Skyler Oberst: The Journey of Work

I’m not here to tell you that once you make it to a certain point all things are wonderful. This is not that generic testimonial where I proudly say that “I’ve now arrived at being successful and you can be too!” In fact, I’m here to tell you something different…
I’d like you to consider what it means to be successful. It’s funny how when people reflect on the skills that brought them success, they tend to skip over the difficult and unpleasant realization that it’s hard work and can leave you scarred. Everyone will mention their first job of mowing lawns or working in a fast food restaurant but no one talks about how painful sunburns can be or how the hot grease from a fry machine can leave a pretty gnarly scar you if you’re not careful (believe me– it hurts!). Seldom do people want to hear these things because they’re more interested in the destination, thinking that they can make it there someday if they just had the right road map.
For me being successful is not a destination, but describes a way of moving through the world and interacting with people. That’s why work is so important. It’s a way of seeing every opportunity as a chance to grow into a better person. Successful people are the ones that are willing to put in the work to do the difficult and unpleasant things. Successful people do these things willingly because the work needs to be done and they see that discipline and fortitude are skills speak not only to their work but to their integrity. This type of tough work prepares you for life and when things don’t go the way they should. It’s good practice. Washing dishes or mopping floors have been some of the most rewarding experiences where I learned about the value of feeling like you accomplished something and the satisfaction of earning your keep. These lessons I learned I still apply whether in the boardroom or at home.
You can see this in the way strong leaders treat others, in the way they conduct themselves. And if you ask them… They may have some great lessons about the scars they picked up along the way. So why do I work? I work for the opportunity to enjoy the journey, learn the difficult lessons and savor each and every experience.

Share Why You Work

Why We Work? Skils’kin at Malmstrom AFB, Montana

An exciting addition to the Why We Work Campaign. The Malmstrom Air Force Base Dining Facility worked together to answer the question, Why do you work.

Malmstrom-why we work2

The answers provided by the Malmstrom Dining Facility are written below.
“Love my job.” – Sarah
“I love my job and making money. I get to make new friends and have fun.” – Devin
“I love helping people, making new friends, and making money at a job I love.” – Zach
“I like money.” – Gary
“I need to get out of the house, for my mental and social health.” – Nick
“Helping my mom and my whole family out.” – Michael
“Get out of the house; make new friends.” – Jeremie
“I like working for Skils’kin.” – Kori
“It gives me joy to work with great people.” – James
“To take care of my kids and I enjoy the people I work with.” – Kristina
“To work with excellent co-workers and to be busy.” – Miss K
“Because I like to work!” – Vicky
“To get out of the house and now take care of my car needs + my needs.” – Jacob
“This is joy. I work because I can and I love working and I enjoy my job at Skils’kin and at the National Guard.” – Joy
“Enjoy working with people, and wanted to do all in my power so they get the best service while visiting our facility.” – Liliana


Impressive Potential

Vaughan has a long history of employment success with Skils’kin. He was an integral member of Skils’kin’s Commercial Services team, and after working with the department for several years, Vaughan decided to look for his next employment opportunity. He interviewed for many jobs but initially faced difficulty finding a good fit.
Last spring, Vaughan’s Employment Advisor, Sarah Ann Trenn, invited Vaughn to Rotary Club 21’s Partners for Work Interview event. At the event, Vaughan met keynote speaker Holly Bahme-Lytle, the Founder and Executive Director of the Isaac Foundation. Holly was impressed with Vaughan’s energy and enthusiasm, so she offered him an internship to work at her nonprofit on the spot.
For the past several months, Vaughan has worked for the Isaac Foundation as an intern. His tasks include data entry, filing, and general office administrative work. He also does project work, such as creating centerpieces for fundraising events. Through his work, Vaughan continued to impress – so much so that Holly offered Vaughan a full-time position at the Isaac Foundation, which Vaughan has accepted.
Now, Vaughan is building his résumé and connecting with a nonprofit that is making a huge difference in our community and in his life.
Congratulations, Vaughan, on your successful employment.

