CEO Letter: June 2017


“Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily action.” –John Di Lemme

Accountability and responsibility have become buzz words in society and media today. It seems that people are looking to blame others instead of taking ownership of their own actions or beliefs. I find it refreshing to hear someone own up to a mistake. Moreover, I find great satisfaction watching someone start to dance when everyone else is too afraid to look foolish.
I am at a place in my life where it is imperative to take ownership of not only previous actions but the decisions yet to be made. There are such a variety of opportunities available to us that we can make a difference in the future. Please understand, it is vital to own our actions and decisions that we have made; whether the outcomes were positive or negative, we must reap what we sow. What I am focusing on at this time is what we can change in the future. As I have mentioned previously, we have a robust advocacy platform called Muster. Through this avenue we have the ability to communicate with our elected officials, and let them know about our wishes, concerns and frustrations. In addition, this platform gives you the opportunity to invite others to speak out and connect with their elected officials no matter where your acquaintance might reside. We must make a stand for what is important to us and be a leader to those around us.
On a different note, a few months ago I sent out an email asking employees who might be interested in joining myself, Gayle Lawrence, and Katie McCall on a Purpose journey. 14 people responded and have been working in a group called “The Purpose Posse” to instill the idea of Purpose into not only their work, but everyday life. This is a choice that was made to create awareness in themselves, their teams, their communities, and our company by focusing on their internal purpose. I am proud of these individuals who were not afraid to get up and dance when no one else was willing. This month, I encourage each of us to make decisions around our work and our life through the lens of making a difference. I challenge you to see the work that is not being done and find a solution to make it happen. I urge you to not only identify what is wrong in your community, but how to create change to make it better. Let us march forward towards a path of positivity and making a difference in the world around us.

Brian Behler's signature

Ed Campbell and Heather Rogers accepting the SourceAmerica Military Customer Federal Award

Fairchild Awarded 2017 SourceAmerica Customer Federal Award for Military

Skils’kin is proud to announce that Fairchild Air Force Base (FAFB or Fairchild) was awarded the 2017 SourceAmerica Customer Federal Award for Military. This award recognizes federal military agencies that provide outstanding support for the employment of people with disabilities through an AbilityOne contract.
Fairchild Air Force Base has supported the AbilityOne program and the efforts of Skils’kin in increasing employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities through their genuine consideration of individuals’ needs and willingness for collaboration.
For over 30 years, FAFB has partnered with Skils’kin to create and expand employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The base has created countless jobs for individuals with disabilities since 1978, and in this last year, the base has continued to support the individuals we serve in an exceptional manner.
FAFB made a gesture recently that demonstrated outstanding support of the individuals we serve. When base access requirements were changing, which would’ve presented financial hardships for our AbilityOne employees, FAFB Contracting provided us with a window of opportunity to secure the necessary documentation and ensure that employees could continue working unabated. As Project Manager Vickey Graning explained, “due to Fairchild’s efforts and assistance, we received a window of time to manage our base pass renewals, and we did not lose shifts or work opportunities for employees because of issues relating to base access.”
The consideration FAFB extended to Skils’kin is not new. Vickey Graning explained that “their assistance and consideration is a regular occurrence when working with FAFB Contracting. We are seen as valued business partners and we are respected as such. Not only that, but they want to see our mission move forward and our workforce achieve success. They’ve been helpful in providing us what is necessary to make that a reality.”
A great example of Fairchild’s willingness to collaborate with us and support our mission is when we recently renegotiated two of our AbilityOne contracts with the Fairchild Contracting team. During contracting, Fairchild and Skils’kin worked collaboratively to come up with the best value that benefitted both sides. Throughout the negotiations, Contracting Officer Ed Campbell trusted in our expertise, and where possible, he concurred with changes that, while meeting government regulations, greatly benefitted the AbilityOne program by increasing employment opportunities. For example, Mr. Campbell demonstrated great interest in helping us maintain our 75% employment ratio for individuals with disabilities.
Through these collaborative contract negotiations, Fairchild greatly expanded employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. For our AbilityOne custodial services, we negotiated for $184,000 a year in increased services provided, and for our AbilityOne grounds maintenance services, we negotiated to increase services by an estimated $471,000 a year; in both cases, opportunities for the employment of individuals with disabilities greatly increased. Through this contract, and Fairchild’s collaboration, 22 additional positions were established at FAFB: 7 custodial service positions and 15 grounds maintenance positions. In total, Fairchild will employ nearly 100 individuals through the AbilityOne program.
Throughout recent contract negotiations, both parties were able to focus on ensuring that opportunities for people with significant disabilities factored into the negotiation process, and this consideration is a recurring benefit when working with Fairchild. The FAFB Contracting team consistently conducts themselves with integrity and professionalism, and they come to the negotiation table with open ears, eyes, and hearts, trying to learn and understand why we, as the experts in custodial and grounds services, make specific requests and how those requests reflect back on the goals of not only the AbilityOne program but our corporate mission and values. At all times, the contracting team focused on using the most accurate information, the most appropriate methods, and the most suitable labor force to achieve contract success, and in doing so, Fairchild has greatly expanded employment opportunities, and the quality of life, for many individuals with significant disabilities.
We continually recognize and appreciate Fairchild’s genuine consideration and willingness for collaboration, and we are proud to partner with an agency that provides such outstanding support for the individuals we serve. Congratulations, Fairchild Air Force Base, for receiving this prestigious award.

