Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS)


Program Summary: In October 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) awarded the State of Iowa funding for the State Alignment Grants for Improving Transition Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities through the Use of Intermediaries. The purpose of Improving Transition Outcomes (ITO) was “To improve transition outcomes for youth with disabilities through blending and/or braiding of federal, state, and community resources and the use of local intermediary organizations.” Four objectives guided the grant:

  1. Conduct resource mapping to assess youth service delivery infrastructures, identifying available assets and resources, and evaluating whether and/or to what extent that system is currently serving youth with disabilities consistent with evidence-based operative principles or Guideposts for Success;
  2. Develop, implement, and evaluate a cross-agency, multi-year state plan to improve transition outcomes for youth with disabilities through blending and/or braiding of federal, state and community resources and the use of local intermediary organizations;
  3. Conduct local pilot demonstrations to determine how, through community partnerships, intermediary organizations can best be used for transition services and the impact of such intermediaries on improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities; and
  4. Demonstrate concrete evidence of sustainability of grant objectives.

Improving Transition Outcomes was administered by Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) in conjunction with the Governance Group, started in 1998, and includes representatives from these seven state agencies:

  • Department for the Blind
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Human Rights
  • Department of Human Services
  • Governor’s Developmental Disabilities Council
  • Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services
  • Iowa Workforce Development

Under this grant, Iowa established a website transition planning tool, a comprehensive state youth plan, and local demonstration projects which focused on direct service to transition-age youth. The local sites that were funded under this project were: Council Bluffs Schools, Henry County Transition Partners, and Hope Haven (in conjunction with West Sioux High School).

Program Structure/Design:

Resource Mapping. ITO sponsored five resource mapping workshops in 2003-2004. They were strategically located across the state to facilitate access and were conducted in anticipation of funding community demonstrations. Attendance at the workshops ranged from 19 to 45 with a mix of representatives from education, human services, state agency, non-profit, and a few youth. It was also an effective vehicle to introduce the ITO project to communities across the state and provide a foundation for those communities that wanted to become a local prototype. After looking at several methods, they chose “The Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)” approach for Iowa. This asset-based approach, patterned on the work of the Institute for Policy Research of Northwestern University, builds on the existing community foundation, identifying and linking community resources in an effort to minimize duplicative efforts, address gaps and needed services.

Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services is part of a multi-agency strategic planning effort called the Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development (ICYD) Agencies within ten state departments representing all of Iowa’s major public delivery systems came together beginning in 1999 to address the need of youth and young adults ages 16 to 21. Recognition that Iowa already had a disability clearinghouse filled with local, state, and national resources prompted the ITO team and partners to think outside the traditional resource mapping box. The result was the web site with transition information, tools, and resources directed to youth and their families. This website includes tools to assist youth with career and college planning and provides resources on mentoring programs.

ITO worked directly with the three prototype local sites to build capacity and resources directly related to the Guideposts for Success categories. Local-level projects were designed and developed by local entities and addressed local needs. Each prototype began with assembling important stakeholders in the needs assessment and resource mapping activities.

  • West Sioux High School and CASE (Career and Self Exploration) prototype team members developed a community resource map that focused on identifying and recruiting business speakers for their CASE class. Students enrolled in CASE also developed individual resource maps specific to their needs and future plans.
  • Council Bluffs integrated their resource mapping into the already established United Way of Midlands website and 211 telephone resource.
  • Henry County Transitions Partners developed a hard copy resource map. A team member from Iowa Wesleyan College took responsibility for gathering and updating information in the directory.

State Plan. All of the agencies involved in ICYD committed to a three year (2007-2010) youth development strategic plan. This plan articulated Iowa’s vision for improving results for its youth as well as laying out basic strategies and priority action areas. The four strategies are: 1) Align Policies; 2) Build Capacity; 3) Engage Youth; and 4) Mobilize Iowans. As VR is a part of this comprehensive plan, leadership within VR and the Governance Group saw little rationale for creating a separate state plan under this project. Instead, they have made sure that the project goals were closely aligned with this larger interagency effort around preparing youth for the future.

Sustainability. Iowa’s focus on sustainability was consistent and constant throughout the project, with the state providing strong leadership and direction. The local sites were at first encouraged and then required to develop sustainability plans. All sites submitted a draft “Business Plan for Sustainability” in order to receive year-two grant funding. As a result, for all of the sites there is a lasting legacy from this project, with many of the activities continuing in some form.

A key state role focused on using evaluation and dissemination to achieve sustainability. From the beginning, the project employed an independent evaluator from Drake University to evaluate the success of the local prototype sites. In reality, this individual went beyond the traditional role of evaluator and provided the sites with extensive assistance in positioning themselves to sustain their work through a focus on outcomes and data collection. He also assisted them in developing sustainability plans and in disseminating information about their efforts.

Throughout the project there had been a concerted effort to disseminate information about the products and local prototypes. At the state level, informational flyers about the project and about each of the sites were prepared and disseminated to stakeholders across the state. The website for parents and youth,, was widely publicized. An informational brochure and business cards promoting the website were produced and disseminated. Staff made presentations to a number of community groups and organizations (including on Iowa’s Public Television), promoting the project, the website, and the local sites. Finally, six radio spots featuring youth and parents that were involved with various peer groups in the state aired on 76 radio stations across Iowa from December 2005 to June 2006. VR owns the radio spots and they are available for download on the website.

