Taking Next Steps

Ben Jones is a sharp and humorous individual. By the punchline of his first joke, he has the next one ready to go. Generally, this makes him endlessly entertaining to be around, but sometimes it’s hard to know when to turn it off.
For several years Ben Jones worked as a cashier on Skils’kin’s AbilityOne food service operation at the Fairchild Air Force Base. This job was great for him—good experience and hours, lots of social interaction, and great pay. But while working on the Air Force Base there is a higher expectation, and no room for second chances, so it turned out to not be the right fit for Ben.
For the Skils’kin employees that knew Ben, they believed he deserved a second chance. Upon their recommendation, Ben was hired on to Skils’kin’s Commercial Services crew. Steve McBride, Vice President of Commercial Services, hired him and began to understand his communication style and love of comedians, and how it could become problematic at work if his favorite mode of communication was sarcasm. The Commercial Services team began to work with Ben to coach him on when it was or wasn’t appropriate to use sarcasm. Ultimately Steve let him know that he will keep getting fired from jobs if he continues to communicate using sarcasm. After that conversation the change was clear. He didn’t give up on being funny, but he was ready to communicate differently while working.
Now that Ben was more employable than ever he wanted the right job. During this time he was working part-time at Commercial Services as well as the deli at Safeway. Ben was really looking for something full-time. He was tired of multiple commutes and wanted to consolidate his work. Without any luck job searching on his own Steve McBride helped connect Ben to Skils’kin Employment Services. While he wasn’t a fully supported client the employment team offered up their resources and Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist Shanna Swan worked with Ben to update his resume and fully prepare him for the job search.
Through the experiential training of Commercial Services and the support from the Individual Employment team, Ben had the confidence to interview on his own and is now employed full time at Burger King in the Spokane International Airport.
Through collaboration and willingness to understand an individual, Ben is now more successful than ever. The second chance is not the solution alone, it is the experience of making it to the other side that made the second chance valuable.

Meeting Milestones

Congratulations to Vaughn Hoefler on his one year work anniversary at ISAAC Foundation. For the past year, Vaughn has been building a career and expanding his skills and responsibilities. Vaughn’s supervisor, Holly Lytle, says “he is always impressing me. Not only is he wanting to learn more job skills, he is stretching himself to learn more workplace independence, patience and flexibility. I look forward to watching Vaughan continue to blossom here at The ISAAC Foundation.”
Building skills takes time, and growth can feel slow, but a one-year commitment is a milestone worth noting. Congratulations The ISAAC Foundation for investing in employees, and Vaughn for dedicating your skills to effect change in the community.
Come experience Vaughn’s deep connection to The ISAAC Foundation at The Taste of Hope Auction and Dinner Event on Friday, February 8th, 2019 at the Shriners Event Center. For tickets and more information click here.

