Truly Living the Skils'kin Values

Truly Living the Skils’kin Values

Written by: Steve McBride, Vice President of Operations, Skils’kin

Back in May, Gayle Lawrence, VP of HR, sent the leadership team an article about the 10 signs of someone with integrity. One point in particular stood out to me and reminded me of the one of the first lessons I learned at Skils’kin.


My first month at Skils’kin, I was getting to know the organization and the people, wrapping my head around the operation, and asking a lot of questions. During this time, I found out that my department would take the errant change, dollar bills, and occasional $5 from the laundry and divvy it up to feed the vending machine. I didn’t think that only some of the team should benefit from this; wouldn’t it be a better idea to buy a pizza for the team and share the treasure? Win-win right? I’m the new guy and we are already having pizza! I went to see our CFO, Nicolle Laporte, to run my idea by her. I will never forget that look Nicolle gave me, it was the “Really, Steve?” look. Nicolle said it wasn’t our money and I should probably talk to Brian, our CEO. I was genuinely taken back. I thought it was lost money and there was no way we would find the owners of it. I am the guy who returns wallets found on the street, the guy who will return the dollar that someone dropped at the checkout line at the grocery store. Am I wrong about buying my team a pizza?

So, I went to see Brian and he said the same thing. He pointed to our values and said, “This is who we are.” He asked me to contact the other company and plan to get them their money back. I remember the feeling I had in my stomach. It was unsettled, I felt anxious, and it was almost like the floor came out from under me. Who was I? I have integrity, right?

My first inclination was that I could use this opportunity to solidify my budding relationship with the Contracts Manager at the other company, somebody who clearly wanted to give our business to others. So that’s what I did. It opened the door quickly to having deeper conversations around who Skils’kin is and why they want to do business with us. I could see the path to keeping our business. I knew we could maneuverer in way that they would truly see our value; but that feeling in my stomach wouldn’t go away.

“It is very important to try, but it is also important to surround yourself with people who actually have integrity, because you will be inspired and influenced by them.”

When I got home and told my wife about what happened, she gave me the same look as Nicolle, the “Really, Steve?” look. It was immediately clear to her that it wasn’t our money, duh.  I called my Dad, same thing. I called one of my mentors and – you guessed it! Same answer. At this point, I started to realize something that shifted my thinking forever. The article says it, too. You have integrity or you don’t. There is no halfway, ¾ way, 9/10ths way in. It’s all or nothing. I chose to change that day. I was all in. Do I falter sometimes when looking at these ten elements in the article? Yes. But, I will always strive to be all in. I have used this story many times when describing integrity. It was a life changing moment.

I love that our company lives our values. I’m certain I have never worked at an organization that tries as hard as we do. That is succeeding as much as we do. As we evolve, so do companies, so does the world. I am happy to say Skils’kin, Nicolle, and Brian helped me evolve that day. Learning from and working with this team has been one of the best things in my life. I get to show up as the best version of me. 100% me: quirky, a dreamer, a manifestor, a person who wants to change the world. I believe we are all helping each other be our best selves, our authentic selves.

Here I sit, there you stand.

Written by: Jason Peterson, Front Desk Receptionist, Skils’kin

At first glance, this is a relatively simple statement, one of proximity. For some people, however, this simple statement describes two places that are worlds apart. In my heart, I am not one of those people. I have always believed that the only difference between my existence and anyone else’s, is that I make my way in the world from a sitting position.

Rather than pointing out the similarities we all share, I’m going to reverse engineer my perspective to shed light on the three obstacles that make it difficult for people with and without disabilities to see each other as equals. It’s basic human nature as we grow from children through adolescence that propels us across an invisible threshold into adulthood. This white-knuckle ride is not for the faint of heart. While zits rise and fall like tectonic plates and hair springs up like crabgrass, our young minds wrestle with the thoughts and feelings that will become the foundation blocks of who we are for the rest of our lives. Having a disability does not insulate you from the very same struggles and milestones as those of our non-disabled counterparts, nor does it mitigate any possible frustration or pain experienced during the pursuit of the very same. More often than not however, the disability adds an additional level of complexity to the overall journey.


