In Memory of Shirley Strand

On July 30th, 2018 Shirley Strand passed away from heart issues. Shirley was a community inclusion member that was far from a one dimensional person. Shirley was particular when it came to her arrangements with community inclusion, and it made for a slower start in the program, until Community Inclusion Specialist Julie Gardner was partnered with her. Julie worked to reason with Shirley, and asked for forgiveness when needed. Soon Shirley trusted Julie, and Julie began to understand Shirley.
With help from Julie, Shirley began volunteering at Sunset Elementary two years ago. Shirley was tasked with helping around the classroom and monitoring during recess. Julie explained to me, when Shirley first started she was nervous and unsure of her skills, always turning to Julie to check her quality or looking for reassurance that she was treating the kids fairly. By the end Shirley had taken ownership of her position, making clean cuts on projects in the classroom, and becoming more involved on the playground, greeting kids and holding one end of the jump rope while they played.
With most things Shirley did she wanted to understand more, and be understood by others. Julie developed such a strong relationship with Shirley because she didn’t back away from more difficult conversations. Shirley would ask about the children at Sunset Elementary, and what they thought of her and her disability. She would ask about God, and who held control in her life. Julie never had all of the answers, but she engaged Shirley, and helped her come to terms with things. When I asked Julie about these conversations she shared something she learned from Shirley before she passed: your character is how you respond to what happens to you—control is an illusion. Shirley struggled with relationships at times, but with a partner like Julie she learned to let things go and make amends with others and herself.

Many Forms of Communication

(Pictured: Brian Cook, Shanagan Pinson)
Four years ago Shanagan Pinson started working on the Fairchild Air Force Base in the grounds crew on an AbilityOne, Source America contract. He was excited to start and continue to foster his expertise as a “plant geek”. Shanagan explained to me that he had a love for photography, music, plants, and language. These are the things Shanagan found coming back into his life over the years, and it’s what began to direct his career at Fairchild Air Force Base. He was sent to work on the trees with the pruning crew. Shanagan’s lead for the team was Brian Cook. It became clear to Shanagan quickly that Brian communicated differently than others, he was hearing impaired. For Brian and his team that meant communication looked like writing a lot of notes back and forth. Over time the notes started to take over. For anything it meant stopping work, making sure each party was clear, then resuming. Shanagan wanted to do it differently, the right way. Shanagan dedicated himself to start to pick up as much sign language as possible from Brian. It started with simple things—names, directions, finger spelling—enough to make work easier for Shangan and Brian. But over time Shanagan’s love for language drew him in, and he began to translate for the crew and others working with them.
Shanagan and Brian no longer work on the same grounds crew at Fairchild. Shanagan leads the A-crew for mowing, and is applying for an Herbicidal Applicator position and Brian works on the irrigation team. But still during meetings team when the cross paths, or at the annual summer BBQ they chat like old friends. For Shanagan it was easy to understand why it was important to learn how to communicate better with Brian—in his mind he didn’t go above and beyond, he met Brian where he was at and they got the job done together.

Turning Mirrors into Windows

Skils’kin has always had an emphasis on infrastructure and cultural improvements. Through employee satisfaction surveys as well as ideas that were brought to light during the Strategic Planning committees, we are pleased to announce a new education program. Every employee will be eligible to take any type of class or classes up to $250 per year. These can either be reimbursed or paid directly to the school of their choice. It is important to highlight that these classes do not need to be work related. We are looking to create opportunities that will connect with your purpose and help you find fulfillment. Skils’kin is committed to providing assistance to pave a way for career advancement, even if it leads outside of Skils’kin.