Crossing Barriers—A Story of Entering the Institution of Work

*Mariano’s last name has been redacted from this story in order to protect his identity while his immigration status is in transition*
Mariano is a former employee of Skils’kin’s SourceAmerica operation at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne Wyoming. His employment abruptly ended last Thursday as he was no longer legally allowed to work in the United States. He had come to work for Skils’kin in April of 2018 while utilizing a work visa that allowed him to work in the States for a short period of time. But Mariano’s story starts long before he started working at Skils’kin.
Mariano illegally crossed the United States Border alone in 1999. He came to the US to learn English, find work, and invent a new life for himself. He started his work when he was recruited to a Colorado sheep farm. He worked on the farm with many other undocumented workers doing manual labor, landscaping, and cutting wood, only being paid $100 a week. Mariano took what he could get. After a brief time being worked on this farm, he was told another farm in Nebraska needed him for the winter, where he continued to be worked for roughly $100 a week, depending on what his traffickers felt he deserved that week. He was given a trailer to live in and a chainsaw to cut wood with to keep warm. For Mariano he felt he was working his way to a better living, determined to make the most for himself with nowhere else to turn to. But the reality was he was a victim of human trafficking. Trapped in the cycle of illegal work he continued to work for this farm for years.
In 2006 Mariano was driving his ATV from his worksite back to his trailer for a lunch break. On that ride, he lost control and wrecked. Mariano was severely injured, chiefly from the pipe that impaled his skull. He thought this would be the end of his journey in America. Two days later he woke up from a coma in a hospital still in excruciating pain, unable to speak, and unable to move his body, but alive. “In the USA life is more important,” Mariano says imagining how he would be left for dead in another country. He was rehabilitated in the hospital over three months, being taught how to move his body and walk, and how to speak English. Even in one of the lowest points in his life, Mariano felt he was still growing as he attributes his ability to speak English so well to this time in the hospital, as well as his value for life. He never lost sight of his goals.
As he prepared to exit the hospital Mariano found himself deep in medical debt after his extended stay. When he admitted to only being paid $100 a week he was connected with the police. The police let him know they wanted to help him. Despite this intervention, there was nothing to be done for his undocumented status immediately, and he returned to work on the farm where the accident occurred. He had nowhere else to go.
When he returned, the men who trafficked him tried to convince him of how much they valued him and offered to pay him $350 a week—marginally better, but still an amount that would keep Mariano in captivity. But along with this pay raise came increased restriction. Mariano was not to leave his trailer alone or talk to anyone unless he was working. His traffickers told him they had everything handled with this medical bills and immigration. They took all power from Mariano, and once again he had no other options and continued to live under the abuse.
Mariano continued to work tirelessly for these men seven days a week, despite the hospital’s instructions for rest as he continued to recover. Monday through Friday was easier, on the weekends everyone left and he was to do everyone’s work alone. He was forced into loaning his employers all of the money he had managed to save over the years, to never be paid back. He was made to do work without any protective equipment. Due to a work-related injury, and the infection that followed, he lost his vision in his right eye.
“I lost fifteen years of my life to those men,” Mariano says reflecting on the cost of this time in his life. But the cycle of abuse came to an end in 2015 when Mariano managed to gain legal working status, with the help from true advocates he met in the hospital years ago. He left the farm with the money he managed to save, never to return, and ready to set out to make the life he came to the US for.
Mariano made his way to Cheyenne Wyoming and began working on new, legal, landscaping crews. It was what he knew how to do, but the opportunity to do it through a company meant he knew he wasn’t exploited.
In 2018 he joined the Skils’kin team in Cheyenne. Finally, he felt safe at work, he felt supported, and he felt encouraged to grow. Mariano honed his landscaping skills and began to understand what working on a team felt like. He had the ability to ask for help and to make friends at work. This is the value of the institution of work—accountability and assurance that employees are treated with respect, and compensated fairly. Skils’kin is proud to be a part of that institution, and a good place to work, in all senses of the word.
Mariano was greatly valued while working with Skils’kin, but sadly his time has come to a close as his working visa expired earlier this month. Skils’kin can do no more, but to express our gratitude for an exceptional worker on our team, and encourage Mariano to return to work for us once he navigates his immigration status.
Thank you for your valuable work, Mariano, through these difficult times.

That Magic Moment

“There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.” –Norman Vincent Peale

Christine Johnson, Grand Forks AFB Dining Project Manager, incorporates Skils’kin values to create Skils’kin culture. Christine may not realize how much she contributes as a cultivator of culture for our AbilityOne North Dakota satellite operations, but when it comes down to it, she pulls rabbits out of hats, not holes.
Christine implements our company values of Accountability, Relationships, Diversity, Innovations, and Integrity to guide her leadership approach. As a project manager, she is accountable for the relationships and diversity within her workforce. Those two key values are evident in the employees’ actions, especially between Nate Bennett and Chad Anglebrandt.
Nate has been struggling with major pain in his ankle, but he doesn’t complain and his dedication to his work never allows it to stop him. Chad had intended to make Nate a magical walking stick or staff from some found wood in order to acknowledge and honor Nate’s devotion to his job. Both Chad and Nate share an interest in wizardry. Chad recalled that Nate had searched great lengths to find a cane that complimented his taste or interests, but with no avail. Chad then decided he would make Nate a staff instead. Chad spent a week crafting the details for his allegory of strength, and then let the magic run its course.
As an onlooker, Christine saw that magic moment when Chad presented the staff to Nate. Christine said, “Nate was overjoyed to receive this gift. Nate was saying how he and Chad shared similarities in dragons and wizardry and believes his coworker hit the nail directly on the head. This is exactly what Nate wanted and searched for! It makes me so proud to know how much our team care for one another, and work so hard to ensure everyone is taken care of. This staff took over a week to craft and each detail is something unique to Nate’s taste, down to each stone and thread.” Such actions not only highlight Skils’kin’s values, but also demonstrate the holistic nature of them, and how they are tied to Skils’kin’s core.
Christine’s efforts do not go unnoticed. Megan Curran, Skils’kin’s Director of AbilityOne Food Services, commented, “She’s working incredibly hard to bring our culture to Grand Forks that we can be very proud of. If you knew her employees, Nate and Chad, then you’d agree that this would not have happened in Grand Forks before Christine’s arrival. I’m reminded that there are ups and downs in the journey toward betterment, and as our CEO Brian says, we’re better today than we were yesterday.” If you believe in Skils’kin, magic happens every day and collectively we share our abilities to make magical moments for our employees and all we serve. Magic is real, just believe!