The first obstacle is perspective. Perspective is a bit of a double edge sword. By that I mean, especially for someone with a disability, there are two overall viewpoints in play. First, the perspective of the outside world looking in. This group includes family, friends, and society at large. Second, “my” perspective, or another way to put this, is the perspective someone has about themselves, the internal looking out. In my experience, anyone with a lifelong disability is awfully familiar with the first type of perspective shortsightedness. It is common for those that love and care for us to do whatever they can to alleviate or minimize struggles we face on a day-to-day basis. You will see things such as: your auntie, while serving you dinner, cuts up your food. Your best friend, while handing you a soda, opens it for you, without being asked. These types of people do these things for us not because we can’t do them ourselves, but in most cases, because these tasks look difficult when we do them ourselves.

I say this with total love and admiration, not only for the organization, but also for all of the people that are the lifeblood of that organization. I was a Shriner’s Kid. While I cannot put a value on each individual stay, I know without a doubt, my independence today, is a direct result of the summer I spent as a therapy inpatient working with my Physical Therapist, Jerry White. At any time prior to that summer, you could have asked any of my friends or family what they saw for me after graduation. The resounding answer would have been, living at home with mom. Sadly, that probably would have been my answer as well. In the course of three and a half months and gallons of sweat and tears, Jerry completely changed my internal perspective by opening my eyes and my mind to a world where I was capable of doing more than I ever thought I could. My future freedom was in the palm of my hand. I started that summer a little fat kid in a wheelchair that couldn’t do much for himself. I went home at the end of the summer, still a little fat kid, still in a wheelchair, but with direction, purpose, and drive for my future.


The second obstacle is passing value-based judgments, that is when somebody sees a person with a disability as something broken. I call these people “value-judges.” Sadly, this happens quite often within the disabled community; typically, this occurs with no malice or overt pain intended by the value-judge. In much the same way as perspective, value judgments are perpetrated both internally and externally. Through no fault of our own, people with disabilities may move slower, talk slower, think slower, or generally have more difficulty accomplishing tasks of any kind. The most unnerving attribute of the value-judge is that they can be the nicest person in the world otherwise. This behavior and way of thinking is more insidious than overt bullying because the disabled person can begin to internalize these ideas and in turn begin to believe that having a disability makes their life defective in some way.

In my 44 years of life, sadly, I am all too familiar with the value-judge’s manner of thinking. On a very regular basis, people assume that being in a power chair also means I have cognitive disabilities as well. Throughout my life I have had several friends both in manual and electric wheelchairs, and almost without fail, those of us in the power chairs, will be treated as though we are cognitively impaired by unenlightened newcomers. Conversely, however, the same automatic assumption is very rarely made for individuals in manual chairs. Additionally, the value-judge is usually overly empathetic. On one occasion, I was at the grocery store when a complete stranger walked up to me and offered to purchase my groceries. This stranger said to me, “Excuse me sir, I know your life must be hard because of your wheelchair and I would like to purchase what is in your basket for you.” Inside, I immediately bristled. Outside, I held it together and politely declined his offer. On another occasion, while sitting on the sidewalk waiting for my para-transit pick up, an older couple walked by me, and I heard the lady say to her husband, “Isn’t that sad, a blind man in a power chair.” What?  It may be worth mentioning that I was wearing dark sunglasses that day. While I did find the comment to be funny, this assumption is indubitably harmful. When in the presence of the value-judge, you can’t help but to feel more disabled than you actually are.


Finally, we reach the third obstacle. This one is also a bit of a soapbox issue for me. Lowered expectations. While I don’t have children yet, I am fully aware of the natural inclination of loving families to feel let down when first learning their child has a disability. This is then followed by the innate fear of putting too much pressure and expectations on their disabled child. It is true. Your son has cerebral palsy and will probably never play school sports or ride a bike in the traditional sense. Your daughter has Down Syndrome and may never be a neurosurgeon or join the military. Being diagnosed with a disability does not end expectations; it changes expectations. By lowering expectations to alleviate struggle, the child with a disability is also robbed of opportunities to develop self-worth. Confidence and self-worth are the direct result of experiencing struggle. Struggle leads to achievement and achievement leads pride in one’s self. How are we to expect more for ourselves if more is not expected from us?