Professional headshot of Cameron Finn, a participant in Skils'kin's Employment Services program

Guidance to Employment

Cameron Finn, a participant in Skils’kin’s Employment Services program, recently gained employment as a warehouse worker at Caterpillar Inc., highlighting the power of perseverance and meaningful support.
Cameron originally applied for a Commercial Services position with Skils’kin. However, Skils’kin Employment Advisor Sarah Ann Trenn met with Cameron and recognized his talent and thought that she could place him in a growth opportunity. Sarah took Cameron to a Caterpillar hiring fair.
During a tour of the Caterpillar facility, Cameron took the initiative to create his own working interview and display his skills. He began completing some of the functions of the job by rearranging products by bar codes, which left a strong impression on the Caterpillar representatives. Soon after, Cameron received a job offer, which he accepted.
Before coming to Skils’kin, Cameron had been looking for work for an extended period of time without finding any opportunities to interview. This interview with Caterpillar, however, was Cameron’s first interview with Skils’kin at his side.
“I didn’t find opportunities with other agencies,” Cameron explained, “but my first interview with Skils’kin was a great fit. Thank you, Sarah, for finding the right job for me.”
The individuals Skils’kin represents meet and exceed the demands of the workplace, but they do not always get the opportunity to show their expertise. Skils’kin, however, creates these opportunities. Sarah connected Cameron to a workplace where she knew Cameron could thrive, and Cameron did the rest by demonstrating initiative, professionalism, and proficiency.
Sometimes, all we need is extra guidance and support on our path to success. In such times, Skils’kin is there to provide supports when they are needed most.
Congratulations to Cameron and Sarah for their collaboration and resulting success.

Skils’kin Staffing Manager takes Next Step in Sales Career

Skils’kin prides itself on its ability to develop relationships in the community and present great talent. This May, Skils’kin Staffing Manager Cory Mack, a high-performing DVR specialist for Skils’kin, accepted a new position with Exact Sciences as a medical professional representative. In his new role, Cory will meet with doctors across the northwestern United States to sell colon cancer screening kits. This new role is a position that Cory’s experiences at Skils’kin prepared him well for.
At Skils’kin, Cory worked with many participants and secured many employment opportunities. In the process, Cory learned how to work with diverse groups of people. “I had to learn to deal with so many different personalities,” Cory explained. “I have a greater appreciation for people with barriers in their lives.”
Through his experiences at Skils’kin, Cory learned to appreciate the art of sales. “You have to uncover opportunities and find ways to fill those needs,” Cory stated. “You must be able to find that common ground, and build a relationship. Credibility will sustain the relationship with the business and the people we represent.”
Learning to work with diverse groups of people, as well as learning the art of sales, is what ultimately secured Cory’s new position at Exact Sciences. “You have to be patient and do the difficult work of sales to get everyone to achieve their goals by presenting multiple people, aligning multiple perspectives,” Cory explained.
“I am going to miss my co-workers and the people I’ve represented,” Cory added. “Skils’kin provided me with the tools and experience to take me to my new chapter. I will take the experience I gained and use it to move my career forward, and I was able to start at an advanced level of sales because of my Skils’kin experience.”
Through his experiences at Skils’kin, Cory was able to take the next step in his sales career, where he will continue to bring a solutions-driven approach to the art of sales.
Skils’kin is a great place to get sales training and experience. If you are interested in a career in sales, visit our career opportunities page.

Mark London receiving a 2017 NCSE Management Excellence Award

Skils’kin Vice President of Marketing Mark London Receives 2017 NCSE Management Excellence Award

On May 7th, 2018, Mark London, Skils’kin’s Vice President of Marketing, was honored with a 2017 NCSE Management Excellence Award at the SourceAmerica National Training and Achievement Conference in Indianapolis. The award recognizes individuals from AbilityOne-affiliated nonprofits who have demonstrated excellence in leadership by significantly enhancing employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities.
At Skils’kin, Mark demonstrates excellence in leadership by bringing a business-centered, solutions-driven professional approach to disability employment, and through his innovative practices, Mark substantially enhances employment opportunities by changing the conversation surrounding the employment of individuals with disabilities.
Mark has over 25 years of experience as a digital marketer, recruiter, consultant, and advertising manager, so he is adept at entering the workplace, figuring out needs, finding solutions, and inspiring change – it’s engrained in him. Mark speaks the language of business and brings a solutions-driven approach to disability employment by emphasizing the importance of getting the right talent in the right spot to help businesses reach their goals. Businesses are looking for business-driven, not charity-based, solutions to work needs, and Mark has the skillset to show businesses how people with disabilities are able to meet these needs.

