Imagine being expelled from school when you’re not even old enough to go to kindergarten. It happened to Gavin when he was just 14 months old.
“Gavin wasn’t yet crawling, and his daycare said that if he wasn’t crawling at 18 months, he wasn’t able to stay,” says his mom Kate, who tears up at the memory. “The daycare is telling you he’s going to be kicked out, and you wonder, ‘What is a place for Gavin? Where would he fit?’”
Thankfully, Gavin’s physiotherapist suggested Northwest Center Kids, where kids with and without disabilities learn and play together at two early learning preschools.
“She told us that, unequivocally, she would recommend Northwest Center for any child, whether they’re typically or atypically developing,” Kate recalls.
The family saw the changes in Gavin not long after they moved him to Northwest Center—his mobility and his interaction improved. “It’s much more inclusive,” said Kate at the time. “When I would pick Gavin up from the original daycare, the other children were crawling and walking, and he would often be by himself. Now when I pick him up, he’s playing with the other children.”
Gavin began walking at age 2, and now “He’s running and jumping and climbing,” Kate says today. “He can keep up with his peers on the playground; that’s really wonderful. He’s really loving school. On Saturdays and Sundays, he asks me if he can go to school.”
She continues, “I think it has been most beneficial to have such high quality, personalized attention and compassionate teachers who know just how much to encourage Gavin to push that little bit harder. That requires really empathetic, attentive teachers. His teachers at Northwest Center have that.”
Gavin’s story has a happy ending, but as many as 22,000 children with disabilities in King County are unable to find an inclusive preschool. That’s why Northwest Center Kids created IMPACT™ (Inclusion Mentorship Program for increasing Access in Childcare Team), a program to provide training and support to other childcare centers so that they can welcome children with special needs up to age 5.
“Instead of opening new preschools like the two we already have, we are reaching out to existing preschool staff across the county so more educators can accept kids with disabilities,” says Laura Kneedler, VP of Education & Therapy Services.
“If we built another school, we could serve 80 more children,” Kneedler says. “But by partnering with some of the early learning centers in King County, we can reach thousands of kids.”
IMPACT is off to a good start. Just three months into the program, the team had already added 12 local early learning providers to its roster of partners. At six months in, they were halfway to a goal of reaching 6,000 children in King County—a goal they initially projected to take three years.
Kate believes IMPACT will make a difference even for preschools already striving for inclusion. She points out that Gavin’s previous daycare “was not a bad daycare”—for instance, the staff made it possible for Gavin to see a physiotherapist and occupational therapist at school. “But someone like Gavin needs a little bit more,” she says.
One example of “a little bit more” is being flexible at mealtimes. At Gavin’s previous school, Kate says, he would get overwhelmed when served a whole plate of food. As a result, he was going home hungry. But at Northwest Center Kids, the staff worked with Gavin’s occupational therapist on a solution: they presented Gavin with a little bit of food at a time so he could process it better.
“The difference is the mindset,” Kate says. “There aren’t insurmountable things that need to happen in order to take care of a child like Gavin. It’s about changing the little details.”
Northwest Center has made a lasting impression on Gavin, and will continue to shape the family. Laura, a little girl born when Gavin was two, will start preschool at Northwest Center in September.
“Inclusion is important for all children,” Kate says. “It’s important for children like Gavin, who learn better and can learn from other children. It’s good for any child, just understanding it’s okay to be a little bit different.”
To learn more about IMPACT, visit nwcenter.org/IMPACT.
When you give to The Big Blue Truck™, you’re not only keeping clothing and household goods out of landfills; you’re making employment possible for people of all abilities. Northwest Center and Value Village teamed up to give job seekers with disabilities even more interview confidence: Styled for Success, personal styling at Value Village. Jesse found the perfect interview clothing during Styled for Success, and then the perfect job in customer service at Sky Nursery.
“The next day, I started working,” says Jesse. “It's a great fit. I really enjoy it.”
Thank you for making it possible for great employees like Jesse to find jobs they love.
Watch Jesse in action in this short video below.
If you need to know how things work at the Amazon sortation center in Kent, ask Angela. Since hiring on in 2016, she’s aced two intensive training programs to earn the designations of Problem Solver and Learning Ambassador.
“I like to problem solve,” Angela explains. “If it’s a broken package, you scan it into the computer and say what’s wrong with it, then you repackage it into a new box and put it back on the conveyor belt.”
As a Learning Ambassador, Angela helps new hires with everything from finding the break room to operating a pallet jack.
