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

Skils’kin AbilityOne F.E. Warren Grounds Team Demonstrates Continued Commitment to Quality Work

Skils’kin’s AbilityOne grounds team at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming recently received their annual Contractor Performance Assessment Report (CPAR), and the team achieved impressive results that reflect their continued commitment to quality work.
 
A CPAR is a government assessment of our performance on our government contracts. To conduct this assessment, an official from the base evaluates each project’s performance by rating several evaluation areas. Each area receives one of five possible ratings: unsatisfactory, marginal, satisfactory, very good, or exceptional.
 
On their latest CPAR, Skils’kin’s grounds team at F.E. Warren Air Force Base earned “Exceptional” the highest rating, on all but one evaluation area. Furthermore, the one “satisfactory” the team received in small business subcontracting is simply the highest rating the base offers in that category: Skils’kin met all subcontracting requirements with no negative marks. Thus, by all accounts, the team’s results are impressive:
 

Evaluation Area Rating
Quality Exceptional
Schedule Exceptional
Management Exceptional
Small Business Subcontracting Satisfactory
Regulatory Compliance Exceptional
Business Relations Exceptional

 
In addition, the assessing official had high praise for Skils’kin and the F.E. Warren team. The official expressed that the team performed services “in a professional manner with zero discrepancies and zero customer complaints.” The official also noted that “Skils’kin manages and employs outstanding personnel” and explained how “Skils’kin has provided exceptional service that has exceeded the Government’s expectations on a daily basis.”
 
These commendations reflect the drive, talent, and professionalism of the F.E. Warren team. Their commitment to quality work continually makes meaningful impacts and helps drive the success of Skils’kin and the AbilityOne program.
 
Congratulations, and thank you, to the F.E. Warren grounds team!

Finding Myself Again: Paul Crockrom Rediscovers Work with Purpose through the AbilityOne Program

Paul is a retired veteran from the US Army. He was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, where he received various commendations and service medals as an infantryman. After his time in the military, Paul had a variety of jobs but ultimately began to struggle with a disability. In 2010, he moved to the Inland Northwest and took on various temp jobs. However, the jobs were not consistent, and he wanted more structure in his life. Then Paul found an opportunity with Skils’kin working at the federal courthouse in Spokane as a maintenance worker. This work opportunity, made possible through SourceAmerica and the AbilityOne program, gave Paul the supports he needed to get his life back together.
 
“My disability got to a point where I couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t work,” Paul explained. “It’s an illness that can really set you apart from who you are. It takes you from being someone to being someone at the bottom. But I finally got with Skils’kin and learned how to develop and work with people again. I was able to focus and get my life together. Being with Skils’kin helped me become the person that I really was.”
 
The person Paul really is, as his work indicates, is someone who takes a lot of pride in his work and his team. Someone who motivates his coworkers and gets everyone to collaborate and engage. Paul recognizes that many individuals with disabilities live isolated lives, so he did everything in his power to connect with and lift up his teammates, creating a warm, welcoming environment by livening the breakroom walls with posters and by encouraging coworkers to socialize with each other.
 
“When I first got here, nobody talked to me because everyone was introverted. They just came here, and all they could see were these blank walls. I understood that they needed more in their life. They needed entertainment. They needed someone to talk to. And they needed to know that there’s a lot more to life than just coming in to work everyday not socializing. I wanted to open them up to life. I wanted to bring more life into the working environment.”
 
When you walk through the federal courthouse and see the Skils’kin team, you can sense the camaraderie. You can sense the pride and purpose in their work. Much of that success is a result of Paul’s capacity to promote meaningful change and constantly look upwards. Even Joseph Harrington, a United States Attorney, took notice of Paul’s work ethic:
 
“[Paul] is always quick to respond and assist if we have a simple request and is always friendly, approachable, and professional,” the US attorney explained. “He is a hard worker who takes pride in his work and we feel very fortunate in this office to have the privilege to work with him on a daily basis.”
 
Undoubtedly, the AbilityOne program created an integrated space that has enabled Paul to rediscover his drive and passion – and this success has Paul looking upward toward greater success:
 
“I had a past where I used to be very driven,” Paul explained. “I always wanted to be at the top of my game. I had been held back for so long by my illness, that after about 14 years of dealing with this illness, it came to a head that ‘you gotta kick it.’ You gotta fight harder and become that person that you used to be. That driven person that wanted more out of life. That person that was goal oriented and was always striving to be a better person. I want to be a good man. I want to be a good provider. I want to be a leader. I want to be somebody that is recognized within the community as somebody who did something and meant something to people, who helped people and made the work environment a better place. I want to put my own stamp on the world.”
 