“Businesses are looking for business-driven, not charity-based, solutions to work needs, and Mark has the skillset to show businesses how people with disabilities are able to meet these needs.”

Through his solutions-driven approach, Mark has substantially increased employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. He works closely with Skils’kin’s Commercial Services and Employment Services departments to get a strong understanding of the talent pool at Skils’kin. Then while Mark is out in the community building partnerships and discovering work needs, he is able to recommend Commercial Services for work opportunities and set up working interviews for individuals served by Employment Services. By focusing on business needs, and how individuals with disabilities can meet these needs, Mark substantially increases employment opportunity. Since joining Skils’kin in 2014, Mark has tripled our Commercial Services clients, and numerous individuals have been able to secure community-based employment.
Advocacy efforts are another integral component of Mark’s work. Mark is a strong believer in the power of stories, and he collaborates with businesses and agencies to compose stories surrounding the employment of individuals with disabilities, and in doing so, helps break down prejudices and address fears businesses have about hiring people with disabilities. Mark has also created a video production service at Skils’kin where he directs the creation of videos that tell the stories surrounding the employment of individuals with disabilities. Additionally, the video production team now creates videos through contracts for local businesses and nonprofits, which helps build the department and create meaningful employment opportunities.
Mark is also the chair of Spokane Rotary Club #21’s Partners for Work committee, which specifically focuses on creating employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. As chair of the committee, Mark helps organize quarterly interview events for individuals with disabilities by inviting local hiring managers with open positions to participate in the event and hire talent from multiple agencies – not just Skils’kin. Over 10 individuals in the past two years have earned employment as a result.
Additionally, Mark has pioneered an innovative new marketing internship at Skils’kin 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. The internship challenges individuals to expand their graphic design and marketing skillset while helping the team build the Skils’kin brand.
The way Mark collaboratively promotes employment opportunities from a solutions-driven perspective is, put simply, the way forward for the employment of individuals with disabilities. Mark is the model leader for this important work, and for such reasons, he is well deserving of the 2017 NCSE Management Excellence Award.
Congratulations, Mark, for receiving this prestigious honor.

Megan Caldwell addressing the crowd at the Transitions conference

Megan Caldwell Shines at First Annual Transitions Conference

Last March, Spokane Community College hosted the first annual Transitions Conference. At this event, individuals with disabilities came to share their stories and experiences transitioning into the workforce. Megan Caldwell, a participant in Skils’kin’s Employment Services department, was one of the presenters.
Megan is a certified nursing assistant at Brighton Court Assisted Living Community. At the Transitions Conference, Megan shared with the audience how much she enjoys her job and how she not only works as a CNA, but also volunteers in the lab and gift shop at Deaconess Hospital.
When asked how she got to where she is today, Megan stated, “I overcame all of my obstacles and barriers, and, of course, I had help along the way.” Megan gave credit to her Skils’kin job coach Liz Mascarin: “Liz helped me get my job, and she also helps me make sure I get everything I need to do done.”
Undoubtedly, Megan has achieved great success in the workplace and is making integral contributions. Her advice to other individuals with disabilities is to “never give up on your dreams.” Megan and her fellow presenters shared their stories and, in doing so, made the first annual Transitions Conference a great success.