Angela’s success makes Northwest Center’s Employment Services team proud—but definitely not surprised. Because their commitment didn’t end once she was hired: every Northwest Center client receives job coaching and support for as long as needed.
“The best example was when she was required to learn the ‘water spider’ function (wrapping and printing labels for pallets),” says Senior Pod Manager Phil Keating. “She was scared and asked if she could skip that task. We helped her work through it, and now she is a trainer in that process!”
There were some tasks Angela learned before she was even hired, because she took part in a working interview at a sortation center mockup complete with aisles, products, a conveyor belt, and scanners. Employment Services built the mockup, housed at our Puget Sound Laundry Services building, in 2015.
Since then, NWC has placed and supported 212 employees at Amazon. Those employees boast impressive retention rates, high productivity, and a quality rating 37% higher than their coworkers. Learn more in this Seattle Times article on Northwest Center’s Amazon placement success.
As a parent of a child with a significant disability, I know firsthand that people with disabilities are still told “No” far too often when searching for opportunities or answers. Northwest Center is committed to removing those barriers and creating change through programs that span from cradle through career.
We’re grateful to you for being just as committed as we are. You demonstrated your commitment with incredible generosity that broke donation and attendance records at our recent events, the Golden Hearts Luncheon and The Derby. You demonstrate it with the trust you show by allowing us to work with your children, like Gavin. And you demonstrate it when you hire people of all abilities, like Jesse.
As I write this, it’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the perfect time to encourage you to work with Northwest Center to find talented employees. Northwest Center helps employers solve critical business problems by matching job seekers’ abilities with their business needs. An inclusive workforce will help you solve problems with retention and absenteeism while improving quality, productivity, and safety. We know, because we walk the walk: nearly 40 percent of Northwest Center’s employees have a documented disability. And we have the data to prove that for businesses nationwide, inclusion is a strategic differentiator providing a significant competitive advantage.
If you are an employer, here’s what I challenge you to do today:
Onward and Upward,
President & CEO
Northwest Center’s Golden Hearts Luncheon welcomed more than 500 guests who generously donated $170,000 to Northwest Center’s services for kids and adults.
The event was hosted by KING-TV personality Chris Cashman and featured Shaquem Griffin, linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, whose keynote address reminded the crowd why inclusion is so important: all his life, he’s accomplished things people told him he couldn’t do.
Griffin lost his hand at age 4 due to amniotic band syndrome. His family treated him just like anyone else, but other people were another story. Once at a Little League playoff game, a coach told him, “‘Football is not a one-handed sport.’ But I played that game. I got my first ever interception and took our team to the championship,” Griffin recalled.
Today, “There are people who say, ‘This guy’s an inspirational story, not a football player,’” Griffin said. “I don’t look at myself as a person with a handicap. I look at myself as a person who works his butt off to get the things he wants out of life.”
Before the event kicked off, Connor even convinced Griffin to give indoor kite-flying a try--see the video of Griffin flying a kite, taken by Connor’s mom Amy, a Lead Job Coach for NWC. Amy also recalled how Connor had to convince her to let him enter the competition and urged others not to doubt the potential of other people: “We need to believe in them because they believe in themselves.”
As Griffin so powerfully stated, “We all wake up in the morning and look ourselves in the mirror, and the only person looking back at you is you. The only one who can dictate what you’re going to be is you. The only person who can tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is you.” The people who attended this year’s Golden Hearts Luncheon responded with a resounding, “YES!” And we couldn’t be more grateful.
Read Connor’s story on the Northwest Center blog and watch his America’s Got Talent audition here.
Many thanks to our event sponsors
Thanks to your generous donations, Northwest Center set a new record at our 8th annual Derby: you raised more than $300,000—that’s double the amount raised at last year’s event! Funds raised will support our education and employment programs for children and adults with disabilities.
Guests giving individual donations were astounded—and moved to contribute!—when board member Paul Houlahan and her husband Gary Houlahan, along with BECU and Brown & Brown Seattle, agreed to match EVERY $1,000 gift made.
We congratulated MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions, our longtime partner in inclusion, who were the 2019 Derby Honoree. The award was presented to MacDonald-Miller president Gus Simonds.
We are so grateful to everyone who made this a historic event for Northwest Center. A special thank-you to our donors and sponsors: Premier Sponsor ValueVillage, Garland Sponsor Brown & Brown Seattle, Grandstand Sponsor National Purchasing Partners, and Oak Sponsors MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions, BECU, and Proclub.
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.