Help Us Support WIOA

Skils’kin needs your help to help protect employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Please read the following statement from Skils’kin CEO Brian Behler and then follow the directions provided below to help preserve AbilityOne employment for individuals with disabilities across the nation.
 
Note: Comments must be sent in by September 20th.
 
 

Statement from CEO Brian Behler

If you have been part of our advocacy platform for any length of time, you are aware of the importance of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) regulations and what it means to our AbilityOne contracts. The U.S. Department of Education has announced that it will allow input on regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement or modification until September 20th. Currently, we at Skils’kin are facing an uphill battle with the interpretation of some of the guidance and regulations that are outlined for Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). Some of the language is indiscriminately disqualifying vocational rehabilitation (VR) job placements to Skils’kin based upon our participation in the congressionally-mandated AbilityOne program.
 
WIOA, which Skils’kin supports, is an important piece of legislation that received considerable bi-partisan support in Congress. Attaining competitive integrated employment is a worthy goal for all individuals with disabilities who receive vocational rehabilitation services under WIOA. However, the integrated criteria is based on an overly simplified and inaccurate understanding of what types of jobs are provided through the AbilityOne program. As a result, VR agencies are no longer placing individuals with disabilities into any AbilityOne Jobs, even though many of these jobs meet the definition of integrated employment.
 
A majority of our AbilityOne employees with disabilities work right alongside co-workers without disabilities and have the same interactions with customers and vendors as their counterparts without disabilities. These individuals perform the same work and are held to the same performance standards. Throughout the United States, nonprofit agencies such as ours provide training and employment opportunities for more than 115,000 individuals with disabilities including over 40,000 through the AbilityOne program.
 
Please take a moment and write a message or copy the prewritten letter below and paste it into the comments area of the following link: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=ED-2017-OS-0074-0001. Remember to include your name at the end of the message. As mentioned previously, this is time sensitive as all comments must be received prior to September 20th. If you have questions, please feel free to contact myself at bbehler@skils-kin.org or Tami Dillon at tdillon@skils-kin.org. Thank you for your time and willingness to speak up for the choices in employment for individuals with disabilities.

 

Regards,

Brian Behler's signature

 

Brian Behler
President / CEO
P: 509.209.2431
C: 509.570.2828
F: 509.323.8987
 
 

Directions

Step 1: Copying and Pasting the Letter Addressed to Ms. Malawer

Copy and paste the letter addressed to Ms. Malawer (provided below) into the “Comment” field on the Regulations.gov page.

 

Step 2: Selecting a Category and Continuing

Select “Individual” from the “Category” drop-down menu. Once you have made your selection, click “Continue.”

 

Step 3: Reviewing Comment and Submitting

Review your comment, and then click the checkbox that says “I read and understand the statement above.” Then submit your comment by clicking “Submit.”

 

Step 4: Receiving Verification (Optional)

If you’d like a receipt of your comment sent to you, enter your email in the space provided and click “Email Receipt.”

 
 

Letter

Ms. Hilary Malawer
Assistant General Counsel, Office of the General Counsel
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave SW, Room 6E231
Washington DC 20202
 
Re: Docket ID: ED-2017-OS-0074
 
Dear Ms. Malawer:
 
This comment is in regards to regulations and sub-regulatory guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education (DoEd), Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) for the purpose of implementing the integrated settings criteria under the definition of the competitive integrated employment in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). These regulations and guidance are having an unintentional but detrimental and job-killing impact for individuals with significant disabilities. Specifically, RSA’s guidance is indiscriminately disqualifying vocational rehabilitation job placements to certain nonprofit agencies (NPAs) based upon their participation in the congressionally-mandated U.S. AbilityOne Program.
 
Attaining competitive integrated employment is a worthy goal for all individuals with disabilities who receive vocational rehabilitation services under WIOA. The language in the integrated settings criteria promulgated by RSA restricts access to quality competitive integrated jobs for people with disabilities and is inconsistent with other parts of the regulation, the department’s longstanding practice and technical guidance. It is my understanding that the integrated location criteria in the final regulation is based on an overly simplistic and inaccurate understanding of the types of jobs that are provided through the AbilityOne program. As a result, many VR agencies have stopped placing individuals with disabilities into AbilityOne jobs. AbilityOne jobs are competitively integrated. Workers with disabilities have the same interactions with their co-workers, customers and vendors as their non-disabled counterparts. They also have the same opportunities for advancement as their co-workers without disabilities. They perform the same work and are held to the same performance standards.
 