Having discovered strength and success in the workplace through the AbilityOne program, Paul now seeks to venture out into the business community. He has asked for assistance with his résumé, and Skils’kin’s Employment Services department is going to market Paul to opportunities we have with businesses and organizations within the community, so he can continue to make meaningful impacts in the workforce.

A Snapshot of Success

Jaxon Riley, Training Director for Leadership Spokane, was in need of an updated professional headshot, so she came to Skils’kin and visited our photo booth. What she received was not only top-quality photos from a professional photo shoot, but the opportunity to witness firsthand how individuals with disabilities are an integral component of the Skils’kin workforce.
 
At Skils’kin, Jaxon had her pictures taken by Lark Riley, our talented morning receptionist and aspiring photographer. Lark has been doing photography for over seven years and studied graphic art and design through the Newtech Skill Center while she was in the Spokane IMAGES program. During the photo shoot, Lark fostered a warm, welcoming environment and, using her photography skill set, captured a series of engaging photos.
 
 

Lark Riley connects with clients to capture compelling photos.


 
“A good photograph requires a connection with the individual,” Lark explained. “Even though technicality, composition, and understanding of the camera are extremely important, it’s also important to connect with people because that will make clients comfortable. That’s what makes photographs compelling.”
 
Once the photoshoot was over, the pictures went to Jonathan Scinto, Skils’kin’s latest marketing and graphic design intern. Jonathan, who studied color theory and digital design while working on his A.A. from Spokane Falls Community College, performed color corrections for lighting and clarity before sending away the photos.
 
 
Professional headshot of Jonathan Scinto, Skils'kin Marketing Intern

Jonathan Scinto leverages his graphic design skills as an integral member of the Skils’kin team.


 
Jaxon greatly appreciated both the photos and the experience. She explained how the Skils’kin team was able to not only meet an urgent need, but was able to make the entire process an enjoyable experience. Jaxon explained that, like many people, she is “not terribly fond of having [her] picture taken,” but the team at Skils’kin “made the photo shoot a very pleasant experience,” for which she was grateful.
 
Many individuals with disabilities have the training, experience, and skill set needed to perform high-profile professional work. Yet, because of hesitation, fear, or misunderstanding, many individuals with disabilities never get the chance to flex their capabilities in the workforce. At Skils’kin, our focus is to bridge that disconnect. To change that narrative surrounding individuals with disabilities. Our photo booth is just one snapshot of what true success in the workplace looks like, success that we rediscover on a daily basis. Who will join us?

CEO Letter: March 2018

 

“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”
 
-Eleanor Roosevelt

 
Relationships can be both rewarding and exhausting, sometimes simultaneously. As a parent of teenage children, you work diligently to be their authority figure while knowing it would be easier to be their pal. When you are married or with a partner, you are balancing the give and take of what it takes to be a reciprocating entity in that space. When navigating the waters of relationships at work, it can seem daunting and precarious, especially when new to the organization. The fact of the matter is, we likely spend more time with the people we work with then we do our friends and family. There have been many long standing myths around how you connect with your co-workers in the office. So what does it mean to have “relationships” at work? Aren’t we supposed to be “professional” and not have friends but instead acquaintances? I am proud to say that in part to our work with Imperative around Purpose, we are busting these myths.
 
Typically in my monthly letter, there will be at least one reference to our Mission, Vision and/or Values. I have come to realize that with strong relationships, we are able to deliver and actualize these ideas much more effectively. We each have our own innate strengths and weaknesses. When we become vulnerable enough to share our thoughts in an environment where we feel safe and valued, growth happens collectively. Relationships are a vital part of our organization and while that does not mean that we need to be best friends with everyone, we can learn to appreciate what each individual brings to the team. I have witnessed firsthand the benefit and beauty of open, real communication between coworkers. Problems are solved more easily, ideas are flushed out more thoroughly and individuals feel more valued.
 
These ideas are nothing new. The Māori culture of New Zealand utilizes the symbol of a house to represent a person’s complete health. Each individual has a house and the four walls are psychological or emotional health, spirituality or the opportunity for hope, family or people in the individual’s life, and physical well-being which is the vessel for psychological, spiritual and family health. It is the responsibility of the tribe to assist in creating the environment in which each individual can “build their house” within themselves.
 
In reflecting on Ms. Roosevelt’s quote, it is vital for us to care about each other; it is crucial to take a chance; it is essential for us to care about those around us so that together we can make more of a difference. We have a village at Skils’kin that can and should assist in providing the nurturing environment to assist each of us in “building our house,” and the only way we can do that is through healthy, authentic relationships. This month, I challenge you to focus on your relationships with your coworkers. Strive to create opportunities for genuine conversation where you are present and actively listening and not just thinking about what you are going to say next. Foster those relationships and see the benefits that common language and community creates.
 