Jesse’s Reflection

“What would I be doing if I wasn’t at work today?” a question most of us find ourselves asking, or at least daydreaming about, while working. Perhaps reading a new book, painting, exercising, or getting outdoors. Whatever it may be, it’s ordinarily personally restorative and something you’re not paid to do today.
Through the AbilityOne program Jesse Butler has worked at the Spokane Courthouse for the past eight years as a custodian. He tells me that it’s a good job and he’s learned a lot things outside of his regular duties, like patience, customer service, and leadership. But after a certain amount of time he decided “I just don’t want to be a janitor anymore.” The work wasn’t fulfilling him, and it’s not what he imagined himself doing for the rest of his life. When he asked himself the question, “What would I be doing if I wasn’t at work today?” Jesse had a few ideas, but what sounded best was floating the river and being outdoors. But dreams don’t become reality overnight. It takes dedication and work.
“I don’t like limiting myself”, and I could tell right away from the way Jesse talked about his life. He wasn’t ready to settle. He did the research and got connected to the resources he needed to start taking the steps to turn his everyday into what he wants it to be, and getting paid to do it too. Eastern Washington University’s Outdoor Recreation Leadership program prepares students to enter the field as recreational outfitters, guides, and managers. This is what Jesse set his sights on. With the help from Skils’kin Employment, Jesse is getting closer to his goals with personalized support from Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist Shanna Swan, ensuring his success as he begins this process. Jesse is planning to enroll in classes at EWU, while maintaining his position at the courthouse. With professional and educational supports we wish Jesse luck on his career adventure.

In Memory of Allen “Buddy” Shay

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” -Dr. Seuss
August 17, 2018 Allen “Buddy” Shay passed away. This news quickly reached Skils’kin, and everyone who had crossed paths with Buddy deeply felt the loss. As a longtime member of Skils’kin Buddy built many lasting relationships with several employees and associates. Buddy’s amiable love for life and activity made him a joy to work with. From the pre-vocational program to ten-plus years working as a janitor on the Air Force Base to community inclusion Buddy sought out meaningful work in places of need. Buddy’s ability to stock, clean, and organize made him a valuable member of any team, but his engaging personality allowed him to connect with others and make a community of peers.
Buddy made himself known in the Skils’kin community, sharing his love for retro television and movies. On Buddy’s best days he was seen in his Star Trek tee shirt, hand cupped to his ear asking Mr. Spock to beam him up. Or despite his hearing loss, recognizing John Denver’s tunes and crooning along in time, grinning ear to ear. Or over the cubicle walls in the Skils’kin office hearing a dog barking, or a pig oinking, or a bear’s roar was quickly followed by bursts of laughter from Buddy and everyone infected by his joy.
Buddy’s later days in Skils’kin were a part of the community inclusion group, keeping him engaged and excited in the community. Most of Buddy’s favorite activities involved animals. Volunteering at Scraps he was gentle and kind to all animals. He had a particular affinity for cats—soft, sweet, and expressive, matching Buddy’s temperament.
Employment Services Operations Analyst, Bob Stewart, shared his final outing with Buddy with me. They went to Green Bluff to experience the summer petting zoo. The pen was filled with goats and other barnyard animals. As Buddy and Bob approached the fence the goats rushed to them, expecting a snack. Buddy laid his empty hand to their mouths and they lapped him. The intimate connection brought Buddy to the moment, smiling again. Buddy always had the ability to bridge gaps and connect to the world in his own way.

person who is blind at work environment

Intrinsic Value

People who are blind or visually impaired are employed in many diverse jobs as those who are in the sighted workforce. As the National Federation of the Blind explains “One of the most damaging stereotypes about blindness is the belief that the blind are limited to specific and finite “list” of jobs that blind people can do. Even when we hear about a blind person who is doing something new or novel, we can either discount it, or we just add one more “job that blind people can do” to our list. Seldom do we rethink our erroneous assumptions about blindness.”
Clarisa has been employed for just over a month at Light House for the Blind. The first thing I notice about Clarisa is her big personality; she is quick and witty. She is working in production of white boards with a team member. Clarisa is eager to share her story and states “Work helps me engage with other people. I feel like I am giving back to society, community and the Military. I’m not sitting at home alone, I have value”. The management at the Light House for the Blind is supportive and makes her feel like an important part of the team.
Clarisa lost her eyesight as an adult, but nothing can stop her. Clarisa said “Meeting people makes life interesting and being around people and having goals is the key to happiness.” Greg Szabo, Director of Public Relations and Development said “Creating independence in peoples’ lives motivates me to work harder and longer to create change.” Two non-profits came together and enhanced a life. Employment makes a difference.

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.