Formal ITO grant work ended with a Capacity Building Forum featuring two tracks. Nearly 100 attendees came together to learn from one another and plan for the future. The Capacity Building Discussion track was for members of the Governance Group, MOA Support Team, and ICYD Steering Committee and Work Group. The Capacity Building Discussion focused on “fulfilling Iowa’s Promise for youth with disabilities.” ITO local prototype team members, educators, parents, service providers, field staff, and others participated in the Dissemination of Promising Transition Practices focused on increasing awareness.

States of Operation: IA
ODEP Funded: Yes
Profile Year: 2009


Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: Two of the local pilot sites focused their activities on enhancing youth with disabilities work-readiness skills and career planning and awareness.

Hope Haven helped West Sioux High School integrate the Career and Self Exploration (CASE) curriculum, which was based on a Boston College psychiatric rehabilitation model, into the school. The course includes exposure to the world of work through a student-run business. The students selected to start a coffee shop at the school. Guest speakers from local area business assisted the youth in developing their business model and job-shadowing experiences rounded out the experience. The curriculum was implemented originally as a resource room class for youth with disabilities, but is now an established class at West Sioux High School, open to youth with and without disabilities. As a result of CASE, students learned about the employment options in the community—greater in number and variety than they assumed. Business leaders and community members see the employment potential of the youth when they visit with them in class or as they make purchases at Falcon Joe’s, the coffee shop run by students. (See Hope Haven innovative practice.) CASE was successfully replicated in Maurice, Orange City, Floyd Valley School District and Nodaway Community School District.

Council Bluffs Schools developed and instituted e-mentoring activities as the lynchpin of connecting with community partners. Local employers, who were pre-screened and went through background checks, served as the mentors. Mentors received guidance and suggested topics for email discussions with their mentees who they contacted at least once a week. Students were matched with their mentors, also called business consultants, based on interest. The e-mentoring project was designed to improve the social networking skills of youth with disabilities so they could become their own resource mappers.

Initially students from six high schools and local employers participated in the project which was funded by the local One-Stop. The school district did not start off as a strong partner, but when the funding for this grant ended early, the schools realized what an impact the e-mentoring had on drop-out prevention and truancy rates. Today the e-mentoring program is supported by a district Transition Advisory Committee that continues to participate and work with neighboring districts. Sustainability was built in to the initial business plan and since the project began, successful partnerships have expanded both within the district and in neighboring districts both in Iowa and in Nebraska.


Systems Change: One of the most significant changes seen at the state level as a result of Improving Transition Outcomes (ITO) has been the increase in youth leaving high school connected with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VR) and Iowa Workforce Development (IWD). Prior to ITO, connecting youth with VR and IWD appeared to have been hit-and-miss. The collaborative partnerships established under ITO significantly increased school referrals to these two agencies which are especially important for youth transitioning from high school to employment and/or postsecondary education.

The state Governance Group focuses on employment for Iowans with disabilities and evaluates lessons learned from the projects it oversees. Besides the ODEP-funded project, the group has been supported by grants from the RSA (1998), a DOL Work Incentive Grant (2000), a Disability Program Navigator initiative (2003), and a SSA Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (2006). In the course of its work, the group examines whether state or local policies create barriers to persons with disabilities receiving quality services and serves as a model to local communities in working across agencies. It has continued to meet regularly and supports ongoing local transition initiatives for youth with disabilities.

ITO was creative in its approach to resource mapping. Project staff did not want to duplicate existing efforts. Iowa already has a resource directory for people with disabilities–it is called Iowa COMPASS and is a web-based resource directory of services for people with disabilities in Iowa for use by individuals, parents, and agencies. More than 5,000 services in Iowa are in the directory, including Vocational Rehabilitation and other Governance Group members. The website is a legacy from this project and continues to be supported by Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

Perhaps the most significant legacy of this project is the sustainability and expansion of many of the local activities. Local sites have done well without grant funding and have continued to serve youth focusing on activities begun in 2004 and 2005.

  • Youth Connections e-mentoring is sustaining with key leadership and support from the local Council Bluffs school district. In fact, Youth Connections e-mentoring is expanding within the school district and has been replicated by neighboring school districts in a total of ten schools.
  • CASE curriculum and Falcon Joe’s Coffee Shop are sustaining through key leadership and support from partners West Sioux High School and Hope Haven, Inc. Falcon Joe’s sustains through product sales; CASE sustains through successful marketing, training, and sale of the CASE curriculum. As noted above, the CASE curriculum is now a credit course for students with and without disabilities and has been used by other school districts in Iowa and in South Dakota.
  • Transition Partners in Henry County are sustaining 5 critical transition activities. They are accomplishing this by distributing responsibility among themselves according to the mission and past partnership of their entity. These activities include ongoing stakeholder meetings every semester, scheduled parent-support group meetings eight times a year, annual updates to the Transition Guide, regular meetings of the Transition Resource Team, and regular updates to the multi-county resource directory.


Organization Name: Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS)
Organization Director: Steven Wooderson
Program Name: Improving Transition Outcomes (ITO)
Street Address: 510 E 12th St.
City: Des Moines
State: IA

Contact Person: Barb McClannahan
Contact Title: Youth Employment Manager
Contact E-mail: