Dandelion in a sunny field

CEO Letter: April 2018


“change /CHānj/: (verb) make or become different (noun) the act or instance of making or becoming different.”

Many of my monthly letters have had a focus on change. It has been long stated that the only constant in life is change; however, that can feel unsettling and create anxiety. It is similar to the feeling of going on a roller coaster ride: the uneasy anticipation as you make the first climb, the stomach drop at the first high speed plunge and the relief when you arrive back at the platform. Just as we must face the reactions to each stage of the ride so must we cope with change.
There have been multiple waves of transformation at Skils’kin. However I feel confident that we grow stronger with each wave. We have invested in our people, our systems and our culture. Today as a whole, our management team is stronger than our leadership team was when I arrived seven years ago. We are continually looking for new opportunities and ways of doing business. We are not bound to operate in the manner in which we have. We are leaving legacy behind, not because it is bad, but in order to create more growth and opportunities.
Think back to learning to swim, ride a bike or ride the bus by yourself for the first time. Learning a new skill or conquering a fear can seem to be an insurmountable feat. However it is imperative to know that there is a freedom that lies on the other side of that fear. The changes around us might feel daunting, such as jumping off the deep end of the pool without assistance, but we will be rewarded for diving in by growing, developing new business lines, and providing further opportunities to individuals with disabilities. For this letter I asked Fairchild Air Force Base Senior Project Manager Vickey Graning what change meant to her. In the last year, Vickey has realized much change at Skils’kin via our purpose movement and her operational responsibilities, in addition to being enrolled in Leadership Spokane. Her words resonate with a profound sense of awareness:
“Change is a constant in life, both joyful and painful, that forces inward reflection and provocative thoughts about who we really are and who we aspire to be.”
–Vickey Graning
Just as Vickey says in her quote, using these times to reflect on who we are and where we find our fulfillment is a way to capitalize on the momentum. We are better equipped to understand how we want to make a difference in our teams, in our organization and in our communities. This month I encourage you to reflect on changes in your personal life as well as in your work life. Look for the opportunities to reflect on how you want to make a difference, where you can stretch, where you can help someone else, and where you can find your purpose.
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CEO Letter: March 2018


“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Relationships can be both rewarding and exhausting, sometimes simultaneously. As a parent of teenage children, you work diligently to be their authority figure while knowing it would be easier to be their pal. When you are married or with a partner, you are balancing the give and take of what it takes to be a reciprocating entity in that space. When navigating the waters of relationships at work, it can seem daunting and precarious, especially when new to the organization. The fact of the matter is, we likely spend more time with the people we work with then we do our friends and family. There have been many long standing myths around how you connect with your co-workers in the office. So what does it mean to have “relationships” at work? Aren’t we supposed to be “professional” and not have friends but instead acquaintances? I am proud to say that in part to our work with Imperative around Purpose, we are busting these myths.
Typically in my monthly letter, there will be at least one reference to our Mission, Vision and/or Values. I have come to realize that with strong relationships, we are able to deliver and actualize these ideas much more effectively. We each have our own innate strengths and weaknesses. When we become vulnerable enough to share our thoughts in an environment where we feel safe and valued, growth happens collectively. Relationships are a vital part of our organization and while that does not mean that we need to be best friends with everyone, we can learn to appreciate what each individual brings to the team. I have witnessed firsthand the benefit and beauty of open, real communication between coworkers. Problems are solved more easily, ideas are flushed out more thoroughly and individuals feel more valued.
These ideas are nothing new. The Māori culture of New Zealand utilizes the symbol of a house to represent a person’s complete health. Each individual has a house and the four walls are psychological or emotional health, spirituality or the opportunity for hope, family or people in the individual’s life, and physical well-being which is the vessel for psychological, spiritual and family health. It is the responsibility of the tribe to assist in creating the environment in which each individual can “build their house” within themselves.
In reflecting on Ms. Roosevelt’s quote, it is vital for us to care about each other; it is crucial to take a chance; it is essential for us to care about those around us so that together we can make more of a difference. We have a village at Skils’kin that can and should assist in providing the nurturing environment to assist each of us in “building our house,” and the only way we can do that is through healthy, authentic relationships. This month, I challenge you to focus on your relationships with your coworkers. Strive to create opportunities for genuine conversation where you are present and actively listening and not just thinking about what you are going to say next. Foster those relationships and see the benefits that common language and community creates.
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Looking through a window at tall buildings, with an out-of-focus red blur obscuring part of the left side of the image