Close up image of the underside of a lightly colored leaf

CEO Letter: May 2017

An Integrated Life


“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I recently had the solemn honor of attending the memorial service for Randy Nicholl. Randy succumbed to injuries sustained from a hit-and-run driver about six months ago.
Randy had been a long time Skils’kin employee at Fairchild AFB in our janitorial program. Not only had he been a nine year member of our team, but prior to joining Skils’kin, Randy had worked almost 20 years in other jobs that were dedicated for persons with disabilities. As a result of his work experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect or, more precisely, who to expect attending his memorial. What I learned was that Randy lived a very integrated life with friends that ran the spectrum from his ski team to local business owners.
About 200 other people joined me to remember Randy. It became abundantly clear: Randy’s life made a difference. Members of Randy’s ski team and bowling league were in attendance, but most were people whose lives were touched by Randy. The owner of a popular local restaurant recalled that you knew as soon as Randy entered the restaurant. He seemed to know everyone, and she stated that “we filled his cup with coffee, he filled our lives with love.”
By all accounts that day, it was evident Randy lived a very integrated life. He was able to enjoy the leisure activities he loved with the people he enjoyed being with. He had a wide variety of friends and welcomed annual vacations to Mexico. The common link to all this besides his ability to make friends? Randy had a job. He was able to use the money earned from his job to purchase his ski gear and annual ski pass. He was able to pay for his bowling. He was able to purchase his cups of coffee. However, it must be noted that this last point is in question. Rumor had it Randy seldom had to pay for coffee as he was so well known and liked that patrons would usually buy his coffee for him.
The memorial service wasn’t about how Randy had overcome his disabilities. The service was about all the things Randy enjoyed doing in the community and the friends that he enjoyed doing them with. It was about what made Randy, Randy. His sense of humor. His compassion. His adventurous spirit. His ability to face and overcome fear. It was about living life like most everyone lives life: unfiltered, responsible for himself and making friends. This event gave me pause to realize not only how proud I am to have been the person who signed Randy’s hard earned paychecks, but the paychecks of our entire company. I feel honored to be a part of an organization that encourages us all to live our best life to its fullest with purpose and integrity.

Brian Behler's signature

Vickey Graning Receives SourceAmerica NCSE Management Excellence Award

Professional business portrait of Vickey Graning, Operations Manager at Skils'kin

Skils’kin is proud to announce that Vickey Graning, Skils’kin Operations Manager, has been awarded the National Council of SourceAmerica Employers (NCSE) Management Excellence award.


Vickey continually demonstrates excellence in leadership at Skils’kin by believing in her team’s ability to achieve top standards, demanding excellence, and providing supports that enable the individuals who comprise her team to achieve this excellence. Through this dedication to high standards, Vickey has significantly enhanced employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and she has empowered individuals with disabilities by increasing their employability.


