The Big Picture

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

Success story: Finding a job that helps people, with Evelyn Zaragoza

Every step brought her closer to her goal 

“The best part of my job is knowing that I make other people’s days better,” said Evelyn Zaragoza.

 Zaragoza, age 21, works in cleaning at the Asante medical office building in White City, Oregon. She enjoys her job, especially because she knows that by keeping the offices clean and safe she’s making it a better place for everyone who comes to the building. 

Finding a job that she loves didn’t just happen by chance. Zaragoza’s success happened because she worked hard at every step along the way, said Melanie Rodgers, Youth Transition Specialist (YTP) for the Southern Oregon Education Service District. “Evelyn has so much tenacity—she pays attention to little details and she’s always up for learning more,” said Rodgers.

After graduating from Eagle Point High School, Zaragoza felt she had more to learn before searching for full-time employment. She chose to continue her schooling through the local transition program. “My teacher taught me how to think about what kind of job I wanted. I learned so much about how to work—everything I needed to know,” said Zaragoza. By the time she graduated from the transition program at age 21, she felt ready to take on the working world.


Taking a goal step by step

As a transition student, Zaragoza had a paid work experience at Head Start. She learned that she enjoyed working with kids, especially in a way that helped to keep them safe and happy. She also participated in a CPR class, a class on working in a retail shop and a class on using the public bus system. All of those extra classes helped build her skills for living independently and succeeding at her current job.

Her first month on the job was challenging at times, said Zaragoza. “I had so many questions at first, even after training. Then I found a co-worker I could ask. I can also ask my manager questions. Then I learned how to do everything I need to do,” she said. One tip she’d give other transition students as they start a new job is to speak up and ask questions right away, so they learn the job quickly.

Zaragoza also holds her mom up as a role model. “My mom taught me how to help people. She is really good in emergencies and knows what to do,” she said.

Looking down the road, Zaragoza plans to keep working at her current job for many years. If she decides to make a change at some point, it will surely be to another job where she can continue to make people’s days better and safer.

Success Story: Finding strength and focus, with Travis Flores

Meeting challenges and finding new opportunities

Travis Flores didn’t have high expectations when he attended a tour of Rogue Community College (RCC). When he agreed to join the tour, he thought they’d probably spend a lot of time on things that didn’t interest him. As it turned out, that college campus tour has given him a new direction for life after high school.

A year ago, Flores was struggling with online schooling during the pandemic and wasn’t sure he could get enough credits to meet graduation requirements. Today, he’s got his high school diploma and has registered to start classes at RCC this fall. How did Flores find the strength and focus to make it happen?


Saying “yes” to new opportunities

The return to in-person school allowed Flores to try some new classes and turn things around during his senior year.

He took an auto mechanics class with an instructor who kept him engaged in learning. “My teacher helped us with everything. We brought in our own vehicles to work on so we could learn how to fix anything,” said Flores.

Flores also signed up for weightlifting, a new sport for him. Not only did it strengthen his muscles, it boosted his confidence.

And he accepted help from his teachers and transition network specialists to make up the credits lost during the pandemic. One member of that team was Melanie Rodgers, youth transition special for the Southern Oregon ESD.

“Once Travis got started on making up those credits, we could see his inner strength growing stronger every day. Everyone cheered when he was able to walk for graduation with his class,” said Rodgers.

A different kind of college tour

Flores joined a tour that RCC created specifically for high school students on IEPs or 504 plans. During the event, the campus disabilities coordinator discussed the differences between the services available to students during high school, and the accommodations available at college. Then the tour visited the diesel mechanics department and Flores was hooked.

“I didn’t expect the tour to have something I was interested in. But when we went into the mechanics area and I saw all the high tech stuff they have and the really big engines, I knew this was what I want to do,” said Flores.

Flores has also registered for a new pilot program called the Inclusive Career Advancement Program, or ICAP. RCC is one of several community colleges across Oregon launching this program. ICAP is aimed at students who are eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation services while they are enrolled in a career training program. It offers both financial help and support for navigating the college system.

For Flores, the ICAP program makes succeeding in the diesel program feel doable. Because his tuition is covered and he knows who to turn to for logistical problems, he can focus on learning. He also can continue to rely on the transition team at the Southern Oregon ESD.

As he takes his next step towards becoming a diesel mechanic, Flores has some advice to offer other transition students. “Sometimes you might think that you don’t need help, but if you are open to help it benefits you. Also, you have to focus on finishing things so that you can move forward,” he said.