CEO Letter: February 2018


“‘I know it when I see it’ is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters.”
-from Wikipedia

As I frequently mention, our culture is based on the solid foundation of our mission, vision and values. When many people make the decision to become a part of our team, it is due to the fact that we are not structured like a typical non-profit. Nor do we fall into the same cadence or configuration of a standard corporation. I take great pleasure in meeting and knowing employees in all of our locations. I enjoy not wearing a suit to work every day. I take pride in the fact that I am addressed by my first name instead of “Mr. Behler.”
In other organizations, many employees strive to make their way to “The Corner Office.” For some it is status, others a rite of passage and some believe that is where the most influential and important people reside. If you have had the opportunity to visit the corporate office, our layout is a far cry from that model. We essentially have three corner offices: two are located upstairs and one is on the main level. One of the upstairs offices is cramped as it houses three of our AbilityOne administrative staff, the other is where you will find our CFO Nicolle Laporte. I have chosen to have my office on the main floor and while it is located on a corner, it is not glamorous by any means. I made a conscious decision to be where I can interact with as many of our staff, clients and visitors as possible.
There is a lot of value and motivation for me being able to authentically connect with those around me. This might mean I learn firsthand about a job one of our clients just obtained or a Commercial Services employee stops to tell me what they used their gift card to purchase. Maybe it’s an employee with a disability who has become comfortable enough to stop by my office after my frequent “How’s it going?” that I call from my desk. Due to these opportunities, I understand when our organization is running on all eight cylinders because “I know it when I see it.” Connections between teammates and stakeholders is imperative to success. I too look forward to my email inbox to see the next company newsletter where I can learn something from the employee spotlight or a unique success from the weekly updates. These are ways in which we can all “know it when we see it” and take pride in the strides our team is making.
When I speak about how we deliver our mission, it is by sharing illustrations of the manner in which our employees create success. If our organization was a race, it would be a relay; it takes an anchor to hold the team down and a number of different individuals with different speeds and abilities to get us across the finish line. Each of us play a different role each day and I know when the right players are in the game when I see it. I am thankful to be a part of this team and to have one of the best seats in the house to see the magic happen.
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CEO Letter: January 2018


“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is noblest; Second by imitation, which is easiest; Third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Closing the calendar on another year gives pause to review the successes and challenges of the previous 12 months. You will often hear me urging for us to look forward, but there is value in taking stock in where we have been, doing what Confucius tells us is noblest, reflecting.
I am eager to start the New Year with the most dynamic and poised team to ever be a part of Skils’kin. We are moving towards a year that will be chock full of opportunity for personal and organizational growth and development. In February, we will begin delving into our strategic plan. For those of you that were here for this activity in 2015, you are well aware of the undertaking this is. I always attest to the power of words and there are few places that this is as evident as our Mission and Vision statement which were dramatically changed during this process previously.
In Confucius’ quote, he speaks to imitation as a means to gain wisdom; you need to look no further than our vision statement to know how disparate we are from that declaration. I am proud to be a leading company in creating opportunities and choices for adults with disabilities. Do we have room to grow? Yes. Do we have possibilities for learning? Again, yes. However, I am confident that we are primed for not only good but great work in the coming year. We are creating more focus and awareness in each area of our business; we are advocating at the local, state and federal levels for change; we are making a difference in every community we serve.
Skils’kin has navigated rough waters and yet continuing to create a wake of change as we charge ahead. I encourage each of you to reflect on the choices you have made around personal growth and purpose. I urge each of you to be steadfast in your belief in what we do. I ask each of you to demonstrate the power of inclusion, awareness and compassion.
Happy New Year to you and yours and I look forward to 2018 and what wisdom we can glean.
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Pipes amidst an overcast sky