Skils’kin is an NPA participating in the AbilityOne program and creates jobs in four states. Because referrals and placements from state vocational rehabilitation counselors have ceased, employment opportunities at Skils’kin are going unfilled. Deserving individuals with significant disabilities are denied these opportunities and the ability to be a vital part of our community. When there are so many individuals with disabilities looking for work, why would anyone limit their opportunities for growth, learning and advancement?
 
I am requesting that the DoEd immediately rescind the FAQ guidance (posted on DoEd’s website, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/rsa/wioa.competitve-integrated-employment-faq.html) related to the definition of integrated settings and issue clarifying guidance that employment at community rehabilitation programs, including employment positions funded through the AbilityOne program, may be considered competitive integrated employment as long as it meets the criteria defined in RSA-TAC-06-01 and the WIOA (P.L. 113-128).
 
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on existing regulations that unnecessarily eliminate jobs or inhibit job creation.

Image of Hannah Dederick racing on a track

Unlimited Potential: Hannah Xue Jia Dederick’s Story

Jonathan Dederick first came to Skils’kin in 2015, and during his past two years as an employee, Jonathan has served in Community Access and as a job coach. Jonathan is passionate about empowering those he serves by creating opportunities for community integration, building relationships, and helping individuals find and maintain meaningful employment. While he didn’t come to Skils’kin with work experience where he directly assisted individuals with disabilities, he has unparalleled empathy and passion that drives his work – empathy and passion that are representative of the family environment that he grew up in.
 
When Jonathan was 11 years old, he and his family moved to Suzhou, China, where they lived for several years. While in China, Jonathan’s mom volunteered in an orphanage, where she developed a connection with Xue Jia, a one to two year old orphan girl with spina bifida known as “Princess.” During this time in China, families were only allowed to have one child by law, so many children who were born with disabilities or birth defects were seen as undesirable and abandoned. Xue Jia was one of those individuals who was abandoned at the steps of a hospital.
 
Volunteers, including Jonathan’s family, helped raise funds to enable Xua Jia to have surgery to fix her spina bifida; she had the operation, but it left her paralyzed from the waist down. After volunteering at the orphanage for a while, Jonathan’s parents decided to adopt Xue Jia. They went through the adoption process and adopted Xua Jia, changing her name to Hannah Xue Jia Dederick.
 
Jonathan, Hannah, and their family lived in China for a few more years before moving back to the United States and settling in Spokane. While Hannah was growing up, the family never viewed her through the lens of what she could or could not do. “We never thought of her disability,” Jonathan explained, “we treated her like any other of our brothers and sisters.”
 
Undoubtedly, Hannah grew up in an environment of acceptance, which has created a space for her to accomplish things that many thought never possible. In the past year, Hannah found her passion for parasports and started competing in wheelchair track, shocking everyone with her success. Hannah made it to the Nottwil 2017 World Para Athletics Junior Championships in Switzerland, where she won four gold medals and one silver and became the 6th ranked athlete in the world in her discipline (click here for full results). Hannah was born into a world that didn’t recognize her potential, but now that she has had opportunities to showcase her skillset, she has been able to show just how gifted she truly is.
 

Image of Hannah Dederick at baggage claim holding up her medals

Hannah holds up her medals while her father takes pictures in the background.


 
“Nobody saw it coming,” Jonathan explained. “In the past year or so, she got really into parasports. It was just sort of something she did – I don’t know how seriously she took it. But once she got involved with the Paralympics, she shocked everyone. She is sponsored by the Paralympics now, and her goal is set on making it to the Tokyo Olympics.”
 
“She has overcome a lot of barriers,” Jonathan added. “There are a lot of children who end up in orphanages. Everyone wanted that perfect child because they only had that one shot. There was just such a slim chance to be adopted, go to the United States, and make it to the Paralympics. It is just an amazing story.”
 
