“I told her to fire him. I wanted him to be fired. Even though he has a disability, he isn’t showing that he wants the job. Fire him.”
These are words you wouldn’t expect to hear from a father speaking about his son, but these were the words of a father at his wit’s end. The words of a father who had had enough. The words of a father before his son’s remarkable turnaround.
Karl and Kellee Mote are a genuine, upstanding couple living in Spokane who, like many parents, envision a successful life for their children. Karl, a band director, and Kellee, a teacher who works in a correctional facility, adopted their son Michael when he was two years old, and like most parents of children with disabilities, Karl and Kellee faced a unique set of challenges.
“There’s no handbook for the parents of kids with disabilities,” Kellee explained. “There’s no handbook that says if this happens, you need to do this. We were just fortunate to find the right people who helped us find the right resources.”
Michael struggled in school and in life, but by connecting with the right people and the right resources, Karl and Kellee found ways to help Michael graduate and experience success. However, like many individuals with disabilities, Michael fell of the precipice when he graduated, the time where resources and supports often run dry.
Karl and Kellee have always believed that Michael needs to give back to society, so they helped him look for opportunities after he graduated, but opportunities proved to be hard to come by. Michael struggled to find and maintain positions in the workplace, and as a result, was unable to prove himself as an individual capable of making contributions in the workforce. Oftentimes, these struggles were exacerbated by Michael’s actions.
“Mike is a great kid,” Karl explains. “He wants the right thing, but he has a hell of a time doing the right things sometimes. He has a huge heart, but he’s been bucking his challenges throughout his life.”
Michael’s first potential work opportunity was cut short when a bus route closed. At another location, Michael got into an argument with a patron and lost that opportunity. At a third location, Michael was participating in a community based assessment, and, after he was horseplaying around, the sponsor deemed him “unemployable” and removed him from the program.
“Those are rough words,” Karl explained in reference to his son being referred to as unemployable.
Despite the setbacks Michael experienced, Karl and Kellee continued to search for resources that could help their son find success. After Karl learned about Skils’kin from a band parent, Karl and Kellee contacted Skils’kin and set up an appointment.
Karl and Kellee met with Leona Eubank, Skils’kin’s Professional Development Specialist and Disability Liaison, and learned of the various pathways to employment for Michael through Skils’kin. As it turned out, Skils’kin was having a career fair that day to recruit candidates for their AbilityOne grounds crew, so Leona asked if Michael could come back later in the day, to which they agreed.
Michael’s interview with Skils’kin was the first time in his life he had ever interviewed. Understandably, Karl and Kellee were nervous as they waited outside. However, it turned out to be a great experience: Michael shared his personality and skill set, immediately impressed, and received an offer for the position.
“Sitting outside and hearing them laugh from inside the interview was heartwarming,” Kellee explained. “We don’t hear a lot of celebrations. It made us feel really good. We see the challenges these kids face, but we also see the skills, abilities, passion, and love for life that other people don’t always get to see.”
At the end of the interview, Michael received a Skils’kin hat, a visible sign that he was now part of the team, a sign that he had found his place.
“That hat was like a new car to Mike,” Karl explained. “I’ve never seen him so proud of something.”
By all accounts, Michael was poised for success. He nailed his first interview ever, received a job offer, and was set to begin his career. But Michael’s story does not end there.
Once Michael started working at the base, he started to fall back into his old ways. He didn’t show up on time, and he often wouldn’t work once he got there. After multiple incidents, Skils’kin Project Manager Vickey Graning called Karl, asking him to come pick up Michael because she was sending him home.
“I told her to fire him,” Karl explains, recalling his phone call with Vickey. “I wanted him to be fired. Even though he has a disability, he isn’t showing that he wants the job. Fire him.”
Vickey, however, had another idea. She told Karl to come in and meet with her. She said they would bring Michael in and, if it was okay with him, they were going to be really stern with MIchael and let him know that this was his last chance.
“It was hardcore,” Karl explained. “It was an intervention. The meeting lasted 90 minutes, and his supervisors told him if there was one more instance of being late, or not doing his job, he was getting fired.”
“I really didn’t believe it was going to make a difference,” Karl explained. “Mike’s reaction was very flat. He was very flat and quiet on the way out, and we rode quietly all the way home. I told him that he is wasting time and money, and if he isn’t going to be committed, he should call and resign so someone else that wants the job more can have it.”
The intervention, however, worked. After the intense meeting, Michael began to thrive in his work – and he never stopped. He made significant contributions to the team, and every day, he worked with enthusiasm and purpose.
“When Michael embraced his work and team, change happened,” Vickey explained. “He became an exceptional employee. He showed up to work with a smile on his face. He was ready for the tasks at hand.”
Michael’s parents noticed a change within him as well.
“Mike went back, and has been absolutely on his game,” Karl explains. “Every morning he is ready to leave and excited to share his day when he comes home. It has been a complete one-eighty.”
“He is coming home excited about what he has done,” Kellee adds. “He is so excited about being successful. There was hope for him,” Kellee continued. “The job was something that made him feel productive. Gave him purpose. Gave him a reason to get up and do something positive with his day. Just having the opportunity to get new skills and abilities, an opportunity to be around others that understand him… it meant everything.”
The opportunity Michael had through the AbilityOne program to work with purpose made a drastic impact on his life: it completely changed his demeanor, gave him an opportunity to experience success, and ultimately, gave him hope for a better future. The experience made an impact on Michael’s parents as well.
“For me, the takeaway is you don’t immediately cast people off,” Karl explains. “You don’t immediately cut people loose. There was a lot of soul-searching on my part because I as the dad wanted to cut him loose and Skils’kin wanted to keep him. That ability to press on and make it work…. the payoff in this case is completely transformative. I really, truly wanted you to fire him. What kept me going was that there were people out there like you folks that wanted to do that hard work. This success is completely motivating. Every day, Mike is coming home proud of how strong he is. That is motivating to me – that Mike is changing that Mike is growing. That’s changing me. It’s inspiring.”
“What I would like people to take from this is that you have to believe in the power of people to change,” Kellee concludes. “That we all make mistakes, but we all have the opportunity, if presented, to do better. We can’t quit believing in people. You don’t know people’s walk in life: how far they’ve come, and how far they’ll go if you give them the power to believe in themselves and move forward in life. If you never give them that opportunity, you never know how far in life people will go. I have seen great change in people. You’ve got to believe in people.”