Community Inclusion Collaborates

Collaboration on a team means to share ideas and resources to accomplish a common goal. The Community Inclusion (CI) team shares a common goal, to provide the best service as often as possible for all of Skils’kin’s individuals. When groups are faced with a lack of resources there are ways to reallocate and strategize time and energy to make its use tenfold. Due to changing staff, and ever-changing client needs, Skils’kin’s CI team needed to review how they were moving forward, and what would make the situation work best. Five team members, one common goal, this is how Skils’kin collaborates.

When working with individuals, allocated hours, a limited number of cars, and a world of possibility there is no one solution to meet everyone’s needs. Things come up and people’s interests change, but setting a foundation of what strategies will work best, and make all resources as available as possible helps us accommodate these changes and unpredictable circumstances. What it all comes down to is communication. Every morning the CI team comes together to understand their schedule for the day. For them, it is second nature to collaborate like this. Obliviously one person cannot do it on their own.

Supervisor Amanda Vazquez sees the CI team as the definition of teamwork, sharing ideas and working to accomplish a common goal. After the staff changes Amanda was ready to be involved and help coordinate the team to success. After the first team meeting, it became clear that Amanda would play a smaller part than she expected. Things worked well, quickly. A group of five professional, mission-driven individuals live out Skils’kin’s vision, making collaboration second nature. They also work to reach beyond the team, looping in-house staff, Case Managers, and individuals to ensure quality service on all fronts. From Amanda’s perspective, it’s about empowering her team to own their schedules and work together to make sure all of Skils’kin’s individuals are served. Through the hard work and dedication of the Community Inclusion team, Skils’kin lives out its values.

Skils’kin Gains Two Certified Employment Support Specialists

The CESP (Certified Employment Support Professional) certificate is the first in the nation to create guidelines to validate and support the training currently provided in the field of vocational support. This accreditation provides an impartial third party validation of integrated employment services and concepts based on a national level. At Skils’kin, the training and learning functions of the employment department have been paramount. Prioritizing our customers means learning best practices and exposing leaders on our team to new challenges. Representing Skils’kin, Employment Supervisor, Amanda Vazquez, and Employment Support Specialist, Jonathan Dederick, took on the professional certification to be nationally recognized.
The certification is meant to represent best practices and safety for employment services, focusing on five skill areas: Application of Values, Individualized Career Planning, Job Development, Work Place Supports, and On-going Supports. These skill areas help make a holistic and individualized employment experience for anyone supported by a CESP certified specialist. It utilizes nationally recognized processes, defining roles and responsibilities of job coaching and standardized systems like SSDI for benefits planning.
Over the years of Amanda Vazquez’s experience, she has noticed a trending movement in employment. There are best practices, and individuals and employers respond to thorough planning, consistency, and customized support. The training leading up to her exam gave her “enough information to know there are resources for what is most appropriate for [individuals’] needs.” Over the training period, sponsored by Spokane County and Wise, Amanda and Jonathan broke down an understanding of the concepts on the certification exam. Jonathan expanded his tools for fading at job sites and made note of what styles of coaching can hold individuals back. Through this study of obstacles to overcome, such as self-limitation and lack of early planning, each felt prepared to gain the certification.
The CESP credential is meant to represent professionals who have “demonstrated knowledge of the facilitation and advocacy skills necessary to help establish and expand equitable employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities”, according to the APSE (Association of People Supporting Employment). The certification also raises awareness of the benefits within the business community and promotes social change for long-lasting business partners with Skils’kin.
We are very pleased to announce both Jonathan and Amanda are promoting their careers further and changing our community through passing the CESP examination. Skils’kin’s employment team intends to continue building their training program while looking to Jonathan and Amanda as leaders, as well having more professionals certified when qualified.