Hannah, like many other children in China, was left behind as a baby and abandoned because of perceived imperfections. Imperfections which, in reality, unjustly limit opportunity, especially when we realize that none of us are perfect, and “normal” is arbitrary, an abstraction based on idealized, nonexistent forms. By viewing Hannah, and all people, only in reference to this idealized norm, we overlook the potential in her and all people. There is great potential in all of us, but only some have the opportunities to reach that potential. Let’s change that. People need to get opportunities and then seize opportunities to push their limits, and in order to accomplish this, we need to recognize that everyone has something to offer.

Portrait of Michael Halbrook with a variety of colored circles in the background

Skils’kin Marketing Intern Launches Career as Graphic Designer

Skils’kin is proud to announce that Michael Halbrook, one of the first interns in Skils’kin’s marketing department, has successfully gained employment with Quick Business Resolutions, an internet marketing service provider in Spokane.
 
Earlier this year, Skils’kin’s marketing department launched an innovative new marketing internship that invites talented, promising media designers to compete for a job opportunity where they can gain valuable skills that will help them launch their career. Marketing designed the internship with the goal of challenging individuals to expand their graphic design and marketing skillset while helping the team build the Skils’kin brand. As Mark London, Skils’kin Director of Marketing, explains, “We wanted to build a working internship that gave individuals a broad overview of marketing. Our interns gain experience in public relations, graphic design, video editing and animation, layout and concept design, and social media strategies. We give them meaningful hands-on experience that they can take with them into the workforce and thrive.”
 
After Skils’kin posted the internship opportunity, Washington’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) referred Michael Halbrook as a potential candidate. Michael was just about to finish his B.A. in Visual Communication Design from Eastern Washington University and was looking for his first employment opportunity in marketing. Michael came in to interview, portfolio in hand, and immediately impressed. We hired him on the spot.
 
While serving as a graphic design assistant, Michael designed various deliverables with an artistic and sophisticated touch. He completely revamped the Skils’kin style guide to give it a more modern, inviting feel. He also designed the layout for this year’s annual report, redesigned our company newsletter, and even began helping the marketing team with their videos by creating animated graphics. He accomplished much of this work while simultaneously finishing his degree. By all accounts, Michael was a strong addition to the team, and he made an impact.
 
As Michael’s internship started to draw to a close, he began applying and interviewing for various graphic design positions in the region. Quick Business Resolutions recognized Michael’s talent and ability and offered him a position as a graphic designer, which he has accepted.
 
Skils’kin prides itself on being a conduit within our community for greater success. Through this internship, individuals are building essential work experience that is preparing them for greater success beyond Skils’kin.
 
Now that Michael has launched his career, we are looking for our next intern. If you or someone you know has a competitive design portfolio, and is looking for an opportunity to gain marketing experience, check out our intern job posting on our website.
 
Congratulations, Michael, on your continued success.

Returned with a Chorus: The Daniel Ibach Story

It’s 11:00 at the Taco Time on Trent Avenue in Millwood, Washington, and Daniel’s shift has just begun. He walks over to his photo list and checks to see what his first task of the day is. This time, it’s prepping Taco Time’s Mexi-Fries. Using a counting board, Daniel carefully portions out eight fries per side dish, packaging each set of eight into its own bag. After completing this task, he walks back over to his photo list, flips over the Mexi-Fries picture, and moves on to his next task: filling the soda machines with ice. Using a stepladder, Daniel grabs a bucket from on top of the ice machine and begins filling it with ice. Once the bucket is full, he carries it through the kitchen and into the front of the store, where he pours the ice into the machine. Occasionally, as he walks through the kitchen amongst his co-workers, Daniel will sing out, “DAN-iel!,” to which he’s met with a chorus of coworkers who, with a smile, return his song: “DAN-iel!” A pair of onlooking burly construction workers, lined with grit from a hard morning’s work, can’t help but grin as they hear the chorus while waiting for their meal. After making several trips back to the ice machine, this next task is now complete. Every time Daniel successfully completes a task, he returns to his photo list and methodically moves on to the next item, which he completes with enthusiasm and drive, and all the while, as he works, a symphony of DAN-iel’s saccades across the walls of the restaurant.
 
When watching Daniel at Taco Time, it becomes immediately apparent that he knows his job well, can handle the demands of fast-paced restaurant work, and has great camaraderie with his teammates. The way he leads his coworkers in song, like an opera conductor, is representative of the meaningful work he has found. He sings out his name, and others return the refrain, acknowledging and affirming his presence and impact. However, what may be surprising when you step into Taco Time and see this portrait of success firsthand is that Daniel had to overcome great adversity to get to where he is today, where others will sing his name.
 