CEO Letter: December 2017


“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
-Neil Gaiman (Author)

We are closing in on the end of a change-filled year. Many of my letters in the past few months have reflected on the need to embrace transformation or at least not to fear it. My own personal life has been filled with a roller
coaster ride of ups, downs and quick turns that I did not see coming; none of us are above or able to escape change in one way, shape or form. During the past year at Skils’kin we have:

  • Initiated Purpose into our workplace and culture
  • Hired many new people including Vice Presidents and Project Managers
  • Created a more business focused leadership team
  • Divested Community Living Services and said good bye to a large number of our team
  • Designed multiple new positions to foster growth and opportunity in our organization

While some of these changes have happened more easily than others, and some causing less discomfort than others, it has given our team the chance to operate in fresh space. We now have our strongest team ever with a focus on growth and delivering more mission. The quote above resonates with me as I’m eager to see where our team leads us in the coming year. When embarking onto a new journey or innovative idea, mistakes will occur, and in that wake, learning will take place. It is imperative for us to try new things, get uncomfortable, and stretch ourselves to get out of existing ruts and search for new experiences. Maybe you have been pondering learning a new skill? Joining a book club or civic group? Potentially volunteering at a soup kitchen or animal shelter? Maybe even looking for a new job either inside Skils’kin or out. There are so many possibilities for us to make ourselves, our workplace and our world better. So in 2018 I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone, try something new and above all else make mistakes in the name of learning and change. I wish you all a safe and fulfilling holiday season and look forward to a formidable 2018.
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CEO Letter: November 2017


“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
-Maya Angelou

There has been a lot of evolution and change at Skils’kin in the past year. Our organization is one that has felt the ebb and flow of governmental budget whims, national debates regarding segregated work settings – not to mention the daily challenges we face doing the difficult work that we do. Times of change can make us question our motivations, abilities and direction, but times of change can also lead us to where we need to go.
As I have mentioned many times over, I choose to focus on where we are going instead of where we have been. It’s simply not possible to travel to a new place if you refuse to leave where you are. This is not to say that it isn’t important to maintain memories and respect for the challenges and obstacles we have overcome to get where we stand currently. Just as the caterpillar morphs into a beautiful butterfly, it did not begin that way; we pay no mind to the ordinary caterpillar or unpleasant cocoon. We admire the diamonds but overlook the fact that it takes over one billion years to create. We look up to the stars and ignore that it has taken over four years for the light to reach us. Let us not disregard the changes and challenges we face. Instead, I hope we can all embrace the change we are currently experiencing. I want us to march on not in spite of our transformation but because of it.
You are reading this on the heels of our annual Connect Meetings, and I enjoy the time at each location to discuss your thoughts, ideas and concerns. I appreciate each of you taking the time to share with me your apprehensions as well as your accomplishments. It is imperative to remember that your voice matters, your suggestions are heard, and most importantly, you are valued. I want to convey how strongly I believe in our culture, company and talent. We are poised for great work, growth, success and most of all the ability to become the company most known for creating and implementing the model for delivery of collaborative services for adults with disabilities.
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Image of a silhoutte on top of a mountain watching a sunset/sunrise

CEO Letter: October 2017


“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experiences to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion around Purpose and what it means to us individually and within our culture. I am so proud of the organization we have become in the last seven years that I have had the privilege to be CEO. In writing this letter, I have such a myriad of emotions that I am feeling. We are well poised in our Payee, Commercial Services and AbilityOne programs. Our Marketing team is creating videos for external customers that further opens doors for opportunities and is selling our brand and services. With these positives ahead of us, it is bittersweet to be saying goodbye to our Supported Living department. This department is full of life, personalities, energy, challenges and successes. I always looked forward to barbecues and events where I could mingle and visit on a more personal level with some of the most colorful and engaging individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I remain confident that this is the right choice for our employees and those we serve. I know all involved will have additional opportunities that a larger organization can offer.
The above quote resonates with me as this is a time where I feel fervently that we all must reach out for new experiences that stretch us, teach us, and most importantly make us grow. To say I am energized about Skils’kin’s future would be an understatement. I am ready to reach out for new experiences and opportunities. However, I still have sentiments running through my mind on the departure of our Community Living Services team, so I won’t say goodbye, but I wish each of you associated with our Supported Living program a heartfelt “see you soon.”
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Black and white image of an individual at the top of a steep mountain