The need for fair expectations is especially important where employment is concerned. For many disabled employees, myself included, arriving to work each day is the last link in a complex chain of events that must occur for us to claim our peace of the wage earner’s pie. The reality is a large majority of people with disabilities depend on care providers, medications, various therapies, and a plethora of medical professionals to help maintain our daily lives. The vast majority of these needs are not covered by job offered medical plans. Those of us that have the ability and choose to work, are forced to maintain the delicate balance between gross monthly earnings & hours worked and staying eligible for Medicaid/Medicare. Too often it is assumed that people with disabilities choose not to work because they don’t want to. While this may be true for some, it is certainly not true for all.

I sincerely hope I have successfully dispelled possible “us” and “them” ideas where people with disabilities are concerned. Life is a continuum with varying degrees of ability. Like the aperture of a camera lets in more or less light based on size, think of your perspective as the aperture of your heart and mind; keep your perspective on those around you wide open so you do not miss any light. Never be afraid to expect greatness from someone that is different from you. The path to success might be different from the one you would have chosen, but those differences may also provide crucial opportunities for learning something new. At the end of the day, a closed mind is the biggest disability of them all.

Christine Johnson Photo

Accommodations in the Community

Connections in the community always lead to bigger and better results for Skils’kin’s mission. With multiple satellite operations across the country, it is an important responsibility of our Project Managers to foster relationships locally. These relations build stronger communities for adults with disabilities and create opportunities for work. In Grand Forks, North Dakota Christine Johnson, Food Service Project Manager, has created a network with her local Vocational Rehabilitation groups. The Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB) has been able to hire on a strong workforce of folks with disabilities with the help of their community resources.
Last month the local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) group and Workforce Center hosted a conference titled “The ADA, Your Workplace & Reasonable Accommodations”. Lori Rodgers, from the VocRehab, quickly identified Christine and Skils’kin as leaders in this area and connected Christine to the conference to speak on her expertise. At the conference, there were 80 HR professionals from local areas seeking an explanation and guidance of what accommodations are. Once Lori finished her portion of the conference she introduced Christine by saying, “Christine is by far the most accommodating employer I have ever worked with. She figures out ways to make accommodations, and the majority of them are free.”
Christine went on to explain what Skils’kin is and how the majority of her operation is staffed by people with disabilities. This is a unique staffing situation compared to the companies she was speaking to, but the real message Christine gave was, it’s not as hard as you think. Rather than accommodations being an obstacle to overcome Christine shared how employing people with disabilities brings greater rewards on a daily basis. As she gained experience in providing accommodations, it became second nature for her.
When Christine’s employees start working in the dining hall and request accommodation, she is able to use her creativity to find solutions for unique situations. Most accommodation requests are easy to accomplish and make for a better work environment for everyone. Her workforce is more diverse and she has the ability to cross-train more people through their accommodations. “I go above and beyond to make sure I can retain my employees. It’s my personal mission to help identify an employee’s strengths and contributions and build on those.”
Christine’s identity in the community is shared with Skils’kin, and she stands for enriching lives. Her personal commitment to our mission has developed a strong workforce and culture in Grand Forks. Through sharing our mission, hopefully, Christine is shaping the disability culture there too. Her final remarks at the conference inspire the true rewards of employing people with disabilities, “I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to work and we do our best to make sure that it is possible by providing a few accommodations. In return, we get to see people grow, learn new skills, do amazing work with wonderful attitudes and the joy that a sense of accomplishment brings through the accommodations that we have developed and have brought to the workforce.”