Daniel first came to Skils’kin in 2013, where he initially pulled weeds and performed custodial work as a member of various AbilityOne crews at Fairchild Air Force Base. Unfortunately, owing to contract cuts, Daniel lost his job at the base.
 
Despite the work he’d performed on the AbilityOne crews, people doubted Daniel’s ability to secure individual employment in the community, and he was placed in Skils’kin’s prevocational department as a result. Because he was often nonverbal in the workplace, and often needed additional supports and structure, people didn’t believe Daniel was ready for community-based employment and questioned his ability to secure and maintain a long-term position.
 
But Daniel proved all the doubters wrong.
 
A former Skils’kin employee recognized Daniel’s potential and found him a job at Taco Time in December of 2015. Initially, Daniel’s work consisted of just wiping tables and maintaining the lobby, but since securing the position, Daniel has spent the last several years steadily expanding his skillset – as well as his impact.
 
Daniel’s skillset and responsibilities have continually grown since he started working at Taco Time several years ago. Much of this growth has been facilitated by Daniel’s ability to overcome obstacles using accommodations put together by Autumn Sule, Daniel’s staffing manager from Skils’kin. Autumn explained how when Daniel first began working at Taco Time, he wouldn’t vocalize his thoughts or engage with coworkers: “He wouldn’t talk verbally in the restaurant at all,” Autumn explained, “he was too new. He is highly verbal in his home – if you call him on the phone, he’ll talk away – but face to face in Taco Time, he wouldn’t communicate.” Autumn and Daniel successfully navigated through this obstacle by making a few accommodations. Autumn learned to point to things she wanted Daniel to do and ask questions, and this nonverbal communication helped Daniel think about his various tasks and learn to perform them. Autumn also helped Daniel with a photo flip schedule, which enables him to visualize each task and effectively complete tasks in order. Additionally, Autumn also put together various laminated counting boards for Daniel, which helps him accurately portion food items when performing food prep. He’s also starting to break down boxes and fold and store rags at the restaurant. His list of responsibilities just continues to expand thanks to supports that have given him room to grow.
 
Daniel’s coworkers have taken note of Daniel’s growth as well, including the impact he has had. Geri, a Taco Time employee who has worked with Daniel since he first started, and who was the first person Daniel connected with at the restaurant, explains how “He came in and just seemed to want to be here, and he’s continually progressed since then. He’s learning everything as he goes,” Geri added, “he sees that we all respond to him in an everyday setting, a work setting. We ask him, ‘Daniel, can you do this, Daniel can you help me with this,’ and that’s what we do with everyone. I think of Daniel as a coworker. He’s part of the team, and he knows his thing.” Not only does Daniel do his job and do it well, but as Geri continued to explain, Daniel inspires the team with his actions and his disposition: “He’s so sweet and so giving. He just seems to want to be friends with everyone. He sings his name, we sing it back to him, and we all get so excited. We care about him.”
 
It is clear that Daniel is a strong member of the Taco Time team, and like all great teammates, he leads through action and elevates the performance of everyone he works with. As Shallene, the manager of the Taco Time on Trent, explains, “Daniel is great. He’s about 30 minutes early every day, and he’s in his routine. As soon as he clocks in, he knows exactly where he’s going. He’s very knowledgeable on his job and with what he’s doing. He’s pretty independent.” Furthermore, Daniel helps keep the team energized: “He’s always in a great mood,” Shallene continued, “He likes to sing his name, so that’s when we know that Daniel is in an awesome mood for the day. He gets the entire crew worked up and in a good mood when he’s here. Everybody is super happy. Once he starts singing his name, everybody else sings it along with him. He’s great to have here,” Shallene concluded, “He makes a difference.”
 
And Daniel’s parents recognize the difference that employment has made in Daniel’s life as well. As Daniel’s dad, Dick, explains, “It makes me extremely happy seeing Daniel employed. I know he is happy too. He loves going out, and he enjoys the people he works with, who are very supportive. Every day, he’ll come home and walk in the door, and – say it’s a Tuesday – he’ll say ‘I’m going to work on Wednesday!’ He’s very excited about his work.” Daniel’s mom, Susan, weighed in as well, explaining how “it really has given Daniel benefit. He feels better about himself when he gets to work. Socially it helps him too.” Daniel’s dad continued, explaining, “It’s a social and very positive thing for him. Socially, and I think learning new skills, is really helpful for him. And it gives him time away from his mom and dad,” he explained with a laugh.
 