CEO Letter: August 2017


“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments… For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens… A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.”
– Dr. Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

I have mentioned previously that we are living in a precarious time. Politics. Media. Social media. Family needs. Professional wants. Ideas are coming at us at a rapid pace, and it is difficult to discern how to receive the messages successfully. Our work can be difficult, and we are often advocating for equality and choices for those who can’t. At times it can feel as though we are fighting an uphill battle. However, our words and actions are making a difference.
For those of you that have been participating in our Muster campaign, many of us have received emails in response to our efforts. However, Melody Deatherage in our Human Resources office received a phone call from the aide of Sen. Baumgartner thanking her for her input on the tough issues and was willing to discuss her views further. This all stemmed because Melody took a few minutes of her day to send an email to her elected officials voicing her concerns regarding current events.
There are tough choices to be made, and I appreciate when individuals can collaborate and have the courage to ask for help. As many of you have heard, the Skils’kin “Purpose Posse” is working together to integrate Purpose into all facets of Skils’kin. The group is in its infancy and, I firmly believe that this group can concentrate not on the status quo but nourishing and sustaining more of what we all need inside us: fulfillment, belonging and purpose.
Dr. Gawande defines courage as “Strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped.” It takes courage to even hope and even more to make tough decisions for the greater good. I urge each of you to look inside yourselves this month for courage. Courage to speak up and be a voice for someone who cannot. Courage to listen to your inner self and seek what is missing. Courage to make decisions that focus on what is right yet not necessarily easy. Together our courage will make a difference for ourselves, Skils’kin and our communities.
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Close up image of lilacs in full bloom

CEO Letter: July 2017


“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
– Albert Einstein

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the Grassroots Advocacy Campaign in Washington D.C. with Fairchild AFB Project Manager Vickey Graning, as well as one of her employees and his stepmother. While there, we met with many of our elected officials for the states in which we do business to discuss and impart the importance of employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. What became abundantly apparent was our continued need to speak up and make our voices heard.
We have worked diligently to secure our AbilityOne contracts and deliver the best possible service to our customers. The jobs that we provide through these contracts are good paying jobs that offer experience, skill building and a hard earned pay check. However, these jobs are under attack by opposing legislation. It should be noted that AbilityOne is the largest vertical in our company. It is time for us to care and make a stand.
Some of you have answered this call to action by subscribing to our advocacy platform, Muster. Some of you are also making it a priority to take part in these Action Alerts as soon as they are sent. It is not enough to just join, but to take action and let your elected officials know of your thoughts. We need to fight to protect the ground we have gained in creating employment choices for individuals with disabilities. It is not good enough to hope that these opportunities will stay in place when these very jobs are under attack. We must all make advocacy a priority if want to continue to live out our mission, vision and values. It is not enough to think about it. It is not enough to read about it. In order to make a difference, one must act.
This month I challenge you to inform yourself on the issues. You can do so by visiting our website and clicking on “Become a Supporter of Skils’kin.” There you will find an Action Center where you can learn more about the issues at hand. I challenge you to act upon our advocacy emails. We have made the process easy to accomplish and each email makes a ripple in the sea of politics. If you have questions regarding the advocacy process, please contact Tami Dillon at (509)-326-6760 ext. 2603 or tdillon@skils-kin.org and she will be happy to assist you. Lastly I challenge you to speak your mind and let others know about the issues that affect the majority or our jobs at Skils’kin.
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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.

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