45 Years of Service – Thousands of Lives Changed
Skils’kin is proud to announce that Bonnie Sinclair, an Employment Services staffing manager at Skils’kin, has won the 2017 Direct Support Professional Award at the 25th Annual Washington State Governor’s Employer Awards.
Every year, the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment hosts the Governor’s Employer Awards Program, where the committee recognizes those who empower individuals with disabilities and improve employment opportunities. The award that Bonnie received, the Direct Support Professional award, is a lifetime achievement award that recognizes exceptional professionals who provide direct support to individuals with disabilities; demonstrate state-of-the-art practices; and make meaningful, inclusive employment a reality.
Bonnie is well-deserving of this award because she is an outstanding direct support professional who leverages 45 years of person-centered industry experience and expertise to facilitate community integration and challenge individuals with disabilities to self-identify and pursue career goals, making meaningful, inclusive employment a reality for individuals with disabilities.
Bonnie came to Skils’kin in 1972 (then known as the Prevocational Training Center), where she performed quality assurance for the printing press. Bonnie trained people with disabilities on how to load the printing press, change the paper size, clean the machine, and print, bind, and drill books. She also oversaw silk screen printing, teaching individuals with disabilities how to shoot and develop pictures before they went to the press by burning plates, putting them onto the machine, and using opaque pens. Back when the Prevocational Training Center had a large contract with the Forestry Department, Bonnie also taught an individual with a disability to operate a high-speed copier in Colville.
While she worked at the Prevocational Training Center, Bonnie went to college at Eastern Washington University, where she got a degree in general studies with a minor in social work. She then began serving as the sole employee in the Employment Department, where she taught job readiness classes, a skill she implements continually to this day.
By creating opportunities to meaningfully engage and integrate with the community face-to-face, Bonnie shatters barriers to employment by exposing employers to the assets individuals with disabilities truly bring to the workplace.
From years of experienced success, Bonnie has developed a state-of-the-art person-centered job development strategy that brings clients out into the community, makes connections, and ultimately secures meaningful employment. Bonnie is a maverick who engages with the community to actively facilitate opportunities by connecting the work that needs to be done with a talented, but traditionally unrecognized, workforce of individuals with disabilities who can meet these needs. By creating opportunities to meaningfully engage and integrate with the community face-to-face, Bonnie shatters barriers to employment by exposing employers to the assets individuals with disabilities truly bring to the workplace.
An integral aspect of Bonnie’s state-of-the-art practice is letting individuals with disabilities self-identify their desired workplaces and careers. As Bonnie explains, far too often, the industry tries to find an individual a job, any job, that they overlook the importance of finding the right job for that specific individual. In order to facilitate meaningful employment, Bonnie ensures that the individual’s desires lead the job search. Individuals with disabilities often unjustly lack agency in their lives and are placed in whatever job opportunity arises, regardless of the individual’s fit with the work and culture. Bonnie refuses to do that. She continually strives forward with her clients until they find the right position together. Bonnie is adamant about creating spaces where individuals drive their own job search – and she stands by them to ensure their success every step of the way.
Bonnie gets to know her clients on a personal level to help them find truly meaningful employment.
Bonnie stresses to individuals-served that her role is to help them drive their job search and achieve truly meaningful employment that best meets their needs. To accomplish this success, Bonnie challenges her clients to reflect on and determine their career goals and tell her what they need in a workplace. Bonnie facilitates this process by developing a strong understanding of the individual served and creating opportunities for career exploration. When Bonnie first meets with a client for discovery, she digs deep to get to know the individual’s needs and desires, encouraging the client to honestly and critically examine his or her employment pursuits. Sometimes, individuals are adamant about not working in certain places, and Bonnie and the individual will figure out why together, collectively pushing towards a greater understanding of the client’s career goals. By challenging her clients with this scaffolded approach, Bonnie enables her clients to drive their search for employment, and she ensures that they only pursue positions that are in the client’s best interests.
Once Bonnie and the client have reached an understanding of the client’s goals, they explore potential careers together. Bonnie takes the individual out into the community and introduces them to employer contacts in the industries the individual is interested in. The employer tells them what they need, what the hours are like, the expectations and requirements for the position, and more. Sometimes, after career discovery, the individual realizes that that’s not the right kind of job for them, and Bonnie and the individual then use that information to keep pushing forward towards that right job. Other times, this career exploration solidifies the individual’s career goals, and Bonnie and the individual can push the job search even further with greater intensity and vigor.