When asked about Daniel’s singing, Daniel’s dad explained that “Daniel loves music. Everything from blues to choir music. A part of that is maybe it’s easy for him to express himself in a singing kind of way. We play blues or classic music while at supper. He expresses longer lines while singing a song.”
 
Daniel has found his means of expression, and he makes his presence felt in the workplace. While he doesn’t often speak full sentences, he has truly found his voice.
 
To sing out your name and have others return the chorus – what is that worth? Perhaps it is worth everything. Daniel has found his place where his work is valued and his impact is recognized. Think then, how many others would find similar places if only, when the time comes, we sang out their name.

Black and white image of an individual at the top of a steep mountain

CEO Letter: August 2017

 

“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments… For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens… A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.”
 
– Dr. Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

 
I have mentioned previously that we are living in a precarious time. Politics. Media. Social media. Family needs. Professional wants. Ideas are coming at us at a rapid pace, and it is difficult to discern how to receive the messages successfully. Our work can be difficult, and we are often advocating for equality and choices for those who can’t. At times it can feel as though we are fighting an uphill battle. However, our words and actions are making a difference.
 
For those of you that have been participating in our Muster campaign, many of us have received emails in response to our efforts. However, Melody Deatherage in our Human Resources office received a phone call from the aide of Sen. Baumgartner thanking her for her input on the tough issues and was willing to discuss her views further. This all stemmed because Melody took a few minutes of her day to send an email to her elected officials voicing her concerns regarding current events.
 
There are tough choices to be made, and I appreciate when individuals can collaborate and have the courage to ask for help. As many of you have heard, the Skils’kin “Purpose Posse” is working together to integrate Purpose into all facets of Skils’kin. The group is in its infancy and, I firmly believe that this group can concentrate not on the status quo but nourishing and sustaining more of what we all need inside us: fulfillment, belonging and purpose.
 
Dr. Gawande defines courage as “Strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped.” It takes courage to even hope and even more to make tough decisions for the greater good. I urge each of you to look inside yourselves this month for courage. Courage to speak up and be a voice for someone who cannot. Courage to listen to your inner self and seek what is missing. Courage to make decisions that focus on what is right yet not necessarily easy. Together our courage will make a difference for ourselves, Skils’kin and our communities.
 
Brian Behler's signature

Headshot of Walker Vela in front of shelves full of laptops

Empowering Success

Walker Vela, Skils’kin’s IT Support Specialist, had his last day with Skils’kin today, marking the end of a successful internship experience.
 
Walker grew up in Spokane, Washington and entered the military when he was nineteen. For four years, he served the Army as an IT specialist while stationed in Fort Riley and Fort Bliss. Walker also set up military communications in Iraq and Kuwait from June 2015 to May 2016. After serving his time in the Army, Walker left in March of 2017 with plans to attend Washington State University to study computer science this upcoming August. However, Walker wanted to find an opportunity to continue to support himself and expand his skillset during the meantime between military and school life. Since Walker has a passion for IT work and computer science, he began to look for work opportunities in IT. An obstacle constraining his options, however, was that he would most likely have to leave whatever position he accepted in less than a year. Luckily, Walker came across Skils’kin’s new IT internship program, which proved to be the ideal fit for Walker in this stage of his career.
 
Skils’kin’s IT internship program emerged earlier this year as a means to help individuals gain valuable IT work experience while meeting the unique needs of Skils’kin. As Nicolle Laporte, Skils’kin Director of Accounting and Systems, explains, “the IT internship program began after we had an opening for an IT Support Specialist. We put some thought into the position, and we realized that an internship would best fit our needs and mission because it would enable us to be a conduit for people in the IT field. An internship format would enable us to create a platform for people to expand their customer service and IT skillset through meaningful work.”
 