Transition Students Get Creative at Shark Tank Student Summit

Transition students get creative in Eastern Oregon

What kind of transition students would jump into a tank full of sharks?

Any creative, fun student who likes to invent things, that’s who!

Last spring, 32 transition students from throughout Eastern Oregon came together for the Invent Yourself Student Summit, a creative learning competition styled after the hit television show Shark Tank.

Over the course of the two-day event, each team of four students brainstormed a product, then designed and built a prototype. The final step was to  present their invention to the shark tank. Just like on the television show, the shark tank is the panel of experts that could reward them with investment dollars.

“This summit brought together all areas of the pre-employment transition skills. Learning to work as a team was one of the students’ biggest takeaways,” said Lon Thornburg, transition network facilitator (TNF) and organizer of the event. Thornberg is already thinking about next year’s summit, and he’s not alone. The students,  community volunteers, mentors and the shark tank panel of experts are also looking forward to Invent Yourself Summit 2023.


What can students learn in a shark tank?

Anyone passing by the shark tank summit would have heard a lot of chatter and laughter. If they peeked in they’d have seen tables heaped with model-building materials: cardboard, duct tape, plastic tubing, wires, cups, boxes, balloons and more. These were the sounds and sights of transition students at work, inventing through cooperation and teamwork.

Their task? First, to identify a problem that needed a solution. Second, to invent a product that solves that problem and  build a model from the materials on hand. Finally, the teams must pitch their products to the shark tank panel.

Each student was assigned a specific role. The scribe/notetaker kept track of the brainstorming and ideas, the artist/designer sketched out different possible designs, the engineer/builder took charge of building the model and the marketer/presenter pitched the product  to the panel. While the whole team participated in each part of the process, the different job titles helped each student step into a leadership role at some point.

Between these four roles, students gained skills in time management, working as a team, delegating tasks, problem solving, prioritizing, compromise and self-advocacy. Along the way, they made new friends and had a whole lot of fun.        


A different kind of student summit

When Thornberg began planning the student summits for the Intermountain ESD, he wanted to focus on student involvement. He found inspiration in activities he’d seen at a Career and Technical Education conference and at job exploration events for students.

“To make the concept fit into a two-day student summit, I scaled down the intensity of the tasks but kept the elements of a shark tank competition,” said Thornburg.

The teams of students weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the summit. Over 22 community members participated as well. Volunteers came from local businesses and city government, YTP specialists, the Disability Services department at Blue Mountain Community College, the Transition Technical Assistance Network and the Amazon Team in Pendleton.

Speakers from the Amazon team shared stories about their own career paths, and showed their own high school pictures. They discussed their work ethic and how they arrived at the positions they hold today. “It was a fantastic experience for the students, and the volunteers and mentors got just as much out of the event as the students did,” said Thornburg.

Opportunities Abound at Job Fairs in Oregon

Three reasons transition students should attend 

If you thought job fairs were only for students ready for full-time careers, you might be missing out on a world of opportunities.

 All over Oregon, job fairs and career expos help transition students gain a better understanding of what their future could hold. Whether large or small, these events connect students of all abilities with businesses looking for employees, and with colleges and trade schools for post-secondary education.

the  In Southern Oregon, the Careers in Gear job fair has been a tradition for 11 years, and this year was the biggest yet. The fair filled the Jackson County Expo Center with 1951 transition and high school students from Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties. They spent the day exploring 145 booths set up by local businesses, trade schools and colleges. The main industries included healthcare, construction,, transportation, helping professions, information technology,  childcare, administrative services, manufacturing, natural resources and the military.

 The Careers in Gear job fair is organized by the Project Youth+ Career Build program. Jenifer Parry, project manager at Project Youth+, sees this event as more than an opportunity to land a summer job. “Students can explore careers available right in their own backyard, and they have the chance to ask folks working in a certain job what it’s like–what are their favorite and least favorite parts of that kind of work,” she said.

 Not all students are hired during a job fair, but each gains helpful insights. Read on to find three important lessons transition students can learn at a job fair…

Watch Project Youth+Career Build video here.


Why should transition students attend job fairs and career expos?

Even if a student doesn’t feel ready to look for paid employment, attending a career expo is still a terrific learning opportunity. Here are some of the ways that participating can help students prepare for their future.

  • Exploring booths helps to find new career paths that fit your strengths

Maybe you like to work with your hands, but never thought that might include baking, welding or styling hair. Maybe you’re good with details but need a quiet work environment. That might mean data entry, or greenhouse work. For every strength a person might have, there is a job that requires that skill. And a career expo is the place to learn about those jobs.