Fort D.A. Russell Days

The military celebration Fort D.A. Russell Days at F.E. Warren Air Force Base is held in conjunction with Cheyenne Frontier Days annually. The event welcomes the public onto the Air Force Base for a full weekend of events. From historical reenactments to military demonstrations and experiences, the weekend of Fort D.A. Russell Days is the best opportunity for a civilian to explore the F.E. Warren Air Force Base and begin to understand the mission and history of one of the oldest bases in the country.
The weekend of Fort D.A Russell Days and Cheyenne Frontier Days are highlights of the summer in Wyoming. The popularity of the weekends continues to grow as the community rallies around the base and the continued exploration of American history. With thousands of civilians coming out to the base, and a number of high ranking military officials, the appearance of the F.E. Warren Air Force Base is of paramount importance. Leading up to this event the Skils’kin Grounds crew on the F.E. Warren Air Force Base had been anticipating and preparing for perfection throughout the weekend. While every day on the base is important, it is not too much of a stretch to say this is the most important weekend of the year, every year. With that in mind, Project Managers, Supervisors, and Laborers alike were thinking about their part in making every year’s Fort D.A. Russell Days flawless.
The weeks before the event the supervisors stepped up and begin to take a score of everything that needed to be maintained before the Base opened its doors to the public. From additional parking, camping areas, event areas, and the regular mowing, the Grounds team had its work cut out for them. Garrett Kirk, the Project Manager at F.E. Warren, noted the supervisors played a pivotal this year, using their collective knowledge of the event from years past to create a comprehensive plan the team was able to carry out. So leading up to the event, the grounds team was preparing and planning out irrigation and spraying that would align with the set plan for D.A. Russell Days weeks from then.
Included in the events of the Air Force Base this year was a tradition that had not been held at the base for the past twenty years, but this year the Thunderbirds hosted their air show over the base. In order to guarantee the success and accuracy of the pilots, the F.E. Warren Grounds team was asked to mow out the centerline to create a point of reference for them in the sky. Over 10,000 citizens came to the air show, and many of the grounds workers were able to watch as well. As the Thunderbirds rolled overhead the Skils’kin team was able to let out a breath filled with relief and pride as they had completed the final event for the weekend. The show allowed everyone to reflect on the success of the base. The Crew was then released, along with the rest of the town, for a half-day after the air show leading right into the events of Cheyenne Frontier Days. During this week the city shuts down, in a sense, to come together to enjoy their community and its history.
The important work of the F.E. Warren Grounds crews is meant to go unnoticed throughout the weekend. Consistent, clean, and fresh grounds are merely the backdrop of a weekend of exploration and celebration. So let’s take the effort to look around the beautiful events we are lucky enough to attend, and notice the weeks of effort that lead us to these moments, and be thankful for the small things that make the big things so great.


Kure Products is one of Skils’kin’s Commercial Services’ fastest-growing entrepreneurial business partners. Kure works to put out the most elegant and sustainable shower dispensers on the market. As their business grows more homes, hotels, gyms, and spas are brought into the next stage of environmental practices and style. The newly designed products (featured in the image) continue to raise the bar for dispensers around the world as they penetrate the market overseas.
Skils’kin is proud to be a featured partner on Kure’s website. Some of the truest collaboration we take part in comes through partnerships with socially committed groups, and Kure is just that. Thank you for the ongoing support and credit as a partner, Kure, and we look forward to working together to build a better world.