In Memory of Whittney Hoon

On September 25th, 2018 Whittney Hoon passed away. Whittney was a longtime associate and partner of Skils’kin and had many connections to our community. Starting in 2002, Whittney was a part of Skils’kin’s Group Supported Employment program at the Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. Whittney was a custodian on the training crew. She took on projects throughout the base, but she was the rare custodian that actually liked to clean bathrooms. Professional Development Specialist, Leona Eubank, recalls Whittney working on the base, wearing a blue apron carrying her bucket to the bathroom, and her singing voice serenading down the hallway from wherever she worked.
At work when learning and taking on new tasks, Whittney found things to make the most sense when it was made into a game or a puzzle. Whittney would wear the backpack vacuum and show off to her supervisors as she prepared to clean her hallways. And later while working in the Pre-Vocational program, the assembly work and hospital kits she prepared were like puzzles Whittney mastered over time. Whittney worked this way because she had a love for life and others that was a part of everything she did.
Whittney was good at making people feel important, and it was important to Whittney that she made people feel good. Always known as the socialite while working at Skils’kin everyone loved to cross paths with her or work in the same area. Whittney made several special friends at Skils’kin. People she would talk with on breaks and make jokes with while working made up a community at her place of work.
Once Whittney moved into Community Inclusion with Skils’kin she took up many different activities. From bowling to volunteering at the Spark Center Whittney was building relationships and making a community for herself. Over time challenges came up, and Skils’kin saw less of Whittney. By the end of her time with Community Inclusion Whittney slowed down and her family wanted to make sure she was comfortable at home. But Whittney left behind a legacy of warm joy and personal growth that will stay in all of our memories for years to come.

Skils’kin supports NDEAM and so can you!

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year’s theme is America’s Workforce: Empowering All. Skils’kin’s constant commitment to empowering all is evident through our mission and values. We commit ourselves to empower communities and individuals on a daily basis. How is October different?
First, we create a digital footprint. We started the last week of September by sending out emails to employees and advocates to recognize and honor NDEAM and share how they are participating in awareness. Now. we continue with our blog and a social media push on Facebook to encourage involvement in the community.
Skils’kin has partnered with the Northwest Center for Autism to hold “Autism Grown Up”, an event that focuses on employment and housing for adults with autism. The event will be held at Centerplace on October 12th from 9 am to 6 pm and features two national keynote speakers.
Skils’kin is having a social with DVR (Department of Vocational Rehabilitation) on Thursday, October 18th from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm. We will be networking, sharing updates on our employment strategies, as well as revealing and demonstrating our new case management software, custom built with CaseWorthy.
We’ll wrap up the month by working with Rotary Club #21’s Partners for Work interview event. This event occurs on October 30th, 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at the Philanthropy Center of Spokane, with a networking event to follow. This event gives the chance for individuals to be interviewed by a panel of employers seeking talented employees. Sign up today, limited space is available.
Employment awareness for people with disabilities is essential in increasing inclusivity. We encourage everyone to be involved in empowering America’s workforce. Please see for additional resources.
Thank you for taking action.

Seamless Connections

Tim Taylor and Robert Greer have been two staples of the commercial services team over the years. Both proven as independent workers, masters of their craft, and great representatives of Skils’kin and our values. In July of 2018, they were sent together to work on the new contract, providing custodial services for the Civic Theatre. The theater is a large and complex building, and people are constantly working, building sets, and rehearsing. Even on the outskirts of downtown Spokane, it feels like show business, and that is an infectious feeling.
Mike Shannon, the executive director of the Civic Theatre, shares stories of Robert and Tim, how they are amazing additions to the team. He says they are a part of the community and have changed how people spend their downtime around the theater. Members of the team know them and engage with them, and the theater has never looked better.
I asked Tim and Robert what they thought about working there—I wanted to know how exciting it was to be in the theater, and to see talented actors and actresses working all around them. “Well, it’s just a job to me”, they explained. They enjoyed working in the theater, but they were sent with a purpose, and no matter how the setting changed, or who they served it’s about the outcome and personal growth. “It’s a great place to work, but I want to make sure I’m doing my best.”
Sometimes connections are so seamless it’s easy to overlook them. Tim and Robert work at the Civic Theater, and they are connected to the community there. Obviously, these aren’t mutually exclusive things. Tim and Robert haven’t turned to actors overnight, but they fit in at the Civic Theatre—serving their purpose, and being themselves.

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 Shanagan 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 team meetings when they 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 of 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 every day 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.