Project SEARCH: A Unique Internship Program that Benefits Local Business

by: Cindy Bahl, Director of Business Development & Amplify! Events

Most of us are familiar with internship programs and perhaps have even been an intern at one point in life.  We understand the value of interning; gaining experience and working on those soft and hard skills.  Internships are often very competitive and sought-after experiences, providing an opportunity that can launch into a career.  The international internship program, Project SEARCH is similar to a traditional internship, yet it has a unique focus of providing internship opportunities for adults and youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

In this nine-month internship program, developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, a host business provides up to 12 interns with three different work experiences and includes an employment provider who specializes in the skills training and job placement of people with I/DD, like autism and Down syndrome.  Collaboration occurs between all partner agencies as the intern is immersed in the host business, developing both soft and hard skills that will move them toward their ultimate goal of working in the community.

Meet Project SEARCH graduate, Brandon Runyan, a young adult who recently completed and graduated from the Project SEARCH site hosted by Embassy Suites by Hilton, Portland-Washington Square in Tigard and supported by Albertina Kerr, a local employment provider partner.  Brandon shared his positive experience with me to help create awareness about the program and the contributions that he and others can bring to the workplace.

Cindy: What did you like about the Project SEARCH program?

Brandon: It doesn’t just teach you the hard skills of the actual job, it teaches you how to be a good worker in any job, how to be productive in the workplace, and how to be reliable.”

Cindy:  What are some specific things that you learned and are using today, now that you are employed?

Brandon:  How to read my paycheck!  How to pay my own bills and budget for the things I want to buy like a Starbucks or new headphones.

Cindy: What is your job at Embassy Suites by Hilton, Portland-Washington Square location?

Brandon:  I am a Breakfast Ambassador!  I stock supplies, bus tables, and keep the dining area looking good.  I interact with customers and have learned to balance a friendly conversation with the work, so I don’t talk too long.  My supervisor, Joe Wehbi, said “coffee must flow”; I learned a lot from him.

Cindy:  Do you think you would have this job if you had not participated in the Project SEARCH Internship program?

Brandon: Definitely not.  I was on the way to being employable but not ready to hold a job.  Learning workplace skills, practicing my communication, and interview skills made a big difference to me.  My supervisor in Project SEARCH encouraged me to apply for this job.  He recognized that I would be great as a Breakfast Ambassador and I applied, interviewed, and was hired.

Cindy:  So, your internship was not the same as your current job?

Brandon: Yes, my internship was three months as a Lobby Attendant, three months in banquet, setting up for events, and three months as a Houseman, doing floors and housekeeping in different sections of the hotel.

Cindy:  What do you like most about your job?

Brandon: I really like the breakfast! Ha!  The people, they are like family.  I am passionate about the work and function of the hotel and the hospitality industry; we are here to serve.

John DeRosa, Director of Sales and Marketing and Liaison with the Project SEARCH program shared, “Embassy Suites is so fortunate to host Project SEARCH in partnership with Albertina Kerr.  Not only does this program offer real-life work experience for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but it offers our hotel a unique advantage of filling hard to fill positions with candidates who are ready to work.”

“Brandon has made a difference in the lives of our staff. He worked nine months in three rotations during his internship with Project SEARCH. Because of his hard work and dedication to the program, we hired him.“

Amplify! Success 2019 : The Benefits of Disability Inclusion in the Workforce

Join us October 16th, 1:00-5:00PM at Nike WHQ to hear the sounds of inclusion and learn about the many benefits of disability inclusion in the workplace.

For more information or to partner with us and become a sponsor of Amplify! Success 2019, contact Cindy Bahl @ 503-258-7715 or

Amplify! Is an initiative of Dirkse Counseling & Consulting, Inc. That includes two annual events, Amplify! Success in October and Amplify! Rock Stars in May.  Events are designed to inspire, empower and equip employers to create a more inclusive workplace for people with diverse abilities.

Amplify Rock Stars – 2019

by Cindy Bahl
Director of Business Development and Amplify! Events
Dirkse Counseling and Consulting, Inc.

Wow what a fantastic event we had on May 23rd at Embassy Suites by Hilton, Portland-Washington Square with over 100 in attendance the energy was amplified!  If you missed it, you missed a great time; but don’t worry, we are here for you to help you start your disability inclusion journey!  Contact us today and let’s have a conversation!  Until then, here is a brief recap:

Keynote Speaker Heather Weldon inspired us to “think differently”, she shared the challenges she faced at The City of Seattle and how she reversed priorities, making a business case for employment of people with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities.   To achieve her goals of 30 new positions, she shared her formula for success which included her top three tips for you:

  1. Focus on workplace needs
  2. One job at a time
  3. Build an army of support

Success Stories are always my favorite to share and this year we acknowledged Michael Takata and his 5-year employment anniversary at Walmart Neighborhood Store.  What a joy to see the smile on his face and to hear from Mom, Vicki Takata and how working makes such an impact not only on Michael, but on his community and our society.  I had tears in my eyes and I’m sure others did too!

Michael & Vicki Takata with Dirkse CC Job Coach, Wynter Lyons

We also highlighted the Project Search Program, a 9-month Internship program where young adults with I/DD develop work skills, experience various job environments and tasks that help them identify and gain meaningful employment.  We heard from 2 graduates and 2 current Interns who enthusiastically shared their stories with the crowd.

Project Search Interns & Graduates, Addie Connelly, Brandon Runyan, Wesley Aylward & Adam Parker

Awards and Acknowledgements were also a big part of the event, after all, it is Amplify! ROCK STARS and we have some Rock Star employers in our community!  City of Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle was on hand to help acknowledge and hand out the awards.

Advancing Employment Opportunities:

  • Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation District
  • Jama Software
  • Pest Solutions
  • Nike WD+C
  • Oregon Health & Science University
Heidi Dirkse-Graw, Mayor Denny Doyle, THPRD Representatives Julie Rocha, Gretchen Gorman, Wendy Kroger & John Griffiths

Advancing Disability Diversity & Inclusion:

  • Nike, Ability Network – Host of Amplify! Success for 3 years in October!
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton, Portland-Washington Square – Host of Amplify! Rock Stars for 2 years!
  • Pamplin Media & The Business Tribune
  • Beaverton Resource Guide
  • Beaverton Chamber of Commerce
  • The City of Beaverton
Heidi Dirkse-Graw, Mayor Denny Doyle, Embassy Suites Representatives John DeRosa & Kelsey Card

Of course, we can’t thank our Sponsors enough!  We could not do it without them!

Photos courtesy of Trillium Images

Thank you to all of our Rock Stars! Sponsors – VIEW SPONSORS

This year we also held our first Amplified Job Opportunity Fair and were very pleased to have 75 differently abled job seekers talking to five different employers, face-to-face about their opportunities.   Thanks to our participating employers who are looking forward to 2nd interviews with multiple candidates:

  • City of Beaverton
  • Columbia Sportswear
  • Chick-fil-A Raleigh Hills
  • Embassy Suites Portland Washington Square
  • Fred Meyer

Save-The-Date for Amplify! Success on Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 @ Nike WHQ!  It’s going to be bigger and better this year and you won’t want to miss it!  More details to come soon!

Join the Amplify! Initiative!  Contact Cindy Bahl, Director of Business Development & Amplify! Events at 503-258-7715 or

Empower Your Workforce
Affirm Abilities
Amplify Success!