A Declaration of Decoration

Recognition is just a word, but it is powerful when it becomes an action. When people are recognized for the good service they do it brings forth positive affirmation and happiness. It’s not always in monetary or material gain for it to be powerful. It just has to be given with honest appreciation for it to be impactful. It’s an action that can affect many, though it was given to one or a few.
When an individual or team is recognized in the Custodial department at Fairchild Air Force Base, it’s a big deal. It’s not often that the occupants of the buildings we service say thank you, let alone request one of our crew’s presence for something special. A Lieutenant Colonel from the 384 Air Refueling Squadron at building 2007 did just that.
On several occasions, this Lieutenant Colonel invited the custodial crew on route 3 to join the parties he would have to let those under him know he appreciated their dedication and hard work. He informed the Lead for route 3, Steven Bakken, that he very much appreciated the crew’s hard work and quality. Steven said thank you to these invitations, and he informed that Lieutenant Colonel that as much as they would like to do that they have a lot of work to do and must move on to service the other buildings on the route. The Lieutenant Colonel respected this, but it was very important to him that the custodial crew understood how much they were appreciated. Steven was told the Lieutenant Colonel would like to do something special for him and his crew the following week. He asked Steven if they could remain a little longer in his building after they were done cleaning. Steven said yes, of course.
Steven informed me of this conversation with the Lieutenant Colonel. He was elated for his crew but also wished all our custodians were recognized for the hard work they do every day as well.
The following week the Lieutenant Colonel presented and gave his squadron coin to Steven Bakken, and the custodians under him: Lyla Walker, Frederick Anderson, Marlon Barlow, and Cassidee Bursch. To be given this coin is a great honor. It was given out to this squadron for outstanding service and dedication, and going above and beyond expectations.
I spoke with the Lieutenant Colonel the following day because I was out when the coin was given. I thanked him for showing his appreciation in this wonderful way. He was surprised I came and thanked him, and said in a humble and sincere way, “I appreciate them. The crew is friendly, courteous and they do a wonderful job. They take their job seriously. I respect that.” I thanked him again for his appreciation.
This action of recognition was very much appreciated by the custodial crew on route 3, and when others hear about this recognition it will make a difference. It’s also an affirmation to them that their hard work and quality is noticed.
On behalf of route 3, Fairchild Air Force Base custodial, and all who work hard, people do notice and appreciate you.
Kimberly Schmidt, Project Manager Skils’kin

Why We Work— Amber Barker

Working, unfortunately, was created before my time. Therefore, it was never up to me if I would work or not. Work was instilled into me by my parents whose parents implanted work into them and their grandparents to them and so forth. That was the way of the world. Work was the future. Work is the future. Building, creating, always evolving. I’ll pass along the extraordinary work ethic I have unto my own children.
I do however, wish, I didn’t have to depend on an alarm clock or the rooster’s crow to ensure I wake up and make it on time to work. I’d much rather wake when I wake and arrive when I arrive. No such luxuries in my near future. ☺
So I’ll just keep on keeping on so that my family is taken care of and I can make sure to continue creating memories my kids can remember forever.
On a more heartfelt note; I want to know that I’m making an impact on someone’s life. As small and insignificant as it may appear I’m employing adults that are normally overlooked and devalued. I genuinely care about people at a personal level rather than looking at people simply as an employee. And that makes me CARE to work.
—Amber Barker
Skils’kin Project Manager, Altus Air Force Base

One Year Celebration of the Airey Dining Facility

In 2018 Skils’kin began food services operations at the Airey Dining Center. The restaurant is open seven days a week, including holidays. The daily service has regularly rotating seasonal items like sandwiches, Italian, grill food, soups, and a variety of options to meet any dietary needs. The Skils’kin team has played a critical support role in making the facility clean and functional for the Servicemen and women of Grand Forks in the past year.
Skils’kin’s involvement with the AbilityOne program is a critical part of our success and allows us to bring our mission to life across the country, creating over one hundred jobs in dining facilities alone. The addition of the Airey Dining Center was an exciting opportunity to develop a new team and build success through Skils’kin’s values.
Looking back on the past year, the beginning stages had a rocky start compared to how the team operates now. From August to November, the team was undergoing even more transitions as a new project manager was being hired. In order to ease the workload members of Skils’kin’s Leadership team stepped in to support and develop the operation. By November Christine Johnson was selected as the new project manager and operations really began to take shape.
Christine Johnson came together with a team of 20 to take up the supporting role at the Airey Dining Center, managing dishwashing, facility cleanliness and cashiering. From the beginning, it wasn’t a perfectly clear path, but through connecting and understanding each other’s strengths Christine and her team began to understand what the facility needed and how they were best suited to meet those needs. Through the winter the team was well underway. By taking note of the tools and equipment they needed the team was able to do their best work through the support they received from Skils’kin Leadership, the Military, Aramark Staff, and the Grand Forks Community.
Soon it was no longer an issue of understanding the workload, the focus was continually developing a strong team that was ready to grow with the operations. Throughout the year Christine had regular turnover that encouraged her to promote from within, honoring those who wanted to take on more responsibility and see the facility succeed. From the original team of 20, 5 are still working at Airey today. The crew began to focus on the culture they were creating and were mindful of each other through communication and accommodations. This core continues to influence new hires and welcomes them to the team. Another big key to their hiring success, outside of maintaining a great culture, was partnering with the Chamber of Commerce and WorkSource, the local VocRehab center. They have been big supporters of Skils’kin’s mission and help connect many great employees to our company.
Now looking back a full year later, Airey Dining Center is stronger than ever. The teams from each shift came together to celebrate and reflect on the year. Lots of good food was served and relationships were strengthened between crews. As excited as we are about our successes in the past, we are equally excited about the opportunities in the future. Growth and opportunities for promotions are rich and programs supporting employees’ needs are on the horizon. After a year like this, the crews at the Grand Forks Air Force Base are chasing down every opportunity to make their community better.