In Defense of Employment

Spring is an exciting time at Skils’kin. We are actively seeking to fill many jobs for our grounds contracts at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane and FE Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. These jobs, made possible by the AbilityOne Program, are jobs that can alter the life trajectory of individuals with disabilities – jobs that make employment purpose and choice a reality.
The AbilityOne Program is responsible for directly creating employment opportunities for 40,000 individuals with disabilities nationwide. It creates opportunities for meaningful, career-building employment and opportunities that, quite frankly, are often not available to individuals with disabilities. These opportunities, across the nation, are empowering individuals with disabilities to achieve their employment potential.
And yet, there are those who wish to take away those opportunities.
Over the years, we have shared numerous success stories that are a direct result of the jobs we offer. Stories about individuals with disabilities who have been able to work and live with purpose because they have a job. Individuals such as:
Michael, who learned what it means to take pride in his work and experienced the joy of a job well done.
Paul, who rediscovered his drive and passion and is now actively searching for the next chapter of his career.
Chadrick, who found an accepting environment after facing discrimination.
Tyler, who, at nearly 30 years old, was able to find his first employment opportunity.
Angela, who spent two years developing her skill set and confidence before enrolling in a computer science technology school and finding other community employment.
Daniel, who, after building his skill set, found other community employment where his coworkers sing his name.
Each of these stories are a testimony from just one of the 40,000. The number 40,000 represents more than just the number of individuals with disabilities who found jobs through the AbilityOne Program: it represents the number of individuals with disabilities who have found the opportunity to change their lives for the better – oftentimes by leveraging the experience they have gained to excel in subsequent job opportunities. Each individual within the 40,000 represents a person who has found employment, and an opportunity for a better life, by being employed.

Each individual within the 40,000 represents a person who has found employment, and an opportunity for a better life, by being employed.

Furthermore, this number does not even include the thousands of family members and guardians who have found a level of peace knowing that their child or charge has the chance for a brighter, more secure future. Nor does this number take into account the number of businesses and organizations that have been able to recruit talent from this workforce.
People, however, discount the value of these jobs because in their mind these jobs segregate the employees. We disagree.
The misperceptions surrounding these jobs largely stem from what has become a very narrow definition of “competitive integrated employment,” a definition that was created by the Department of Education (ED) and its sub-agency the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). In 2014, Congress set out to expand opportunities for people with disabilities, and others, through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act of 2014. However, rather than crafting a broad interpretation of competitive integrated employment that would encourage job opportunities, the ED and the RSA crafted a very narrow definition that differs dramatically from the definition in the WIOA statute. Furthermore, the ED and the RSA added a limiting sub-definition that requires integration to be determined at the “work unit” level and only between co-workers. In other words, the narrow definition views employment outside of its context, overlooking the essential interactions that occur within the workplace – interactions that make supported work opportunities integrated.
Consider the life of Randy, who, after his untimely passing, had scores of individuals from the community attend his funeral – friends he knew from living an integrated life made possible by his job and its affordances.
Consider Paul’s interactions with individuals at the federal courthouse in Spokane – interactions that led to a letter of recommendation from a United States attorney.
Consider how Skils’kin custodial crew members Lenka, Travis, and Monika were recognized by the 92nd Force Support Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base for providing exceptional service to individuals at the gym on the base.
Consider, in similar fashion, how John, a food services worker at Fairchild, was also recognized by the military for going above and beyond by volunteering to help military personnel in cleaning and organizing a storage facility outside the scope of our contract with Aramark and the U.S. Air Force after he saw that they were short staffed.
How could these interactions between individuals with and without disabilities be happening if these were segregated jobs? The answer, quite simply, is that these interactions would not occur in a segregated space.
Another integral component of the problem lies in the perceptions of employment that the ED and the RSA are putting forth. Namely, the perception that these agencies are putting forth is that jobs created under programs intended to hire people with disabilities, such as AbilityOne and state set-aside contracts, are not good, competitive jobs. However, we at Skils’kin have found that when people with disabilities do not apply for jobs on our contracts, those jobs are quickly taken by people without disabilities and deemed great jobs.
Both the proponents and detractors of the jobs supported by programs intended to hire individuals with disabilities have the same purpose. They both want individuals with disabilities to live and work with purpose. They both want individuals with disabilities to have opportunities for a better life. They both envision a future where employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and all people who experience barriers to employment, are readily available to everyone. A future that, unfortunately, has not yet come.
There is still much work that needs to be done to create a workplace that fully accepts people as they are – with and without disabilities. There is still much work to be done to create a workplace that does not limit individuals by stereotypes, biases, prejudices, and preconceived notions. Currently, the jobs supported by programs like AbilityOne are feeding an abundant need, creating employment opportunities and choice for individuals with disabilities.

There is still much work that needs to be done to create a workplace that fully accepts people as they are – with and without disabilities.