  • Talking with different businesses helps build communication skills

Sometimes, talking with employers can be stressful. Job fairs are a low-pressure environment where students can practice interacting on a professional level. That might mean learning to ask questions about a business and learning to answer questions about yourself. You’ll see how people dress for work, and how they behave. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

  • Networking helps to grow your community

Talking with an employer at a job fair booth is a chance to leave a good impression—and to leave your resume. That employer may know another business with a job opening perfect for you! Or they might keep your resume on file for their own next opening.


Ready to find a job fair or career expo near you? Here are some of the larger job fairs planned for regions around Oregon:

 Eugene Area: This online virtual job fair features entry-level job openings in the Eugene area. Register through the website, then be ready to show your best self on Wednesday, September 21, 2022, from 11:00am to 2:00pm.


Central Oregon: The Central Oregon Skilled Trades Fair happens Friday, November 18, 2022, at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds. Check out their video to see the hands-on experiences from last year’s expo!


Portland Metro area: The NW Youth Careers Expo happens next February 22, 2023, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. This annual event draws in about 6,500 students and almost 200 booths. In addition to top employers, students can talk to apprenticeship training centers and colleges, engage in mock interviews and try out different interactive activities.

Also in Portland: The Oregon Tradeswomen’s Annual Career Fair is an interactive, trades-related event planned for May of 2023. The focus is on women in apprentice programs for construction trades,and how to get into a career with little to no debt. Most workshops are managed by tradeswomen, demonstrating the power and potential of a truly diverse workforce. Check the website for updates and details!

Southern Oregon: If you missed the Careers in Gear Expo this year, watch for information on the 2023 date! This annual event is organized by the Project Youth+ Career Build program. In the meantime, Project Youth+ can help you prepare for a job fair with resume help and other support services.

Transforming Family Engagement

In 2019 Oregon passed the Student Success Act, which allocates $1 billion a year to early learning and K–12 education. This legislation also requires districts to create family and community engagement initiatives in their plans for spending these funds. The Southern Oregon Education Service District (SOESD) and Better Together quickly realized that they needed support to strengthen and transform their family and community engagement practices, and they reached out to Scholastic FACE for help. Better Together, a nonprofit program that sits under the High Desert Education Service District, activates networks across sectors and communities to transform the systems that serve children, youth, and families.  To read more…

“Peer 2 Peer” helps transition students gain confidence

Making new work experiences feel friendlier

For Ashlee Everett and Jenna Norstadt, learning how to manage a new job happens best when you start as a team.

Last spring, the pair began working at a local retirement home. Their duties started with cleaning and helping in the kitchen, but they’ve grown into more responsibilities: serving food and drinks to residents and helping with ice cream socials.

Everett and Norstadt were among the transition students who participated in a new opportunity in Douglas County: the Peer 2 Peer Program. By combining job skills and work experience with social supports, Peer 2 Peer helps students feel more confident starting out in new job settings.

Having a friend on her side from the start felt good to Everett. “I liked knowing I had someone to talk to, and seeing a different way of coping with challenges,” she said. Everett will be starting her senior year at South Umpqua High School this September.

For Norstrandt, who graduated in June, starting the job together let them get up to speed quickly. “I helped Ashley learn how to make the coffee, and she helped me with remembering the names of people who live there,” said Norstadt.

Both students agree that the Peer 2 Peer program gave them a helpful boost in feeling confident in their new workplace. 


Peer 2 Peer: A new twist on job training

Like most professionals in the transition network, Tiana Eovandi was thrilled to see students return to in-person learning. As a Douglas County Pre-ETS specialist, she was eager to connect students with new work experiences and get back into the routine of life before the pandemic. But she noticed that for many students, life was not back to normal.

“Some students came back with a real fear of public places. Others were grieving the loss of a loved one. We all were still dealing with impacts on mental health from the past two years,” said Eovandi.

In response, Eovandi did some brainstorming with Darci Shivers, transition network facilitator, on ways to rebuild students’ relationships that had been lost during the pandemic. They placed friendship and peer mentoring squarely at the center of the program, to strengthen student connections. By focusing on local employers, they nurture connections to the community. And by preparing the students with solid job skills, they help local businesses resolve their labor shortages.


Peers, Preparation, and Pizza Parties!

To launch the Peer 2 Peer as a pilot program, Eovaldi and Shivers partnered with the South Umpqua High School special education department and Youth Transition Program. They brought interested students together for a work readiness class, where they practiced skills that ranged from time management to communicating with a supervisor.

Some skills were practiced through cooperative games, like timing how long a pair could keep a conversation going. Some days involved role playing job situations, like a server bringing a meal out to a customer. Other fun events (pizza party!) strengthened the bonds of friendship. Through it all, students learned they could rely on each other for support. 

Student partners begin their job together and are paid a competitive wage through a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) grant. In this first year of the Peer 2 Peer program, job sites included J Sloppy Burgers, Adams House Assisted Living Community, the Myrtle Creek Library, and the Umpqua  Valley Summer Arts Festival.


What’s next for Peer 2 Peer?

As students finish their work experiences their next steps might be negotiating an internship, connecting with Vocational Rehabilitation, applying to an open position, or looking into higher education. Some students, including Ashlee Everett, plan to enroll in Peer 2 Peer again next year. Others, Like Jenna Norstadt, found a career path they love and hope to stay on with their employer.

Eovaldi and Shivers plan to keep developing the Peer 2 Peer program. As with any pilot project, unexpected challenges forced them to adapt, stay flexible, and focus on positive outcomes. They learned to problem-solve transportation issues, roll with changes due to COVID exposures, and expect the unexpected, always.

“I’ve got a notebook full of problem-solving points for next year! But the growth and confidence we saw in our students, the way they became part of a community? That made all that problem-solving worthwhile,” she said.”

How to be a good roommate

You’re ready to live independently, but are you ready for a roommate?

Questions to discuss before you share a house

What do Bert and Ernie, the Golden Girls, and the cast of Friends have in common?

 They all were roommates, at least on television. These characters figured out how to live together, respect each others’ space and be supportive friends. On television, they made it look easy! But in real life, becoming good roommates can be challenging.

For transition students planning to move out of their family homes, living with a roommate is often the first time they share space with someone who is not family. This means starting from scratch in setting boundaries and expectations, and that can get messy and complicated.

What can students do to make the roommate experience go smoothly? Communication and respect are the keys to success.


The pros and cons of having roommates

Some of the benefits of having a roommate are obvious. Roommates make renting more affordable: each person pays their share of the rent and utilities like water, electricity, and trash removal. Roomies share the work of independent living too, by dividing up the cleaning chores.

Sharing an apartment or house means more than paying bills and mopping floors, though! Roommates can become great friends: sharing dinners, chatting over coffee, playing video games. Some roommates just do their own things, and that’s fine too. Even if roomies don’t become close friends, just having a person around keeps loneliness at bay. Having a roommate can feel safer—they know if you need help, or are sick, or what time to expect you home.

On the other hand, some roommate combos are like oil and water. Their lifestyles just don’t blend. To find the right fit, both people need to understand how the other one lives. For transition students, that means sharing information about your disability.

Talking openly about your strengths and the challenges you face will help your roommate understand how you live. For example, if you rely on buses or walking for transportation, you may need to find a place close to bus stops and shopping. Are there tasks that you’ll rely on your roommate to do? Also, roommates should know if personal support workers will spend time at home with you. The more you talk about, the fewer surprises you’ll find later.


Setting ground rules and expectations: More questions that roommates should discuss

Before moving in to share a house or apartment, future roommates have a lot to talk about. The topics range from big-picture questions like what kind of lifestyle do you like? to the nitty-gritty details like what does a clean bathroom look like to you?

One important conversation is setting the ground rules on borrowing things like clothing, sports gear, cars—and even little things like toothpaste. Is it okay to share the peanut butter? How about borrowing a bike, just for a quick ride? Maybe you shared all these things with brothers and sisters at home, but this new arrangement will be different. Decide the ground rules for what can be shared, what can be borrowed with permission, and what possessions are off limits.

Seems like a lot! But that’s not all… Here are 5 more questions all roommates should discuss

1. What are your expectations for quiet hours? If your normal bedtimes and morning routines don’t match, what noise level is acceptable during those times?

2. How will you manage paying the bills? If one person takes charge of bills, how will the other transfer money?

3. Sometimes a roommate comes with a furry friend. How do you feel about pets?

4. Are you okay with a little mess, like dishes in the sink and laundry on the couch? Or do you expect the kitchen and couch areas to stay tidy?

5. Most importantly, how will you communicate if something is bothering you? Create a plan to check in regularly, so small problems don’t grow into big problems.


Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation grants $13,500 to Healthy Families of the High Desert

Healthy Families of the High Desert has been awarded a $13,500 grant from Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation to support the basic needs of families in Deschutes County. The funding will help families get baby birth certificates, pay fines, purchase hygiene items, car seats camping toilets and showers, babyproofing items and other related expenses needed to meet basic family needs.

