In the Beginning….
In 1974, the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) instituted a system of Regional Rehabilitation Continuing Education Programs (RRCEPs) to serve and support state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies by working closely with the regional RSA offices.
The first Region X RRCEP was awarded to Seattle University’s (SU) Rehabilitation Program, which soon hired Dr. Jack Kite to head up the new project. These five-year cooperative agreements proved to be both useful to their federal and state customers, and remarkably stable. Most of those first grantees continued to compete successfully for funding until the end of the RRCEP program in 2008.
Over time, the Region X RRCEP at SU developed additional continuing education and technical assistance projects, funded by RSA and other sources. However, these projects didn’t quite fit within an academic rehabilitation program because they served a different clientele (professionals in the field rather than college students), and they didn’t follow an academic calendar, award grades, or result in tuition revenues.
In 1985, it became clear that an independent center within SU would have a freer hand and more opportunities for program development—and the Center for Continuing Education in Rehabilitation (CCER) was born, with Jack Kite as its first director. Colleen Fox stepped up from her training position to take over as director of the Region X RRCEP.
While state VR agency personnel continued to be CCER’s primary customer base, CCER also provided resources to the community-based programs that contract with VR to provide services like job development and job coaching. These projects resulted in the addition of staff, including Peggy Todd, Russ Goedde, Laurie Ford, John Dineen, and Christy Freelove. Around 1990, Paul Dziedzic came on board to work with Jack Kite on the development of the Emerging Leaders series—still going strong after almost 20 years.
The WWU Years
In 1991, CCER met Dr. Larry Marrs, then Dean of the School of Education at Western Washington University (WWU), and Dr. Violet Malone, Department Chair for Adult Education, who both expressed excitement about a merger with CCER. So, in the fall of 1992, CCER became part of the Woodring College of Education at WWU, leaving the SU campus for an office park in Bellevue.
Moving to WWU meant a lot of changes at CCER. Many staff opted to either stay at SU, or seek other opportunities—so only six employees set up the new offices. Colleen had been working with Alaska DVR to set up self-managed work teams and we decided to adopt that model at CCER. This decision improved our administrative processes, and also provided much better support for new project development. Besides adding staff, including Nancy Loverin, Ken Patten, and Susan Oswald to implement our existing grant funded projects, we successfully developed grant proposals to support the development of certificate and Master’s degree programs in Rehabilitation Counseling, as well as a Distance Education project (headed up by Greg Gerard) that was one of the first to investigate distance approaches to pre-service and continuing education. RSA also awarded RRCEP additional funding for a “Rehabilitation Cultural Diversity Initiative” (RCDI) project, and Mark Fristo joined the staff.
After we had been in Bellevue for about four years, another move brought the CCER team to our present space in Mountlake Terrace. Around the same time, RSA phased out many of the funding categories we had been competing for (like RFA and RFP), combining them into an RRCEP for community rehabilitation providers. In 1997, CCER successfully competed for and was awarded the Region X CRP RCEP, and added Katie Cissell, Lori Magnuson, John McClure, and Alan Lloyd to the staff. John Dineen left for a couple of years to work for a local CRP, later returning with renewed expertise and enthusiasm.
WWU’s graduate program continued to grow and prosper. The original professor for the program, Dr. Glen Peterson, left for Mankato State University and Dr. Beth Swett (now Dr. Boland) took over the reins, aided by Alexa Burns. Following many years of commitment and support to Native American Vocational Rehabilitation projects, CCER was awarded two consecutive three-year grants to provide training and technical assistance to these projects, hiring first Carleen Anderson and then August Martin to spearhead implementation of the Dine’ project and the Oyate’ project, respectively. Colleen Fox left the General RRCEP, and Dr. Kathe Matrone entered the picture to take over RRCEP leadership.
There were other staff changes, of course. Nancy Loverin left the RRCEP for King County, and Linda Hedenblad took her place. Melissa Kurtz came on board to assist with the “Direct Service Professional” project, which used distance education to prepare people with disabilities for careers in human services. Jack Kite’s retirement was followed by the hiring of Dr. Geri Hansen as the new CCER director. Geri was an inspiring leader with a great sense of humor and a true commitment to the field of rehabilitation, and she maintained and built on CCER traditions to keep us moving forward. Following Geri’s retirement to Arizona and Rhode Island, Kathe stepped up into the CCER Director position and continues to lead and inspire us.
One of our most significant leaps forward happened in 2006 when CCER competed successfully for the Region X Disability Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC), responsible for providing information and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We got the phone call awarding the grant on Friday September 29th, with instructions to be ready to answer the phones and start business Monday morning October 2nd. Adding the DBTAC (now called the Northwest ADA Center) broadened CCER’s focus beyond employment services for people with disabilities, and also brought in some terrific new staff—Don Brandon as DBTAC Director, Jo Fleming as Washington State coordinator, Kaleb Cameron, Terri Smith, Iyataco McKee, Barney Fleming and Miranda Levy as Information Specialists, and Sara Woody as Bluepath Coordinator. The Northwest ADA Center was refunded in 2012 and is now headed by Michael Richardson, with Eva Larrauri, Miranda Levy, and David Barton providing training and technical assistance.
2008 was also a year of big changes. After 16 years at WWU, we moved to the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. We’re still in Mountlake Terrace, but now we’re part of a department that focuses on rehabilitation and disability services, with many other research and training projects relating to these topics. The graduate program in Rehabilitation Counseling remained at WWU, but we continue to work closely with Dr. Boland and her colleagues.
The same year, RSA decided to end the General RRCEP and CRP RCEP programs and hold a competition for regional Technical Assistance and Continuing Education (TACE) Centers, which would focus primarily on the state VR agencies and secondarily on their partners—CRPs, Tribal VR programs, State Rehabilitation Councils, Independent Living Centers, and the like. CCER was awarded the TACE for Region X beginning October 2008, and we spent six years working in partnership with RSA and our counterparts across the country to meet the needs of our regional customers. RSA discontinued funding regional training and technical assistance centers in 2015.
A New Approach
Meanwhile, CCER team members Susan Bonnell, Christine Clark, Paul Dziedzic, John McClure and Tammi Olson have been helping us diversify our “book of work” by landing contracts for activities, such as the Washington State TBI conference, a study of educational/employment outcomes for youth released from juvenile detention for the Washington Juvenile Justice and Rehabilitation Administration, and a partnership role in the new national Job-Driven VR Technical Assistance Center.
Our reduced reliance on federal grants means that we have more flexibility in what we do and who we serve; and while our primary focus will continue to be the Northwest, we have begun to look beyond our traditional regional boundaries for growth opportunities.