Brian Behler's signature

Celebrating Capabilities: Skils’kin Employment Services Employee Helps Participant Discover Potential

One year ago, Richard, a participant in Skils’kin’s Employment Services program, secured employment at the Arc as a custodian. Richard is a well-known regular at the Arc of Spokane Community Center, so when a position opened up at the Arc, the maintenance lead specifically requested Richard for the position. From the beginning, Richard enjoyed his work immensely, as his work filled him with purpose and gave him opportunities to build relationships with coworkers.
 
However, not long after Richard began his position, his job security came into question. He was underperforming, there was a lack of clear communication with management, and Richard felt an overall lack of direction. Furthermore, Richard began to doubt himself, and his confidence was shattered. These difficulties culminated in an unfavorable review, a review that was far short of what Kaleb Ashby, Richard’s job coach, knew that Richard was capable of doing.
 
“It was hard to see Richard struggle when I knew he was capable,” Kaleb recalls. “There was a lot of internal struggle with himself because he took his struggles personally.”
 
Kaleb, however, helped turn everything around.
 
To clear up the inadequate communication and lack of direction, Kaleb put together a task list for Richard and handed it to the manager at the time, asking for approval. They went back and forth until the appropriate standards for quality were met and the expectations of Richard were clear. Kaleb then helped Richard refine his skills, and as a result, Richard began to complete his tasks in half the time.
 
While Kaleb was coaching Richard, there was a specific moment that proved to be the turning point. Kaleb had been teaching Richard how to tie knots on trash bags, but Richard continued to struggle with the task. He exploded at himself in anger, asking himself why he could not do this, saying to himself that there was something wrong with him.
 
Kaleb quickly curtailed this negative thinking. He told Richard, “There is nothing wrong with you. What you have to do is tell yourself that you can. You may not do it right away, but you can do it.”
 
That moment set Richard on his path to success. “He just needed someone to say that there is nothing wrong with him,” Kaleb explains. “He was blaming his disability for his limitations, and he wasn’t celebrating his capabilities. He shifted his attitude after that. From time to time, I would hear him audibly tell himself while he worked, ‘I can do it… I can do this.”’
 
Kaleb helped Richard find his potential, and ever since, Richard has been confidently performing at a top level. But Kaleb is not stopping there. Kaleb has coached Richard to a point where he can now fade out, but he is also actively working to get him more hours, so Richard can spend more time doing the job that brings him so much purpose. With Richard now tapping into his potential, there is no doubt he is ready for it.

Looking through a window at tall buildings, with an out-of-focus red blur obscuring part of the left side of the image

CEO Letter: February 2018

 

“‘I know it when I see it’ is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters.”
 
-from Wikipedia

 
As I frequently mention, our culture is based on the solid foundation of our mission, vision and values. When many people make the decision to become a part of our team, it is due to the fact that we are not structured like a typical non-profit. Nor do we fall into the same cadence or configuration of a standard corporation. I take great pleasure in meeting and knowing employees in all of our locations. I enjoy not wearing a suit to work every day. I take pride in the fact that I am addressed by my first name instead of “Mr. Behler.”
 
In other organizations, many employees strive to make their way to “The Corner Office.” For some it is status, others a rite of passage and some believe that is where the most influential and important people reside. If you have had the opportunity to visit the corporate office, our layout is a far cry from that model. We essentially have three corner offices: two are located upstairs and one is on the main level. One of the upstairs offices is cramped as it houses three of our AbilityOne administrative staff, the other is where you will find our CFO Nicolle Laporte. I have chosen to have my office on the main floor and while it is located on a corner, it is not glamorous by any means. I made a conscious decision to be where I can interact with as many of our staff, clients and visitors as possible.
 
There is a lot of value and motivation for me being able to authentically connect with those around me. This might mean I learn firsthand about a job one of our clients just obtained or a Commercial Services employee stops to tell me what they used their gift card to purchase. Maybe it’s an employee with a disability who has become comfortable enough to stop by my office after my frequent “How’s it going?” that I call from my desk. Due to these opportunities, I understand when our organization is running on all eight cylinders because “I know it when I see it.” Connections between teammates and stakeholders is imperative to success. I too look forward to my email inbox to see the next company newsletter where I can learn something from the employee spotlight or a unique success from the weekly updates. These are ways in which we can all “know it when we see it” and take pride in the strides our team is making.
 
When I speak about how we deliver our mission, it is by sharing illustrations of the manner in which our employees create success. If our organization was a race, it would be a relay; it takes an anchor to hold the team down and a number of different individuals with different speeds and abilities to get us across the finish line. Each of us play a different role each day and I know when the right players are in the game when I see it. I am thankful to be a part of this team and to have one of the best seats in the house to see the magic happen.
 
Brian Behler's signature

Page 1 of 612345...Last »