2021 Tourism Gives Back – Project Search

The VA1 Tourism Summit partners with a local nonprofit organization each year, and for the 2021 event, we are supporting Project SEARCH.


Project SEARCH is a program that secures competitive employment for people with disabilities. Since its inception, it has grown from a single site at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to a large and continuously expanding international network of sites including The National Conference Center in Leesburg, our 2021 conference location.

The National Conference Center has been a part of the program since 2016, partnering with Didlake (a non-profit that provides employment and rehabilitative services for people with disabilities), Loudoun County Public Schools, and the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services to host ten Project SEARCH interns each academic year. In order to gain practical skills and experience, each Project SEARCH intern has worked three separate ten-week rotations in several departments. The partnership went on hiatus during the pandemic but the conference center looks forward to re-engaging with the program in the near future.


Project SEARCH began in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a research environment that fosters visionary thinking and innovation. Erin Riehle, Director of the hospital’s emergency department felt that, because the hospital served individuals with developmental disabilities, it made sense that they should commit to hiring people in this group. Erin partnered with Susie Rutkowski, then the special education director at Great Oaks Career Campuses, to launch the initiative.


Today, interns at The National Conference Center learn employment skills through hands-on duties and mentorships, and they receive long-term job coaching and continuous feedback from teachers and employers. They also attend a one-hour class in a classroom on-site with LCPS teachers.


The National was the first hospitality organization in Virginia to partner with the program, giving interns the opportunity to learn hospitality related skills, social interaction and time management.

Learn more about Project SEARCH:
Project SEARCH
Virginia Project SEARCH Program – The National Conference Center