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​Celebrating Opportunities
by Cheryl Cisneros,
The Arc Oregon

Employment First Celebrating Opportunities
​For the past two school years, The Arc Oregon has been assisting students from school districts in Washington County in their transition from school to employment. This program is inspired by Oregon’s Employment First Policy that believes all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities need to pursue employment opportunities as adult citizens.

This year, The Arc Oregon, in partnership with the Washington County Employment First Team, hosted an Employer Awards Luncheon and Employment Resource Fair. It was the culmination of the school year and it was open to the public, showcasing the students enrolled in Project Employ.

The Arc Oregon, with support and collaboration from the Oregon Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, The Arc United States, and the Walmart Foundation have developed a "Project Employ" that provides training based on person-centered planning and the development of additional skills and readiness for transition students to become employees in their community. The Arc Oregon coordinates a variety of activities throughout the school year in collaboration with schools, vocational rehabilitation services, developmental disability services, students and families.

At the employment event, students greeted more than 150 invited employers and community partners through a corridor of their poster display boards at the entrance of the ballroom. The luncheon featured presentations from the Governor’s Workforce Policy Advisor; the Oregon Director of Developmental Disability Services; and two state legislators who spoke about the economic and business benefits of employment. Employer excellence awards were presented to Powell’s Books and the Nike Employee Store for their leadership and continued success including individuals with developmental disabilities within their companies.

As a photo slide show of the Project Employ students displayed on a large screen, the names of each student were read aloud and the ballroom filled with sounds of applause. The students beamed with pride. It was at this point that we announced the students were seated at the same tables as the employers they are interested in working for. There was then a panel of speakers including employers, an employee and a parent to share strategies for success. The mood in the room was festive and energetic. The Project Employ students did a wonderful job of sharing their resumes and networking with employers during the luncheon with the support of job developers and parents. All of the employers in attendance, including a wonderful team from Starbucks, were enthusiastic and engaging.

Employers used words like "powerful awakening" and "inspirational" and "motivating". Everyone seems genuinely excited about the new partnerships created on this day. We are excited to build upon this model as we look toward year three of the project. Updates will be posted at www.facebook.com/arcoregon​​​.projectemploy​.