Walker made a noticeable impact while working in Skils’kin’s IT department. “Walker was always able to face challenges head-on and figure out a solution,” Nicolle explained, “and he did so with kindness and empathy. Employees around here knew that when they went to Walker for IT assistance, they would come out of the exchange with a solution.” Walker’s enthusiasm and drive for top-quality customer service helped others within Skils’kin to be better prepared and equipped to serve people with disabilities. Whether it was deploying laptops for CLS, setting up Employment Services’ iPhones and iPads, or helping Marketing with website security, Walker’s work ensured that we could best meet the needs of those we serve.
 
While serving as our IT Support Specialist, Walker also had what he described as an invaluable opportunity to gain IT help desk knowledge while working with a diverse array of users. In the past, Walker had only worked on army-specific equipment, so he appreciated the opportunity to see the corporate side of IT work and work with people individually: “This will definitely be a big help for me in my career,” Walker explained, “being able to have this experience is essential for my career goals.”
 
Now, with his internship completed, Walker is headed to WSU to study computer science. His goal is to become a program developer, where he can continue to find ways to meet the needs of users of technology. Following Walker is Skils’kin’s new IT intern, Andrew Mack. Andrew is a Spokane Falls IT graduate who has experience as a desktop support technician through an internship with the Spokane Falls Community College library. He is also working on a Bachelor’s of Science in Information Technology from Western Governors University. Walker will be missed by Skils’kin, but we are excited for him to take this next step in his career, and we have full confidence that he will continue to make impacts in the world. As Nicolle put it, “Walker will go on to do great things in his career, and I know we’ll have another friend in the community.”
 
The word “Skils’kin” refers to “a place where a person goes to seek personal identity and self-empowerment” and Skils’kin’s IT internship program has proved to embody this concept. For the past four months, Skils’kin served as a place for Walker to gain invaluable experience that is helping him transition into the next stage of his career. We are proud to have had the opportunity to serve as a conduit for Walker, helping him in his journey towards his best future – a future where we are sure that he will continue to make meaningful impacts. Thank you, Walker, for being a part of this team.

Close up image of lilacs in full bloom

CEO Letter: July 2017

 

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
– Albert Einstein

 
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the Grassroots Advocacy Campaign in Washington D.C. with Fairchild AFB Project Manager Vickey Graning, as well as one of her employees and his stepmother. While there, we met with many of our elected officials for the states in which we do business to discuss and impart the importance of employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. What became abundantly apparent was our continued need to speak up and make our voices heard.
 
We have worked diligently to secure our AbilityOne contracts and deliver the best possible service to our customers. The jobs that we provide through these contracts are good paying jobs that offer experience, skill building and a hard earned pay check. However, these jobs are under attack by opposing legislation. It should be noted that AbilityOne is the largest vertical in our company. It is time for us to care and make a stand.
 
Some of you have answered this call to action by subscribing to our advocacy platform, Muster. Some of you are also making it a priority to take part in these Action Alerts as soon as they are sent. It is not enough to just join, but to take action and let your elected officials know of your thoughts. We need to fight to protect the ground we have gained in creating employment choices for individuals with disabilities. It is not good enough to hope that these opportunities will stay in place when these very jobs are under attack. We must all make advocacy a priority if want to continue to live out our mission, vision and values. It is not enough to think about it. It is not enough to read about it. In order to make a difference, one must act.
 
This month I challenge you to inform yourself on the issues. You can do so by visiting our website and clicking on “Become a Supporter of Skils’kin.” There you will find an Action Center where you can learn more about the issues at hand. I challenge you to act upon our advocacy emails. We have made the process easy to accomplish and each email makes a ripple in the sea of politics. If you have questions regarding the advocacy process, please contact Tami Dillon at (509)-326-6760 ext. 2603 or tdillon@skils-kin.org and she will be happy to assist you. Lastly I challenge you to speak your mind and let others know about the issues that affect the majority or our jobs at Skils’kin.
 
Brian Behler's signature

Chadrick: A Man Misunderstood

Chadrick is a man misunderstood. He possesses great wisdom and ability, yet he is overlooked – overlooked simply because he has a visible disability that is hard for people to see beyond.
 
In 2007, Chadrick, a roofer at the time, fell two and a half stories, breaking his C1 and C2 vertebrae. It took over two hours for an ambulance to get to him. As a result of his injury, Chadrick no longer has sensation around his mouth, and this accident-induced disability causes him to unknowingly drool.
 
