Catching Up with Preston: He Starred in Commercials About His Job as a Greeter. Five Years Later, He’s a Great Communicator.
If Preston looks familiar to you, we’re not surprised. You might be one of the thousands of community members he’s gotten to know as a greeter at a local QFC store. Or you may have seen him on TV: five years ago, when Northwest Center was celebrating our 50th anniversary, Preston starred in a television commercial that shared how an inclusive workplace isn’t just good for him—it’s good for all of us.
As we mark our 55th anniversary, Northwest Center caught up on how Preston is doing these days. Though he’s not been able to work due to COVID-19, Preston is still checking in remotely with his Northwest Center Employment Services team. And while he’s only been able to visit his coworkers a few times, his mom Stacy tells us that Preston has greatly expanded both his spoken and written communication skills over the past five years, and more recently has become a texting and Facetiming pro. Here’s our conversation with Stacy:
Q: What’s been the biggest change in Preston over the past five years?
A: I would say his communication skills. He has learned the value of communication and it brings him a lot of joy. He used to talk to us, but did not use sentences. About two-and-a-half years ago, he started working with a speech-language pathologist. One of the things we were working on pre-COVID was the concept of conversations and how you take turns speaking and ask people questions. And now Preston is not the same as far as speech and communicating with people. I am just amazed and so happy for him. Preston has started talking a lot more. Last night at dinner, we were laughing because everyone had finished except Preston because he’d been talking the entire time.
A page from founder Janet Taggart’s scrapbook of Northwest Center’s dedication ceremony on September 14, 1965.
One of Northwest Center’s first students, Debra Walruff, with Naval officers on the day the center was dedicated. Our first facility was formerly owned by the U.S. Navy.
Established in 1965, over the past 55 years Northwest Center has made considerable progress on the journey toward our North: a world where 100% of kids of all abilities have equitable access to education, and the employment rate for people with disabilities is the same as that of the general population.
In March 2020, the world changed dramatically, as did the enormity of our challenge to continue North. But we’re more steadfast than ever about achieving that goal.
It’s safe to say none of us could foresee the situation we’re all in right now. But the Northwest Center community has proven that in the face of incredibly difficult times, we come together.
Immediately after COVID-19 hit, OneNWC leaned in together and continued to deliver on our mission: our Kids and Employment Services teams pivoted to remote therapy, Zoom classroom sessions, and creative ways to keep clients’ job skills sharp. Meanwhile, the essential workers at our businesses stayed on the front lines providing critical cleaning, laundry, office management and staffing services to the companies and medical facilities we serve. Read more about how our teams rose to the challenge.
Our IMPACT team used teleconferencing to expand their trainings to hundreds more attendees in each session. As of this writing, they’ve reached an astounding 17,000 children since 2018--read the full story here.
Parents and supporters inundated our teachers, staff, and service providers with grateful letters, then spearheaded a spring campaign to help bridge the gap left by reductions in our commercial businesses. Other donors provided telecommunications devices for therapy so children didn’t miss a single milestone. Now we’re gearing up for a reimagined fundraising event as The Derby goes virtual (and free) but the fun remains. Join us for The Derby on October 23.
Of course, these times have been riddled with hardship—particularly for the people with disabilities we serve. For many of them, staying home from work means missing not only the sense of purpose a job can bring, but also a critical opportunity to connect with other people. As all of us followed stay-at-home mandates, something occurred to me: the isolation, job uncertainty, and monotony of our days all sounded a lot like what many people with disabilities face EVERY day. We wrote about this in a recent issue of the Seattle Times. That realization left us only more determined that North is—has to be—an achievable goal.
Join Northwest Center as we continue our journey North. Because until all of us are fully included, none of us will reach our potential.
Onward and Upward,
For nearly a year, Northwest Center Employment Services clients have been collaborating with musicians from the Seattle Symphony to compose a new orchestral piece. Best Buddies of Washington also joined the partnership to connect NWC clients and symphony musicians in friendship. The piece Northwest Center and the Symphony have composed together, titled “Together, This Journey,” was set to debut at the Symphony’s Beethoven Festival in June. Unfortunately, COVID-19 put all live performances on hold. But that hasn’t stopped our crews from continuing to collaborate at a distance on music and fun.
During Washington state’s stay-at-home order, NWC and Symphony folks shared some of the music that was getting them through the quarantine—classical and non-classical alike. Click the links to enjoy some favorites from our teams (thanks to Erica Brody, Director, Mission Advancement for Best Buddies Washington for compiling):
In June, “Together, This Journey” was the topic of a discussion with composer Charles Corey and Seattle Symphony principal oboe Mary Lynch as part of the Symphony’s Digital Beethoven Fest. Listen to the conversation here.
In July, Seattle newspaper The Stranger shared the group’s Message to the City that includes their wishes for the future and their thanks to our first responders. Watch the Northwest Center, Best Buddies, and Symphony message here.
While we’re not yet sure when “Together, This Journey” will finally get the live performance it deserves, we’re grateful to our Northwest Center composers, the Seattle Symphony, and Best Buddies for giving all of us something to look forward to.
Digital Beethoven Fest photo courtesy of Seattle Symphony.