Vickey is a Skils’kin manager who doesn’t lower her standards or expectations simply because she is working with individuals with disabilities. Instead, Vickey encourages quality assurance inspectors to challenge her team and demand top-quality work. Vickey recognizes that all staff need honest, constructive feedback in order to grow, and it is a disservice to individuals with disabilities to hold them to lower standards. She knows that her team is capable of top-level service, so she does everything in her power to ensure that her team achieves it – and the results speak for themselves.


In her latest Contractor Performance Assessment Report (CPAR), Vickey’s team received the highest rating of “Exceptional” across the board, building on the excellence from the previous year when her team received four “Exceptional” ratings and one “Very Good” rating. Furthermore, the assessing official, Contracting Officer Edward Campbell, reported that the work “exceeded expectations” and that “pride in quality work was evident.” Based on the team’s “truly exceptional custodial service” and ability, including Vickey’s exemplary leadership and management, Mr. Campbell recommended Skils’kin and Vickey’s team for further work with similar requirements.


Thanks to Vickey’s exemplary leadership style and mindset, and the subsequent performance of her team, Skils’kin’s custodial contract at Fairchild Air Force Base increased by $184,000 per year, which greatly expands employment opportunities for people with disabilities. This increase means that seven more individuals with significant disabilities will experience meaningful employment and opportunities for growth through the AbilityOne program and Vickey’s leadership.


Much of Vickey’s team’s success is a direct result of her demand for excellence. However, her demand is only half the story. Vickey expects excellence from her team, but she also continually supports and challenges her team while they pursue this excellence, increasing employability in the process. Vickey provides innovative cross-training that rotates individuals through different tasks, moving individuals on to new tasks only once they’ve mastered the current one. This cross-training method ensures that individuals can transition out of AbilityOne employment with a diverse skillset. Furthermore, if Vickey sees an individual on her team is struggling, she brings them aside and works with them.  Sometimes the individual needs extra guidance and encouragement. Other times, the individual requires more help, and Vickey will reach out to whomever she can to help the individual get back on track not just at work, but in life.


By expecting and facilitating success, Vickey has empowered individuals with disabilities to transition into community-based employment. A powerful example of how Vickey’s leadership increases employability is Matt, an individual with a disability who transitioned into community-based employment. As Compliance Manager Chris Cale explained, “Matt initially made the transition [to community-based employment] but had trouble policing himself and meeting his work requirements on time. Because of these difficulties, Matt lost his job. However, Vickey believed in Matt’s potential and rehired him, using his workplace struggles as a blueprint for improvement. She met with Matt, and they agreed to work on his time-management and self-policing skills. For the next year, Vickey worked with Matt and specifically held him accountable for these skills, checking in with him periodically and making sure that the leads left him in charge of himself, so he would have opportunities to hone his developing skills. After a year back with Vickey, Matt applied for another community-based job, secured the position, and has been thriving there ever since.” Vickey turns setbacks into successes, increasing employability and changing lives in the process.


Vickey doesn’t allow people on her crew to fail or falter because she knows they are capable of consistent success, and she provides scaffolds to help her team reach greater heights. She genuinely cares about her team’s success and their wellbeing, and she does everything in her power to ensure that her team achieves greatness – both in the workplace and in life. In short, Vickey isn’t a manager who manages from her office. She is an active participant who embodies the Missions and Visions of Skils’kin, AbilityOne, and SourceAmerica. She is an exemplar of the notion that AbilityOne supervisors are not just supervisors: they are activists, mentors, teachers, and leaders who look after the overall well-being of the individuals they serve.


Vickey is not an individual who seeks the spotlight, but she deserves it. As Colette Renninger, Skils’kin Director of Operations, explains, “there is no half-measure in anything that she does.” She is invested and involved, passionate and demanding. She is everything an AbilityOne supervisor should be – and more.


Congratulations, Vickey, for receiving this prestigious NCSE Management Excellence award. Your continual demand for excellence inspires us all.