To attack a very successful program that creates opportunities that would not be here otherwise is not logical. What makes sense is to leverage the known success of these jobs and help and encourage individuals with disabilities to transition to other community employment after they have built their confidence and skill set. Our government must recognize that people with disabilities who want to work also want the ability to choose the job that is right for them – and not have their already constrained choices limited by regulatory overreach.
It is clear that, owing to the AbilityOne program, thousands of individuals with disabilities are discovering their employment potential and building their résumés, professional skill sets, and livelihoods because they finally have the opportunity to experience the fulfillment of a job.
Do we really want to let successes like that go away?

Impacting our Community: Anne Cutler’s Story

Anne Cutler, an individual served in Skils’kin’s Community Inclusion program, has found a creative way to make a difference in the Spokane community.
Since 2014, Anne has volunteered at Crosswalk, a multi-service shelter for homeless and at-risk youth. At Crosswalk, Anne works in the kitchen to prepare lunch for the youth in the shelter, and after serving the food, Anne sits with the teenagers to have lunch with them. Through this volunteerism, Anne has developed a strong rapport with the teenagers and made meaningful impacts. She has also overcome many of her own barriers and become much more independent – so independent, in fact, that Anne no longer needs assistance from her employment support specialist, Michelle Wright, at this location.

Anne preparing food at Crosswalk

Last September, Anne and Michelle began looking for more opportunities for Anne to integrate with the community. With the winter months approaching, Anne was concerned for the teenagers at Crosswalk who do not have hats and scarves to keep them warm, so she decided to start a knitting group called Hats and Scarves of Love.
Anne’s knitting group of eight women work together to make hats and scarves for the at-risk youth at Crosswalk. The group has met every other week since September, knitting throughout the winter to ensure that the teenagers at the shelter have warm hats and scarves. To date, the knitting group has made and delivered 150 hats to Crosswalk.
Through these volunteer efforts, Anne is building friendships, overcoming barriers, and developing independence – all while meaningfully giving back to our community.

Dandelion in a sunny field

CEO Letter: April 2018


“change /CHānj/: (verb) make or become different (noun) the act or instance of making or becoming different.”

Many of my monthly letters have had a focus on change. It has been long stated that the only constant in life is change; however, that can feel unsettling and create anxiety. It is similar to the feeling of going on a roller coaster ride: the uneasy anticipation as you make the first climb, the stomach drop at the first high speed plunge and the relief when you arrive back at the platform. Just as we must face the reactions to each stage of the ride so must we cope with change.
There have been multiple waves of transformation at Skils’kin. However I feel confident that we grow stronger with each wave. We have invested in our people, our systems and our culture. Today as a whole, our management team is stronger than our leadership team was when I arrived seven years ago. We are continually looking for new opportunities and ways of doing business. We are not bound to operate in the manner in which we have. We are leaving legacy behind, not because it is bad, but in order to create more growth and opportunities.
Think back to learning to swim, ride a bike or ride the bus by yourself for the first time. Learning a new skill or conquering a fear can seem to be an insurmountable feat. However it is imperative to know that there is a freedom that lies on the other side of that fear. The changes around us might feel daunting, such as jumping off the deep end of the pool without assistance, but we will be rewarded for diving in by growing, developing new business lines, and providing further opportunities to individuals with disabilities. For this letter I asked Fairchild Air Force Base Senior Project Manager Vickey Graning what change meant to her. In the last year, Vickey has realized much change at Skils’kin via our purpose movement and her operational responsibilities, in addition to being enrolled in Leadership Spokane. Her words resonate with a profound sense of awareness:
“Change is a constant in life, both joyful and painful, that forces inward reflection and provocative thoughts about who we really are and who we aspire to be.”
–Vickey Graning
Just as Vickey says in her quote, using these times to reflect on who we are and where we find our fulfillment is a way to capitalize on the momentum. We are better equipped to understand how we want to make a difference in our teams, in our organization and in our communities. This month I encourage you to reflect on changes in your personal life as well as in your work life. Look for the opportunities to reflect on how you want to make a difference, where you can stretch, where you can help someone else, and where you can find your purpose.
Brian Behler's signature