Helen Gordon Center employee honored for community partnership
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: July 24, 2019

For the past two years, Erin Burns of the Helen Gordon Child Development Center (HGCDC) at Portland State University has been partnering with Summer Work Internship for Transition (SWIFT), a group that supports teens with disabilities in gaining workplace skills. Burns, the student employment coordinator for the HGCDC, plans to keep that partnership going. 

“I look forward to many more summers of partnerships with SWIFT!” Burns said.

Her commitment to the partnership has not gone unnoticed. Burns is being presented with the Oregon State Rehabilitation Council's Vocational Rehabilitation Award on August 2 at the Council’s quarterly meeting in Tigard. Burns said that she is thankful for the accolade.

“I think that the work we do at Helen Gordon CDC around inclusion and working with children with special rights, is mirrored in the SWIFT program,” Burns said. “Even though this is only our second year partnering with them, it has been rewarding to watch the SWIFT participants grow during their short time (seven weeks) with us.”

HGCDC stands in its own building on the northwest side of the PSU campus, but falls within the purview of the College of Education (COE). HGCDC provides preschool education for the children of students, faculty and staff, as well as community members.

The HGCDC-SWIFT partnership coalesced when Lisa Catherwood called Burns one day two years ago to ask Burns to participate. Catherwood is the statewide coordinator for Oregon’s Youth Transition Program, which strives to prepare students with disabilities for employment through an array of opportunities including SWIFT.

SWIFT is for youths ages 16 to 20 who have a disability that creates a barrier to employment and want to hone independent living skills, such as workplace skills, time management, and customer service skills. SWIFT is a Vocational Rehabilitation program through the Oregon Department of Human Services.

“We are deeply honored to be presented with the Oregon State Rehabilitation Council’s Vocational Rehabilitation Award for Erin Burns at the HGCDC,” COE Dean Marvin Lynn said. “Truly, the partnership that she has forged with SWIFT stands as an excellent example of how we wish to fulfill the College of Education's mission to advance life-long learning in diverse learning environments, including schools.”

Award eligibility criteria focus on the program, although a specific person is nominated. The criteria include: a program that has hired several people who are doing vocational rehab or a program that has gone the extra mile to customize a job for someone with a significant disability. Award recipients also must demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Burns was honored for the way in which she and her team conducted their work partnering with SWIFT.

“The staff [at HGCDC] show compassion- and strength-based learning to, not only the preschool students, but also SWIFT participants,” the nomination form says. “They allow the SWIFT-ees to share their talents and gifts with the Center and encourage them every step of the way.”

HGCDC Director Mary Schumacher-Hoerner said that she is proud of Burns as a stand-out employee and that this partnership with SWIFT is an ideal fit for HGCDC.

“A community connection is something that is so important to us,” Schumacher-Hoerner said. “It aligns to our philosophy of inclusion and community building.”

For more information about the HGCDC, call 503-725-3092 or email Schumacher-Hoerner at


Top photo: Helen Gordon Child Development Center (HGCDC) Student Employment Coordinator Erin Burns and Director Mary Schumacher-Hoerner are thrilled that Burns has been honored with the Oregon State Rehabilitation Council’s Vocational Rehabilitation Award. Photographer: Jillian Daley

Bottom photo: Summer Work Internship for Transition student Kahlea “KC” Rowland works with 3-year-olds Olive (left) and Hazel (right) at the Helen Gordon Child Development Center. Photographer: Mayumi Sekigawa

To share stories about the College of Education, email Jillian Daley.