An individual in a harness being lifted up a climbing wall while a firefighter climbs alongside for support

A Day Without Limits: Skils’kin Participates in Courageous Kids Climbing Event

On Saturday, April 22nd, individuals from Skils’kin’s Community Living Services (CLS) program participated in the Courageous Kids Climbing event at Wild Walls in downtown Spokane. At this event, local firefighters and volunteers provided supports that enabled children and individuals with disabilities to scale the facility’s various climbing walls.


Participation in this event was a first for Skils’kin. When Megan Curran, a Skils’kin Quality Assurance Specialist who climbs at Wild Walls, heard of the Courageous Kids Climbing event, she volunteered to belay and lobbied for Jeff Riechmann, the event coordinator, to open up the event to the adults with disabilities in our CLS program.


The event, as Megan explains, “was a collaborative effort that happened because several people were willing to think outside the norm for what heights people with disabilities can achieve. It was a risk because climbing is something the individuals in our CLS program never imagined was a possibility, but there were several people at Skils’kin who believed in the adults we serve and wanted to make it happen.” And “the reward,” Megan added, “was beyond measure.”



Megan Curran belaying at the Courageous Kids Climbing event.


With the assistance of the Spokane Fire Department, this event empowered individuals with disabilities to experience something that they might not have been able to experience otherwise. Many individuals scaled the wall manually with the assistance of volunteer belayers. However, many individuals were also able to climb to the top with the assistance of members of the Spokane Fire Department, who scaled the walls side-by-side with individuals or hauled individuals up the wall using a harness.


While the participants enjoyed the event greatly, individuals with disabilities were not the only ones who found value at Wild Walls that day. The fire department greatly benefitted from the event as well. By working with individuals with disabilities, the members of the Spokane Fire Department were able to gain invaluable exposure and practice transporting individuals using the same equipment they would use during a rescue. The integration was win-win for everyone involved.


“I was inspired by the power of teamwork that day,” Megan explained. “The greatest heights in life are usually achieved with help from others. No one climbs alone. Whether it’s one belay partner or a team of firefighters, we are most successful when we allow others to help us reach our goals. Skils’kin is an organization that is dedicated to that very concept. I hope this is the first of many annual climbing events for Skils’kin”


Megan’s strong passion for climbing has indeed spurred greater interest for more climbing events like this that remove the barriers that have traditionally rendered the sport inaccessible. Given the success of this event, a Skils’kin climbing event seems likely, as this breakdown of barriers is exactly what Skils’kin strives for on a daily basis.


A fireman climbs alongside an individual with a disability.


Reflecting on the experience further, Megan said that she was “inspired by the power of watching people with disabilities climb.” “It takes courage to try something new,” she explained, “especially when it involves a 40’ climbing wall and ropes! No matter their age, background, or disability, there were no limitations for anyone that day.”


A day with no limitations… image what would be possible if every day was like this. That future is possible, and the supports are out there. Sometimes we need to get to the top and let go, defying our fears and trusting that others will lead us down safely. We just have to be willing to collaborate – and we must have the courage to take the climb towards greater heights.






Building the Vision

A Foundation Built on Success

On Monday, March 27th, Jerry Hynes joined the Skils’kin team as the new Director of Payee Services. Previously, Jerry had a successful career in the Seattle area, where he served in leadership roles for high-profile companies. Then, about 15 years ago, Jerry made a shift and began another successful career in the non-profit sector, where he held leadership positions with organizations such as Provail (a company similar to Skils’kin), Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, and Boys and Girls Clubs of King County.

Since moving to Spokane in 2014, Jerry has been involved with Free Rein Therapeutic Riding and Morning Star Boys Ranch. Jerry also has a master’s degree in non-profit management and was a past board member of the Developmental Disabilities Life Opportunities Trust, a position he was appointed to by former Governor Gregoire.

Expanding Supports

Jerry’s vision for Skils’kin’s Payee Services emphasizes growth – growth, not just for the sake of it, but growth to expand and improve the services that Payee is able to provide in meaningful ways. Jerry is actively building towards a future where Payee functions more as a conduit that looks beyond financial assistance and connects vulnerable populations to any additional services or supports they may need. As Jerry explains, “Payee is in the unique position where we can see individuals through the financial lens of their life. This unique perspective positions us well to be advocates and resources for our clients not just from a financial perspective, but from the standpoint of overall well-being.”