“The idea is to reduce family stress by having some basic needs met so that families feel supported and engaged with their baby,” said Lori Colvin, regional program manager for Healthy Families of the High Desert.

HFHD is a voluntary home visiting program that assists families in giving their newborn children a healthy start in life. The program offers weekly intensive home visits for families that need and accept extra support, working with parents prenatally, or when the baby is first born, to promote positive parent/child relationships and enhance family functioning. When families enroll in the program, family support specialists meet weekly with parents, creating a non-threatening approach to increase the initial engagement of parents who may be skeptical of agencies and organizations.

According to Colvin, family participation in the HFHD program reduces risk of child abuse and neglect, improves parent relationships, strengthens social and emotional development and leads to children doing better in school. 

“This grant will make a big impact on families in Deschutes County. Each family has unique needs and Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation is allowing us to be flexible with how we use this funding so we can use it where it’s needed most,” said Colvin.

Like many Native American cultures, the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians has a long time-honored tradition of giving to their communities. In 1997 the Tribe formalized this tradition of philanthropy by establishing a grant making Foundation. The Foundation makes grants to nonprofit 501©3 organizations for the benefit of the public within Coos, Deschutes, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, and Lane counties.

“We’re excited to share some of the wonderful stories that come from this grant,” said Colvin.

For more information about HFHD, contact Lori Colvin at or (541) 749.2138.

Shell Gas – an Employment First Award Winning Employer!

Shell Gas in Bend: Committed to Employing People of Different Abilities

Because everyone deserves a chance

 When you ask Alan Perez what he likes most about working at the Shell station on highway 20 in Bend, he’ll tell you he likes stocking shelves and making things look better. He hopes to someday pursue a career in acting, but for now, he’s enjoying the opportunity to make friends and help out.  

 “It’s actually pretty great,” he said about the job he’s been in for about three months with support from the High Desert Transition Co-op, and Shell station owner Kizar Couch.


A long history of creating opportunity

Perez is part of a long history of employing people with diverse abilities at this Shell Station. This spring, Couch and his team were recognized by Employment First, a coalition of organizations and state agencies working to develop a wider variety of employment for people with I/DD. In appreciation of the accepting, flexible work atmosphere and the opportunities for students to try a variety of job tasks, Couch received a hand-crafted glass plate award and certificate of appreciation.

Employment First partners with over fifty Central Oregon businesses who provide opportunities to transition students and adults with I/DD. The process begins when job developers assess students’ strengths and skills, and match them to job requirements. The job developers provide employee training, and ongoing support is available as long as necessary.

As Couch explained, offering opportunities to young adults with disabilities fits their business philosophy.

“Our goal is to make a positive impact on our community. We want every customer to leave happier than when they arrived. That happens through the customer service our employees provide. But it also happens when we give people a chance to be part of our team. Everyone deserves a chance,” said Couch.

Couch, along with his father, has co-owned the Shell Gas Station for over twenty years. Around 2007, Couch recalled, they met Jimmy, a young man with Down Syndrome. Jimmy liked the friendly atmosphere at the station and asked for a job.

“We liked him too, but we didn’t have a job available. But everyone deserves a chance to work, so we created a new position. Jimmy washed the windshields for people who stopped at the store for soda or snacks. He loved the job and customers loved the service—they would tip Jimmy like crazy!” said Couch.

Then Couch learned about the support available for people with disabilities, like job coaching and tax incentives to offset the extra cost of creating new positions and extra training hours. That support made it easier to stay involved with service organizations like Good2Go and Abilitree. Over the years, he has provided internships and paid employment to over forty transition students and adults with disabilities. They tailor duties to match strengths: Some employees, like Jimmy, thrive on connecting with people. Others, like Allen, may be more detail oriented. Stocking coolers and keeping the inventory tidy is an important area of the business where they find success.


Employing transition students is a win-win strategy

As a business owner, Couch sees the contribution that transition students bring to his team—especially when hiring is difficult. Customers at the gas station also recognize the importance of hiring people with diverse abilities and appreciate a business that provides opportunities, he noted.

His advice for other businesses considering hiring transition students? Take time to look into the support available. “Job coaches and financial incentives are a big deal. They balance out any challenges with extra training hours. But honestly I would continue hiring these guys and gals even with no support, because they have added so much to our team,” he said 

“Helping a person grow their capacity feels really good. I’ll always make space for this in our business. This is what it means to be a business owner—giving people a chance to be productive and be part of a team. Otherwise they get lost in the shuffle. If every person with a disability could find their opportunity, that would start a ripple effect through the whole community.”