. Agencies and organizations post their job openings on the website, with the work description, estimated wages or salary, and qualifications needed.

The second part of the Impact Oregon mission is to educate job seekers about the variety of careers within the disability services field. The descriptions provide insights and details about what the work involves, the personal qualities that make a good fit, and the required qualifications.

Since the launch, use of the website has been growing at a steady pace. Currently, between 3,000 and 4,000 unique users explore the site monthly. Most users are browsing the job postings, but a large number of viewers also spend time exploring the job descriptions, watching the success story videos, and using the Glossary to understand the acronyms and terminology used in disability services.


Who uses Impact Oregon?

First, employers use Impact Oregon to recruit new employees. Before posting job openings, agencies and organizations must be certified by the Office of Developmental Disabilities Services. Using their provider enrollment ID, they can post jobs complete with the organization name and location, requirements and benefits, a link to their own website, and an Apply Now link to upload resumes.

Anyone looking to get started in a career–even if they have little professional experience—can find opportunities on Impact Oregon. “The greatest and most critical need is for Direct Support Professionals, who provide one-on-one support to a client,” said Yeager. Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) empower and assist people with disabilities with daily living, socialization, meal preparation, and mobility.

Impact Oregon also benefits people who are already working in a disability services position, and who are interested in the next step in their career. Someone working as a DSP, for example, may browse the site’s success stories and job descriptions to explore how they can grow professionally. Every job posting is labeled with the expected experience level, from entry-level to advanced.

“Our hope is that Impact Oregon gives people an efficient way to get started with a good job in DD services—a career that makes a difference. And we want them to stay in the field as they advance in their careers,” said Yeager.

To learn more about Impact Oregon and about jobs in developmental disability services, check out the Careers that Make a Difference video and the Impact Oregon Success Stories video…or hop right on the site and start browsing jobs!