Building the Vision

Jerry recognizes that Skils’kin’s Payee Services has the opportunity and resources to meet clients’ needs in holistic ways, whether it’s by connecting clients to Skils’kin’s other verticals or by connecting clients to resources within the community. “Success,” as Jerry explains, “is when we keep moving individuals upward.” By emphasizing compassionate services, fostering collaboration and connections with the community, building his team, and gathering resources, Jerry has already set plans in motion that are accomplishing just that. Building the vision takes time, but with Jerry at the helm, big changes are on the way that will keep Skils’kin Payee and its clients moving ever-upwards.

Professional headshot of Wes Jones, winner of ANCOR's 2017 Washington State DSP of the Year Award

Wes Jones Receives ANCOR’s 2017 Washington State DSP of the Year Award

We are proud to announce that Wes Jones, a CLS Lead Staff here at Skils’kin, has received ANCOR’s 2017 Washington State DSP of the Year Award. This award, provided by The American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), honors direct support professionals (DSPs) who provide exemplary advocacy and implement creative supports and services to ensure that supported individuals build relationships and achieve personal goals and positive outcomes.
Wes helps individuals achieve their goals of high-quality daily living by creating the most personalized, inclusive, and engaging environment possible for those he serves. For example, Wes works with a particularly challenging individual who engages in self-injurious behavior. This person always has to be kept within arm’s reach because of the danger he presents to himself. However, by examining and contemplating the diverse needs of this person, Wes was able to implement changes that have significantly improved this person’s life. Wes examined this individual’s triggers and behaviors and determined a need to change the individual’s environmental influences by redesigning and rearranging his room. Wes incorporated warmer and more soothing color tones into the room by painting the walls and changing the bedspread and all the linens. He readjusted the lighting with a salt lamp and incandescent lighting. And he rearranged the home so the individual had a direct path to enter his room with lessened anxiety. Wes met this individual on an emotional level, creating a calm atmosphere that has alleviated triggers and the subsequent self-injurious behaviors.
This level of dedication and personalization is common practice for Wes. He plans family-style dinners, builds gardens with and for individuals to enjoy, and barbeques meals during the summer. He also facilitates outings to numerous locations and celebrates all holidays and birthdays with decorations, special food, and guests.
Wes also helps individuals achieve high-quality living goals by advocating for individuals’ specific needs. He will monitor all medications, look for possible side effects, spot trends in reports, and will follow-up with management to address any issues. In addition, Wes has chosen to work a double shift to stay at the hospital with an individual to advocate and ensure that the individual receives the finest care.
Wes consistently brings attention to the urgent needs of those he serves and prides himself on his advocacy efforts. He continually stays engaged with the minute details of his clients’ care. If there is an issue, he will use his voice and seek out answers. Wes frequently attends medical appointments with clients, asks questions and, if he feels unsatisfied with the direction, follows up with the agency to verify that clients’ needs are being met. This advocacy is extremely critical in his homes where constantly changing medical needs must be addressed. Wes is not afraid to speak up and get answers regarding anything from medications to financial management. Through Wes’ advocacy efforts, his clients’ needs are not just voiced, but actively addressed in order for the individual to not just survive but thrive.
Through his efforts, Wes has also helped individuals’ develop and maintain relationships with the community by increasing autonomy. Wes regularly encourages individuals to try new experiences and develop different interests outside of the home where they can develop relationships with others in the community. For example, Wes has helped one individual venture into the community to work on social integration skills, something the individual might have never done if it wasn’t for Wes’ support and encouragement. Wes shares a story of taking this individual, who was hesitant to venture into the community, to a buffet. The individual enjoyed this experience immensely and created connections that otherwise would not have existed.
As another example of the community-integration Wes facilitates, Wes also worked diligently to create a trusting relationship and develop coping skills with an individual who struggled with leaving her home. Prior to Wes and his team working with her, this individual did not enjoy going out, and the outings were sporadic and unpredictable. The individual would yell, throw things, and occasionally disrobe. Through Wes’ determination and diligence, this individual now enjoys going out, and her challenging behaviors have diminished while in public. Wes has succeeded with this client by continually reinforcing behaviors in a more positive way as well as connecting with her to process her requests as they are happening. Wes has been able to redirect her behaviors into more positive and socially acceptable behaviors. In addition, Wes and his team have fostered and maintained a relationship with their client based on sincerity and integrity to ensure that this individual can be a more active member of the community. These trips into the public helped the client to increase interactions and establish relationships with new members of their community.
Direct support professionals provide vital supports that enable many individuals with disabilities to live their best life, and Wes stands as a paragon of the profession. He leads, supports, and advocates while still challenging the individuals he serves and promoting self-determination. He pushes individuals to engage with the community and build relationships while providing support every step of the way. And he thinks creatively, diversely, and passionately to ensure that individuals receive the highest level of personalized, quality care.
Congratulations, Wes, on receiving this prestigious ANCOR award. The honor is well-deserved.