Mind for Mechanics

Ron Tenderholt has been a fixture in the Skils’kin Commercial Services crew for many years. His start with Skils’kin actually dates back to the Pre-Vocational program in 1976. As a long-term committed worker, Ron has taken on several jobs and has proven his ability to learn.
Steve McBride, VP of Commercial Services, has taken note of Ron and all of his experiences and abilities. He especially noticed his keen mind for mechanics in the past year. With that in mind, Steve wanted to see what he was capable, and how it could be used further. Steve decided to set a broken vacuum cleaner in front of Ron, showed him the basic mechanics of the belts and bars, and let him work. Within half an hour Ron had the vacuum back in full working order.
Since then Ron has become Skils’kin’s Commercial Services Parts Guru. Ron now continually maintains and cleans the vacuums the crews use—cutting out the regular service cost of associated with a third party vendor, roughly $1000 annually.
Steve and Ron shared trust and willingness to try something new. This was an experiment and makes for a great in-house example of the capability of a person with a disability finding a new set of skills, succeeding, and cutting costs for the company.
If you’re interested in finding solutions to on-going needs in your company contact Steve McBride at 509.326.6760 x 2579 to discuss the multitude of Skils’kin’s talent pools and how they can affect your business.

Being Invested

“Without investment there will not be growth, and without growth there will not be employment”
–Muhtar Kent, Chairman and former CEO of The Coca-Cola Company

“He was letting his team down. Then Chris made the connection. Work, team, money for a living, it was all intertwined” Steve McBride, VP of Commercial Services says of Chris after a breakthrough conversation they had in 2018. Chris Peterson started work with the Skils’kin Commercial Services crew late in 2016. He was assigned to a dynamic crew that covered several janitorial and grounds jobs around Spokane. This was Chris’s second job, so everything felt very fresh to him, and he was engaged. For the next year, Chris rode this wave and was able to hold the job and really made a community in the commercial services crew.
By the start of 2018, Chris was well established and comfortable with his position and crew in commercial services. Steve McBride recalls Chris’s exceptionally positive attitude. He was social and always knew how to crack a joke to get a laugh from his team. A personality like that can lighten the mood and make the day pass by quickly. But a personality like that is even more noticeable when it is missing. Suddenly Chris was lacking investment with several no-call-no-shows marring his attendance. With his supervisor, Nichole Garcia, new to the team she was not about to let him get away with this, and disciplinary write-ups were enforced. It was time for reconciliation and some clarification of what was happening. Chris had lost sight of how his team relies on him. It was more than being there when he could be, it was being there when he was needed. In return Steve and Nichole wanted to give him the variety of work he desired, assigning him to a new out-of-town project Skils’kin was starting. From then on Chris was back to being the go-to guy for important projects. Communication can cleanse a lack of communication and change the course of a relationship.
The rest of the year continued on a trend of growth. Chris was willing to invest in his work and his team, showing up on time and providing a positive attitude for the team, and Steve and Nichole continued to engage his desire to grow, inviting him to work on projects where he could develop new skills. But over time it became clear to both parties that he was ready to move on. Chris then began to work with Steve to develop a new job outside of Skils’kin, and transition out of the commercial services crew. Chris’s investment in Skils’kin Commercial Services easily translated to investment in work and holding a job.
When I met with Chris at his new job as a Courtesy Clerk at Yoke’s Fresh Market he was quick to explain what his job meant to him. “It’s very important to me. I think I like helping others and getting to know people, but I also need to get paid.” Chris explained to me the balance his job provides him. He has bills to pay and a lifestyle that wouldn’t be possible without his paychecks, but he really feels invested in his job as a person that thrives and grows in a social and active environment like Yoke’s. From his position in commercial services he gained communication and leadership skills, it opened his eyes to how others relied on him, and it allowed him to prioritize and value the quality of his work.
When I finished interviewing Chris for this story he shook my hand and promptly went to clock in as his shift started. I stayed behind to observe him work. As he walked away from the time clock he was at work—full smile, seamlessly available to whichever checkout station needed him, “paper or plastic?”, and thoughtful attention to each customer he served. In my experience, I’ve seen many people go to work, but Chris’s ability to shift his focus to his work was truly exceptional in my opinion. It was a noticeable investment in his work, and an unwillingness to let a moment be underperformed.