Acting with Accountability

Skils’kin takes even the small things seriously. It allows us to provide exceptional service in all of our departments. From Employment to Commercial Services to Payee Services, each employee at Skils’kin is responsible for looking over the details and getting things done right. This commitment sets us apart. It allows us to manage unpredictable situations with greater confidence and control.
The Quality Assurance Department is the driver of our new technology at Skils’kin. They allow us to innovate, track data, and create solutions. Recently, Skils’kin was able to leverage our technology to ensure client safety and employee accountability when an allegation was made regarding our services. From this claim, Quality Assurance launched an internal investigation. They began to aggregate data and facts surrounding the situation that ultimately refuted the accusation.
Quickly and easily we were able to determine what really happened, and it gave us the opportunity to live out our values. Through our innovative technology, we were able to act with integrity as we brought forward critical information, and ensuring accountability. The case was resolved and everyone involved had reason to be at ease with the outcome.
Skils’kin is always striving to get things right. Whether it is providing better services, creating a stronger financial plan, or protecting our people, Skils’kin prioritizes our innovation and our ability to get things done right.

Why We Work, Featuring Ben Rascoff

Why do I work? Four simple words that subjected me to hours of introspection. The easy part was recounting the variety of jobs I’ve been fortunate to have. The first job I can recall (if you can really call it a “job”) was picking up pinecones in the yard while my dad raked. “A penny a pinecone,” he’d say. I thought that was a pretty fair deal and was very happy accepting my two dollars or so after clearing the front and back yards. Then there was the paper route I did for a few years with my buddy, back when kids delivering papers was still a thing in Spokane. That was quite a lesson in discipline as we quickly learned that no matter how hard we tried, 4:45 a.m. arrived every day (rain or shine!) along with large stacks of newspapers that needed to be folded and delivered. When I turned 16, I immediately sought part-time employment and landed a job bagging groceries at the Rosauers on 14th and Lincoln. Over the years I’ve also worked at a number of restaurants washing dishes, bussing tables, serving, and tending bar. I’ve been a telemarketer (briefly!), worked at a local newspaper, been the guy that places flyers on your front door, and currently work as an attorney. Looking back, “work” has been one of the most consistent things in my life. So … why is it that I work?
My knee-jerk response to the question is “money”, and I suspect that is most people’s immediate response. However, the pennies I earned with pine cones or paper delivery weren’t necessary to my survival; they instead marked the beginning lessons of independence, pride in a job well done, and the development of my character to acquire the discipline in doing what needs to be done and achieving self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. These traits exist not just weekdays between 9:00 to 5:00, but in all aspects of my life. I am certain that, upon reflection, the vast majority of us would agree that we receive more from our “work” than just money.
People involved in soliciting and collecting charitable donations know that one of the motivating factors for a donor is the positive feelings that the donor experiences when they give a gift, be it a gift of their time or money. In other words, people give not only to help the people and causes they believe in, but because it also makes them feel good. Humans, for better or worse, are inherently self-interested creatures. I am no different.
Why do I work? Well, I certainly work to provide money for myself and my family. I also work to genuinely help people and provide value to the world where I can. But, I admit it. I also work because it makes me feel good. Work allows me to feel like I contribute something to my community. It gives me a sense of independence and accomplishment, and feelings of skill and pride. I am not only giving by working, but I am taking something from it as well; “work” is important for my wellbeing.

-Ben Rascoff