Chadrick has faced judgement and blatant discrimination as an individual with a visible disability. He has been mocked and bullied, and in his own words, he “was nothing but picked on and made fun of” at other job locations before he started working at Skils’kin. The AbilityOne program has provided the first safe environment where Chadrick can finally work surrounded by those who understand, care, and support – qualities that he hadn’t found in community-based employment.
 
Chadrick explains that it is easier to work with other individuals with disabilities than in the community because “when I was working in the community, I was often judged, and I feel here I’m not being judged. I’m not being pushed around.” At Skils’kin, we envision a future where individuals with disabilities can work in community-based employment with the same sense of security they feel in the AbilityOne program, where they are valued, respected, and recognized. This change is only possible if other organizations knew – knew how much individuals like Chadrick have to offer.
 
Chadrick has taken custodial work and turned it into an art form. He gets into the minds of the individuals who will use the rooms he cleans, considering how people of different heights and temperaments may perceive the room, and he takes special care to ensure certain areas are clean based on these perceptions. For example, Chadrick gives restroom floors extra attention because users “do not walk proud and tall” and are often looking down in these rooms. Few individuals clean with the complexity of thought and dedication that Chadrick does. He is a true master of his craft, and he offers passion, an exemplary work ethic, and strong attention to detail to all potential employers.
 
And yet… Chadrick’s disability prevents him from succeeding in community-based employment – not because it hinders his ability to do this work, but because society thinks it does. Employers turn him down, even denying him open interviews, because of what they see, which they try, unjustly, to directly tie to his capability. In doing so, employers take away opportunity and miss out on a driven worker in the process.
 
Chadrick, however, is making the capabilities of himself and other individuals with disabilities known through his work ethic, skillset, and advocacy. Chadrick knows that we all have something to offer, but not all of our voices are heard. Chadrick explains how all people with disabilities have certain talents and know what those talents are – organizations just have to ask and to listen, which, unfortunately, far too many are unwilling to do. But when we listen, we move towards understanding.
 
We live in a vocal society, but it is a society that doesn’t listen and converse. It’s time to open up disability employment for discussion and let individuals with disabilities speak for themselves and tell us what they are capable of instead of the other way around. Across the nation, individuals like Chadrick are capable and willing to do important work, but they are frequently denied basic consideration simply because they are misunderstood or make others without disabilities uncomfortable.
 
Chadrick has big dreams of owning his own business, his own land, and his own charity. In his own words, “[he’s] going to do big things,” and his biggest goal in life is to open his own homeless shelter called “Hope.” He wishes to help people, be kind to people, feed the hungry, and help the homeless get back on their own feet. Despite the aggression and prejudice he has faced, Chadrick’s dream in life is to bring hope into the lives of others.
 
Chadrick is misunderstood, but he has a voice that needs to be heard, and by hearing his voice, we can move towards greater understanding. SourceAmerica and Skils’kin through the AbilityOne program have provided a safe place where Chadrick, and others, can work free of discrimination. However, we can do better. We can be better. The hope of many rests upon a willingness to listen – to listen and to change. We live in a polarized world where voices scream at each other. We need to stop, listen, and validate people’s journeys. We need to change the conversation.

Image of yellow blossoms

CEO Letter: June 2017

 

“Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily action.” –John Di Lemme

 
Accountability and responsibility have become buzz words in society and media today. It seems that people are looking to blame others instead of taking ownership of their own actions or beliefs. I find it refreshing to hear someone own up to a mistake. Moreover, I find great satisfaction watching someone start to dance when everyone else is too afraid to look foolish.
 
I am at a place in my life where it is imperative to take ownership of not only previous actions but the decisions yet to be made. There are such a variety of opportunities available to us that we can make a difference in the future. Please understand, it is vital to own our actions and decisions that we have made; whether the outcomes were positive or negative, we must reap what we sow. What I am focusing on at this time is what we can change in the future. As I have mentioned previously, we have a robust advocacy platform called Muster. Through this avenue we have the ability to communicate with our elected officials, and let them know about our wishes, concerns and frustrations. In addition, this platform gives you the opportunity to invite others to speak out and connect with their elected officials no matter where your acquaintance might reside. We must make a stand for what is important to us and be a leader to those around us.
 