The Path of Rejection

Rejection cuts like a knife. Hearing that you’re not good enough or not the right person is enough to keep people from even attempting to reach their dreams. After receiving rejection self-doubt creates a voice in your head to convince you that you aren’t good enough. At times failure feels ceaseless, and we become lost in our own perceptions.
Yet the anticipation of failure hardly matches the results. Most of the time it’s over in an instant, like ripping off a bandage. One opportunity comes to a close, but the rest remain. Over time we learn and strategize based on our failures, and success comes eventually. Rejection isn’t a negative outcome with the right outlook. It is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your goals, and what might be holding you back from reaching your goals. With a mindset for growth, rejection becomes a foothold to success.
Skyler Hitchens followed the path of rejection and found success over time.
Costco wasn’t necessarily Skyler’s dream job, but it was the job he wanted. Costco, as a company, is ready to support their employees, it is in the field he wants to work in, and the new Northern Costco was close to Skyler’s house, so he could be responsible for his own transportation.
In April of 2018, Skyler applied for a position as a Cashier Assistant. During the interview, Skyler met with several managers and demonstrated his skills. A few days later Skyler heard back from the interview and found he was not offered the position. At this moment it’s hard to realize, but it’s not the end. In fact, it is still the beginning. Skyler worked with his DVR Employment Advisor, Sarah Trenn, to keep up contact with Costco. Skyler started with a thank you note and was able to ask why he didn’t receive the position. It turns out, it was a lack of work experience.
Failure is just research unless you never try again. For Skyler, this was his opportunity. He now knew what it would take to put himself in the position to get the job.
After the rejection, Skyler began to work at Skils’kin in the Commercial Services crew. In this position Skyler was working grounds, trimming weeds, and doing general janitorial duties. This wasn’t the job he wanted, but it was the job he needed. Skyler continued to work through October, fostering new skills and an appreciation for holding a job, and making money. Once the grounds work came to a close Skyler ended his employment and asked for a letter of recommendation from his manager Nichole Garcia. In the letter, she describes Skyler as committed, skilled, and a valuable asset to the team. This kind of credibility and experience is exactly what Skyler needed to improve his application for Costco.
Skyler was ready to reapply to the Costco position with a more full resume and confidence from his past experience. The second time around the process felt easier, Skyler says. He knew what to expect, and he even knew who he would be interviewing with. The preparation leading up to this interview started the day after the first. And the hard work paid off as Skyler got the Cashier Assistant Position at Costco.
Skyler now works regularly at the North Costco in Spokane. He is responsible for pushing carts, assisting cashiers and customers, and is taking on new responsibilities whenever possible. Dave Reinhart, Skyler’s Supervisor, says the cart pushing job isn’t easy, but it’s where everyone starts in the company. Costco’s structure is about growth. If you believe in yourself to succeed and are dedicated to growing in your position Costco will give you an opportunity to prove yourself. In the past year, Skyler continues to believe in himself. Congratulation to Skyler and Costco for coming together to demonstrate the power of work and commitment.

True Spirit

“The greatest achievement of the human spirit is to live up to one’s opportunities and make the most of one’s resources.” –Luc de Clapiers