Bonnie is also outstanding in her position because she stresses the importance of challenging individuals-served. From a lifetime of society telling them what is and isn’t possible, many individuals with disabilities often don’t realize their full potential. But Bonnie sees in individuals-served what they often fail to see in themselves: that they, like all individuals, have areas of expertise that they can leverage in the workplace to substantially contribute and drive business. And she challenges her clients until they recognize this too. For example, Bonnie once worked with a client who had a stroke – the results of which seemed insurmountable to the client. Bonnie had helped this individual find a potential employment opportunity as a dishwasher, but he doubted his ability to wash dishes even though he was interested. Bonnie pushed her client and challenged him to believe in his own strengths and ability, reassuring him that he could take on this position and thrive. As a result, this individual successfully gained employment as a dishwasher in a major hospital, where he now performs large-scale dishwashing. From Bonnie’s perspective, the more you challenge individuals, the more they will blossom and feel good about themselves and the work at hand, which empowers them to reach heights they previously never thought possible.
Bonnie also challenges her clients by urging them to not just rest-satisfied once they secure a job but to continue to work hard and reach upwards once they have a position. When her clients first get a job, Bonnie continues to mentor and explains that if they do well and continue to work hard and flex their skillset, there’s opportunity for advancement – it’s all up to them to strive for it. Bonnie challenges those she serves and instills in them that their success is indicative of further success – they can continually do better, and now that they’re starting out on a new path, they can seize even greater successes. And many of Bonnie’s clients do just that. Bonnie has placed individuals in entry-level positions and witnessed firsthand her clients’ abilities to advance into management and leadership roles.
Throughout this entire process, Bonnie serves as an advocate and creates positive change by attending to the overall well-being of the individuals she works with and helping them to stay positive and believe in themselves. Bonnie is adamant that her clients not be isolated, explaining how it can cause depression and lowered self-esteem. Outside of the job search, if Bonnie feels her clients are too isolated, she encourages them to get out into the community. Sometimes, Bonnie has clients who struggle with the transportation system and bus schedules, so Bonnie will meet them at the transit center and help them with transportation, riding the bus back with them until they are familiar with it. She also makes sure to see her clients at least once a week. Bonnie is adamant about the importance of having face to face conversations with her clients on a weekly basis, so they stay in high spirits, continually press upwards, and recognize that despite any setbacks, they’re still going forward with their search for the right job that creates a better quality of life. If an individual has barriers, has never had a job, and is constantly isolated, they can spiral downwards, but Bonnie keeps motivating and keeps pushing. She wants her clients to believe in themselves, and she keeps working with them until they do.
Bonnie makes inclusive employment a reality, and literally thousands of individuals with disabilities have experienced greater success and a better life because of her lifetime of service and achievement.
Bonnie finds purpose and fulfillment in her work not because of her lifetime of success, but because she is able to stand witness to the impactful change that results after she helps individuals with disabilities secure and maintain meaningful, inclusive employment. Because Bonnie has served in this industry for 45 years, she has had the unique opportunity to see both the immediate and the long-term impacts of her lifetime of service – impacts that drastically change the lives of individuals served. Individuals who, after securing inclusive employment, are finally able to fly across the state to visit friends in Seattle. Individuals who are able to go see a Broadway show for the first time in their life. Individuals who are able to go out to dinner with friends. Individuals who were able to buy a car and experience newfound independence. Individuals who have been able to go to college and continue to expand their skillset. Individuals who have been able to get married and start families. Individuals who are able to live their version of their best life – in large part thanks to Bonnie’s considerate, person-centered practice.
Bonnie draws upon 45 years of experience and success to create person-centered opportunities for meaningful community integration, and through this work, Bonnie helps individuals find the right job, which ultimately helps ensure meaningful employment and long-term success because individuals love what they do and are able to thrive as a result. Bonnie makes inclusive employment a reality, and literally thousands of individuals with disabilities have experienced greater success and a better life because of her lifetime of service and achievement.