CEO Letter: April 2017

Strength In Numbers


“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Recently, I have read several articles addressing the new political reality and what the roles and responsibilities of the employer should be in the present climate. I found it interesting how current events, in conjunction with the actions suggested in the articles, have aligned with our evolution as a company. Please take note that my intent with this letter is not political in nature but emphasizing our identity. My focus is on how well we know ourselves and how true we are to our mission, our vision, our values, and our culture.
The articles made several suggestions, including the following:

  1. Values are important, affirm them – Clearly communicate to your employees the values that define your organization.
  2. Support civic engagement – Encourage your employees to use their volunteer time to get involved and share their personal views with their communities and elected officials
  3. Validate your employees – Show your employees that you will dedicate organizational resources to allow their voices to be heard.
  4. Do not tolerate discrimination – Be clear with your customers and employees that you will defend and promote your value of diversity


Since I joined Skils’kin six years ago, we have been on a campaign to strengthen our programs, culture, and stakeholder relationships. I am pleased with how far we have come and eager to continue on our path of purpose and engagement. As it relates to the four points above, I’d like to share these thoughts:

  • Values – Our values are the core beliefs that dictate our day-to-day decisions. I am proud to say we have never strayed from our values even in the most challenging times
  • Engagement – We have numerous employees who participate on community, state, and national associations or boards. We have a robust social media effort that communicates in honest, impactful ways.
  • Voices heard – We have recently launched our own advocacy initiative that is Skils’kin branded and focuses on issues important to our mission. If you have not joined already, I encourage you to visit our website and click on the “News & Features” tab and become a Skils’kin supporter.
  • Discrimination – Through living our mission, vision, and values, discrimination has no place within our company nor our sphere of influence


Skils’kin will always strive to be a place where a person goes to seek personal identity and self-empowerment: we will always strive to live up to the meaning of our name. This is true regardless of which way the political winds blow. Each of us have a unique capacity to share our vision and values within our own circles. I challenge each of you to engage in your community, lead by example, and embrace the diversity around us.

Brian Behler's signature

CEO Letter: March 2017

Learning to Make Change


“Change is the end result of all true learning.” –Leo Buscalia

Skils’kin is a dynamic, ever changing organization rooted in making a difference for individuals with disabilities. I firmly believe that we are always looking ahead to make our culture and company better. However, the organization cannot effectively change if the individuals inside it do not shift as well towards a common goal or ideology. Transformation takes time, effort and concentrated learning.
From February 20th to the 24th, I had the opportunity to attend a Purpose Leader training with Director of Community Living Services Katie McCall and Director of Human Resources Gayle Lawrence. This event was training to lead and integrate purpose into our everyday lives. As the majority of you have ascertained, I am a very purpose driven individual. I am here every day, ready to make a difference for those we serve.
In my six years here, it has been my focus to create or manage change and make a ripple in the community to create awareness, jobs and opportunities for the individuals who choose Skils’kin to be their service provider. However, in reflection, my average tenure at most jobs is two and half years. Why do I stay at Skils’kin you might ask? Because I have found a company where I have purpose. This is not to say that I did not like my previous employment or being self-employed but I was searching to learn and do more.
It is crucial for us all to continue to learn, ask questions and listen. Don’t be afraid to ask questions from someone who is not in your department. Outside perspective can be one of the most valuable lessons when looking for unbiased information. Not only should you ask questions of others, but of yourself as well. “Why did I choose to work at Skils’kin?” “What can I do to make a difference in my team, my building, in our company?” Through our collective perceptions and experiences we can glean understanding and purpose. Through our learning and questioning we can maximize our vision, values and mission. Through our heart and passion we will come to Skils’kin not just to work but to make change.
I am eager to begin implementing some of the materials that we learned from in our training. In the coming weeks and months you will learn more about the purpose training we attended and see its effects on our company.
Brian Behler's signature