When interacting with Barbara Moore, whether it be face to face, across a room, or over a video, the infectious tenacity of her spirit can be felt. She has the spirit of a self-starter, a leader, an advocate, and a champion of her own life.
Barbara says “I’ve always wanted to work” as she describes herself. It’s not a means to an end, or ‘I wanted to work because…’. Barbara associated working with her independent personality. As a child, Barbara’s mother feared she was too independent, but Barbara felt differently. She was always out with the neighborhood kids, and grew into her independence, despite any limitations others set for her. For Barbara, being born with visual impairment meant she lived her life differently than others, and that was her way of life. Later in life, Barbara taught herself how to sew. With limited vision, she could use measurements to build a mental image and bring her work to life. For Barbara, she wasn’t overcoming her visual impairment, she simply did things differently.
As an adult Barbara continued to experience her life, making a family and furthering her skills and passions; but was still utilizing Social Security and Welfare to support herself and her family. Barbara felt this took away from her independence and propelled her into a job search. Barbara tells the story of facing obstacles as business after business was unwilling to accommodate her needs, or unwilling to acknowledge the skills she had to offer. Over time opportunities came and went, but Barbara desired consistency and fulfillment in her work, rather than occasional sewing jobs.
“That was the best day of my life”, Barbara says reflecting on the day Vocational Guidance Services (VGS) offered her a position. “I got a job, a real job,” she tells her mother over the phone. In Barbara’s mind someone finally took a chance on her, but in retrospect, VGS made an easy hire that day. Barbara was self-taught, self-motivated, energetic, and passionate. A spirit like Barbara’s is the rising tide that raises all boats and changes everyone’s experience on the job.
On the floor where Barbara still works 15 years later her co-workers rely on her presence. “She just makes you feel happy.” “She keeps me motivated.” “If it weren’t for her, I would not be here.” Barbara has worked almost every job on the floor, she knows the history of the company, and people look up to her as a leader. The amount of value that Barbara brought to VGS is immeasurable.
Barbara is enormously proud to have a job and to have her independence, and she’s incredibly grateful for the work she does at VGS. She makes trousers for women in the military through an AbilityOne contract. Helping sew these uniforms is Barbara’s way of giving back. “I love what I do,” says Barbara. “I love the company that I work for. I love the products that I make. It’s awesome.”
The human spirit is intangible and mysterious. It makes all of us all unique individuals, and it allows us to know each other on a deeper level than our words or actions can show. Barbara’s spirit allows her to enjoy every day, and bring joy to others. It told her to never give up when no one would give her a chance, and brought her to the place where she belonged. VGS is more than a job to Barbara now. It’s where she goes to give, to receive, and to realize who she truly is.

Chris Cale Imperative Purpose

Chris Cale is an “Equalizer,” meaning he feels empowered when connecting and collaborating with team members to affect the community. Chris is Skils’kin’s Compliance Manager, a CARF Surveyor, and a Navy veteran who constantly is striving to live out his purpose. Chris looks for ways to develop something new to overcome an outstanding problem. As an expert in quality assurance, Chris has always helped Skils’kin use quality as a measuring stick for success, ensuring we reach our goals without any shortcuts on quality.

With a long and varied career like Chris’s, there have been many different purpose filled moments that brought him to Skils’kin. As a Navy veteran of 26 years, Chris spent the majority of his career working in submarines doing quality assurance. This experience of measuring quality began to inform Chris’s perspective. Rather than measuring the quality of a craft, a quality craft became the success—“there wasn’t much room for error on a submarine 400 feet underwater filled with men.”

After retiring from the military, he and his wife decided to move to Spokane to start a new life. But Chris’s retirement soon turned into boredom as he happened upon a temp position at Skils’kin. Skils’kin brought passion back to his professional life. Chris was drawn in by his desire to serve others, similar to his service to his country. After his temporary position, Chris moved into managing Food Service and Grounds on the Fairchild Air Force Base. This position was the first time Chris felt his purpose since the Navy. He was working with a team on every level, ensuring high-quality work, receiving feedback, and experiencing his team’s success. It was rewarding to make an equal playing field for his community and to make a real impact on Skils’kin’s success, and he built meaningful relationships.

After two years of managing Food Service and Grounds for the Air Force Base Chris furthered his career at Skils’kin and applied for a quality assurance position at Skils’kin’s headquarters. Using quality to drive his craft Chris began to build his team with others who were looking for purpose. Chris says he sees Skils’kin acting as a purpose-driven organization based on who is hired. “There is something more at Skils’kin. We seek success for others and find people who are looking for purpose.” Chris now crafts a quality team with people he is able to identify as purpose driven. This kind of investment in high-quality organizations did not go unnoticed when Skils’kin was audited by CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities). Not only did Skils’kin become reaccredited by CARF, but Chris was asked to become a traveling auditor. Chris has gone through CARF’s training and now travels the country assessing and teaching other human-services companies. He has the ability to create a change on a national level by talking to agencies about best practices. Working at this level, and educating others Chris has become aware of the power of storytelling and a digital presence.

Chris’s purpose drives him to seek high-quality work at every opportunity. This drive allows Skils’kin to continue to push boundaries, making for a better product and a better workplace. Chris’s experiences show how purpose can transcend an individual on to new levels, making an impact far beyond one person’s reach, and he is doing just that.

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.