Northwest Center celebrates 55 years of inclusion on September 14, 2020, and the U.S. recently celebrated 30 years of the ADA. Northwest Center founder Janet Taggart recently shared her thoughts on both in this video interview.
We may have to stay socially distanced, but Northwest Center services can’t stop—kids with disabilities still need therapy to reach their milestones, preschoolers need interaction with classmates and teachers, adults with disabilities need to keep their work skills sharp, and the businesses we partner with need essential services. Here are some ways the Northwest Center community has been rising to the challenge of COVID-19.
Northwest Center Kids
Learning in Circles: How Virtual Education Keeps Kids Connected
Hang on to your hats! This year, for the first time ever, we’re off to the races at a social distance as Northwest Center’s Derby gala goes virtual! On Friday, October 23, our biggest fundraising event will be streamed live on YouTube from Fremont Studios—with plenty of audience interaction. And registration for this year’s event is FREE.
Chris Cashman of KING5 will take guests through a program filled with fun, entertainment, and philanthropic excitement, while nationally known fundraising auctioneer Fred Northup will do his part to inspire guests to beat last year’s $300,000 fundraising goal.
Though we won’t dine in person, guests can still do it up for Derby dinner with fresh-from-scratch, hand-delivered meals created by renowned chef and longtime Northwest Center supporter John Howie of restaurants Seastar, SPORT, John Howie Steak, Beardslee Public House, and distillery Wildwood Spirits Co.
Every year, the big Derby draw is our live and silent auctions, and this year is no different—except guests will bid virtually using their computer, tablet, or mobile phone. (It’s easy and we’ll show you how.)
Though The Derby is free to attend, you do need to register to attend, bid, or donate—so be sure to register now right here. And mark your calendars: our silent auction of jewelry, gourmet food, and handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items opens on Monday, October 19.
We look forward to seeing you LIVE at the Derby on October 23. Click here to register for The Derby.
When Northwest Center Kids launched the IMPACT™ program in 2018, they knew the need for inclusive early learning was great. It turns out, the response to the program was even greater.
Instead of opening another brick-and-mortar Early Learning center that might only be able to serve 80 children at a time, the Kids team wanted a way to reach the thousands of children across the state who were shut out of early learning—an estimated 22,000 children in King County alone. They designed IMPACT (short for “Inclusion Mentorship Program for increasing Access in Childcare Team”) to provide training so that other early learning centers can welcome children with disabilities or who may need extra support throughout the day for a health care need or a physical, developmental, behavioral, or social-emotional concern.
The team set a goal to reach 6,000 children by the end of 2020. They reached that goal before IMPACT was even a year old. As of summer 2020, IMPACT has reached a whopping 17,000 children in King County, with many more school and facility trainings to come.
Overwhelmingly Positive Responses
“This amazingly designed program is what we childcare providers have been hoping for for years,” says one director who received IMPACT consultations and training, citing the support that both teachers and the school director received. “The quality of the work was the professional push we needed for a reluctant family to hear our suggestions. This was the best class our experienced staff EVER took. They are still taking about what they learned.”
Those thoughts have been echoed in overwhelmingly positive responses from organizations who received IMPACT training:
Those results are even more impressive when you consider that the IMPACT team is a small but mighty multidisciplinary team of just seven people, and when you see just how many people they’ve reached from September 2018 through June 2020:
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has altered how the IMPACT team delivers their trainings, it has actually increased their reach: thanks to teleconferencing, they’ve been able to host virtual training across King County, training 1,531 providers and counting since the pandemic began.
Schools Want to be Inclusive
“One of my favorite things is when teachers realize they already have many of the skills they need to do inclusion,” says IMPACT Inclusion Consultant Kristen McLeskey. “There’s a sense of excitement when they see a strategy being successful, and they start shifting their thinking from ‘Someone else is better qualified to care for this child’ and instead start to realize, ‘I can do this!’
“Schools already want to be inclusive,” she continues, “but sometimes teachers just aren’t sure how to get started or need additional strategies. By providing ongoing consultation, IMPACT goes with them on this journey and helps them adapt their practices to support children with all different needs and abilities.”
“One of my favorite moments was helping a teacher recognize how, despite challenges in her classroom, she was still practicing inclusion,” says IMPACT Inclusion Consultant Erica Yuen. “She wished more people could be patient, because children with challenging behaviors deserve the chance to stay and learn positive behaviors. I commended her for her inclusive mindset—challenging behaviors are often a reason to remove a child from school. The simple act of pointing out her commitment to inclusion was incredibly empowering for her.”
Because IMPACT is sponsored by Public Health – Seattle and King County, Best Starts for Kids of King County's Child Care Health Consultation grant, Northwest Center Kids is able to offer services free of charge to early learning programs that serve children aged birth to five years in King County.
“Childcare is an underfunded and undervalued industry, and I enjoy providing free services that are of value to providers, to support them in the very challenging work that they do,” says Elizabeth Carley, IMPACT Program Coordinator and Mental Health Consultant.
Of course, the most important benefit of IMPACT is the fact that more children are being welcomed and included in early learning across King County, despite their challenges.
“IMPACT consultants are a great resource for us, especially helping me to support our children with special needs,” says one childcare provider. “They encourage us and give all the tips to succeed. Now we can see the big results in each child’s life!”
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.