A picture of Annie, a participant in Skils’kin’s Community Access program, and Mrs. Perry, a third grade teacher Annie volunteers with

A Purposeful Life: Annie’s Story

Skils’kin’s Community Access program provides opportunities for individuals 62 years of age and older to integrate and engage with the community. A great example of the way Community Access impacts lives can be found in Annie’s story.
Annie was adopted at three days old, and her mother, Carolyn, dedicated her life to advocating for her daughter, helping lay the groundwork for community-based options for individuals with disabilities during a time marked by institutionalization. Carolyn and a small group of women, collectively known as the Generals, envisioned a future free from institutionalization for all children and families like theirs. They fought, at both the state and national level, for inclusion – inclusion in schools, the workplace, and the community. Thanks to the work of Carolyn, and other like-minded individuals, we have moved away from a past marred with institutionalization as the first and only option.
Carolyn passed away on March 21, 2014; she was preceded in death by her husband, Bill. Many parents, and the parents of children with disabilities in particular, worry about whether or not their children will be okay once they are gone. However, thanks to continued advocacy from individuals like Carolyn, individuals with disabilities are able to receive supports that help them work, socialize, and thrive within their communities.
In February 2015, Annie enrolled in Skils’kin’s Community Access program after previously working as an AbilityOne crew member at Fairchild Air Force Base and participating in our Individual Employment program. As a participant in Community Access, Annie has had numerous opportunities to engage. She acts in plays, takes dance classes, goes camping, travels, rides horses at Free Rein, competes in Special Olympics, dines out, shops, and volunteers in the community. Through these opportunities Annie has continued to grow and learn while enjoying different experiences throughout her day-to-day life.
Of all her daily activities, Annie is particularly passionate about volunteering in schools. Two years ago, Annie began volunteering at Shiloh Hills Elementary with the third grade wing, and the teachers and students are thrilled with her involvement. As Mrs. Perry, third grade teacher at Shiloh Hills, explains,

“[Annie] helps teachers prepare things for their classroom lessons. Annie always has a smile on her face, is friendly to everyone and engages with all the kids. She likes to do little projects that are not too hard. Teresa O’Rourke [from Skils’kin’s Community Access] brings Annie in weekly to help with projects. They work together, and the teachers appreciate the extra assistance.”

Annie makes a difference in the lives of everyone she interacts with, and through the opportunities afforded to her through Community Access, Annie continues to engage and share her warm personality.
Thanks to pioneers like Carolyn, Annie has been able to continually thrive after her parents passed. However, we must not take these supports for granted. Annie’s story points to the need for continued advocacy.
As Amy, Annie’s sister, explains,

“Annie has been blessed to have a mom and dad that could see a better future and fight for her. Advocating is more than just asking for another person, it requires vision of a better future; clear goals and requests; and the ability to motivate representatives and senators to vote for your issues. Our mother was a wonderful advocate for Annie, always seeing Annie in the best light, pushing for her to grow and to have wonderful life experiences.”

It is important that we keep advocating as Carolyn did. We have to keep fighting for the rights of individuals with disabilities. Annie is living the life her mother envisioned for her, but we must continue to fight in the spirit of the Generals to maintain and continually improve supports that enable individuals to live their best life.
There’s a big difference between living and thriving, and Annie shows us all how big that difference really is. She lives her life with enthusiasm, fullness, and purpose. By all accounts, Annie is living the life her mother envisioned for her. With continued advocacy and support for programs like Community Access, many other individuals will be able to live the life that their parents envisioned for them as well.