On a different note, a few months ago I sent out an email asking employees who might be interested in joining myself, Gayle Lawrence, and Katie McCall on a Purpose journey. 14 people responded and have been working in a group called “The Purpose Posse” to instill the idea of Purpose into not only their work, but everyday life. This is a choice that was made to create awareness in themselves, their teams, their communities, and our company by focusing on their internal purpose. I am proud of these individuals who were not afraid to get up and dance when no one else was willing. This month, I encourage each of us to make decisions around our work and our life through the lens of making a difference. I challenge you to see the work that is not being done and find a solution to make it happen. I urge you to not only identify what is wrong in your community, but how to create change to make it better. Let us march forward towards a path of positivity and making a difference in the world around us.

Brian Behler's signature

Ed Campbell and Heather Rogers accepting the SourceAmerica Military Customer Federal Award

Fairchild Awarded 2017 SourceAmerica Customer Federal Award for Military

Skils’kin is proud to announce that Fairchild Air Force Base (FAFB or Fairchild) was awarded the 2017 SourceAmerica Customer Federal Award for Military. This award recognizes federal military agencies that provide outstanding support for the employment of people with disabilities through an AbilityOne contract.
 
Fairchild Air Force Base has supported the AbilityOne program and the efforts of Skils’kin in increasing employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities through their genuine consideration of individuals’ needs and willingness for collaboration.
 
For over 30 years, FAFB has partnered with Skils’kin to create and expand employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The base has created countless jobs for individuals with disabilities since 1978, and in this last year, the base has continued to support the individuals we serve in an exceptional manner.
 
FAFB made a gesture recently that demonstrated outstanding support of the individuals we serve. When base access requirements were changing, which would’ve presented financial hardships for our AbilityOne employees, FAFB Contracting provided us with a window of opportunity to secure the necessary documentation and ensure that employees could continue working unabated. As Project Manager Vickey Graning explained, “due to Fairchild’s efforts and assistance, we received a window of time to manage our base pass renewals, and we did not lose shifts or work opportunities for employees because of issues relating to base access.”
 
The consideration FAFB extended to Skils’kin is not new. Vickey Graning explained that “their assistance and consideration is a regular occurrence when working with FAFB Contracting. We are seen as valued business partners and we are respected as such. Not only that, but they want to see our mission move forward and our workforce achieve success. They’ve been helpful in providing us what is necessary to make that a reality.”
 
A great example of Fairchild’s willingness to collaborate with us and support our mission is when we recently renegotiated two of our AbilityOne contracts with the Fairchild Contracting team. During contracting, Fairchild and Skils’kin worked collaboratively to come up with the best value that benefitted both sides. Throughout the negotiations, Contracting Officer Ed Campbell trusted in our expertise, and where possible, he concurred with changes that, while meeting government regulations, greatly benefitted the AbilityOne program by increasing employment opportunities. For example, Mr. Campbell demonstrated great interest in helping us maintain our 75% employment ratio for individuals with disabilities.
 
Through these collaborative contract negotiations, Fairchild greatly expanded employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. For our AbilityOne custodial services, we negotiated for $184,000 a year in increased services provided, and for our AbilityOne grounds maintenance services, we negotiated to increase services by an estimated $471,000 a year; in both cases, opportunities for the employment of individuals with disabilities greatly increased. Through this contract, and Fairchild’s collaboration, 22 additional positions were established at FAFB: 7 custodial service positions and 15 grounds maintenance positions. In total, Fairchild will employ nearly 100 individuals through the AbilityOne program.
 
Throughout recent contract negotiations, both parties were able to focus on ensuring that opportunities for people with significant disabilities factored into the negotiation process, and this consideration is a recurring benefit when working with Fairchild. The FAFB Contracting team consistently conducts themselves with integrity and professionalism, and they come to the negotiation table with open ears, eyes, and hearts, trying to learn and understand why we, as the experts in custodial and grounds services, make specific requests and how those requests reflect back on the goals of not only the AbilityOne program but our corporate mission and values. At all times, the contracting team focused on using the most accurate information, the most appropriate methods, and the most suitable labor force to achieve contract success, and in doing so, Fairchild has greatly expanded employment opportunities, and the quality of life, for many individuals with significant disabilities.
 
We continually recognize and appreciate Fairchild’s genuine consideration and willingness for collaboration, and we are proud to partner with an agency that provides such outstanding support for the individuals we serve. Congratulations, Fairchild Air Force Base, for receiving this prestigious award.

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