Jacob is more than just an employee at Cafe 50, a restaurant and coffee shop on the Microsoft campus; he’s an Ambassador. The job title is printed on his uniform apron, and he points to it proudly.
“He has a huge sense of pride,” says his mother Jeanette. “It’s his first real, paying job. He has a uniform. He’s treated like just another member of the team.”
Jacob got his job busing trays and tidying tables at Cafe 50 through Northwest Center's Transition Services team and School-to-Work, a King Country program supporting students graduating from high school to find a place in the workforce.
It was a big deal for Jacob, who lives in a small town east of Seattle, to find a job he loves.
“We started out with a different employment agency,” says Jeannette. “Until we connected with Northwest Center, we were only exploring things in our very immediate community; it was very, very limited. Northwest Center listened and really understood that I wanted to explore more than just our small town. Jacob got a wonderful job, which he loves.”
Jacob is a man of few words, but his enthusiasm for his work is obvious. He moves quickly between tables, removing used cutlery, stacking trays, and keeping a sharp eye out for departing diners.
“I clean tables two days a week, Monday and Friday,” he says as he wipes a tabletop.
Is it a fun place to work?
“Yes!” he says emphatically. “I get to see my friends [and coworkers] Darian, Jessica.” When one of the other Ambassadors interjects, “Tell them what you like to do for fun!” Jacob laughs and says, “Get the head chef’s hat.”
“He’s making friendships that are not just at school; they’re actually people out in the public," says his mom. "That’s really huge.”
But the fun Jacob has never impacts the hard work he does.
“We get busy right about now,” Jacob says, surveying the lunchtime crowd. “When Darian goes on his lunch break, sometimes I take his trays, too. Just to be helping out.”
Jacob jumps in to help his coworkers and does what needs doing, without prompting from others.
“We love Jacob. He is so smart,” says Hany, a barista with at Cafe 50 for more than 12 years. “He wants to help. He knows how to do things because he watches us.”
“He’s taken the initiative to do his job,” says Jeannette.
Jacob has also taken the initiative to talk to his boss about what new tasks he can learn and how he can grow in his career. Whatever skills he ends up mastering, it’s clear that Jacob plans to learn them at Cafe 50. He says with certainty, “I’m staying here.”
Two years ago, Cornerstone General Contractors had a vision: to expand its definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion to also include people with disabilities. Today, the company not only employs but fully embraces and champions two people with disabilities.
Cornerstone builds new facilities for regional schools so they hired employees with disabilities to work in the office and on the job site. Ben works as the assistant to the head of construction on a job site, cleaning, organizing, and inventorying tools and equipment. Stephen, hired through Northwest Center Employment Services, works as an office assistant monitoring warranties on all products and mechanicals (such as floors and cabinets) installed at newly built buildings, and is working to digitize the company’s thousands of project files, and recently added data entry to his role.
Cornerstone was clear from the beginning that the people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) they hired would be treated like any other employee. That includes compensation—both employees earn wages well above minimum that are in line with likewise jobs in the field—and also includes the opportunity to progress to new skills and responsibilities. Ben is beginning to learn light carpentry skills as he continues to work at a construction job site. Stephen’s capacity for detail-oriented work opened him up to new projects. He’s learned how to scan documents, place them back in extra-large notebooks on multi-million-dollar projects, and then enter them on the computer server. It’s incredibly detailed and important work, and Stephen has proven more than equal to the task.
Both Ben and Stephen have found camaraderie and acceptance on the job, but even more important, they are doing work that is meaningful to them and to their colleagues—and Cornerstone is currently working to expand both employees’ hours.
“People see what Ben and Stephen have learned on the job,” says DEI Director Vicki Puckett. “Don’t underestimate what someone with IDD can do.”
Help Northwest Center Close the Employment Gap for People with Disabilities
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice the national average. Your support can help more job seekers like Stephen and Ben find employment where they can thrive, and more employers like Cornerstone find the perfect additions to their workforce.
Job Coach and Employment Specialist Debra Tan Wins 2020 Governor’s Employer Award for Direct Support Professional
Northwest Center could not be prouder to announce that Job Coach and Employment Specialist Debra Tan is the winner of the 2020 Governor’s Employer Award for Direct Support Professional from the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment!
This award recognizes an individual who has made meaningful inclusive employment opportunities a reality for individuals with disabilities. Deb could not be more deserving of this honor. In fact, it was Deb’s team members in Northwest Center Employment Services who nominated her for this award with impassioned endorsements of her work.
“It takes a special person to devote 25 years to social services, while keeping her fire and passion like it’s day one,” said one coworker. “Deb has devoted her 25-year career to employment services, 18 of which she has spent making Northwest Center Employment Services a better place to work. Deb maintains that passion and grit every day.”
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.
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.
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
As a nonprofit at the forefront of employment inclusion since 1965, Northwest Center is always proud to be part of the Annual Diversity Employment Day Career Fair & Roundtables. This year, we were even more proud: the 20th annual fair honored our Director of Talent Strategy and Partnerships Rachel Cupples, as well as the Northwest Center Talent Acquisition Group, with the Diversity Spirit Achievement Award.
“This award is presented to those individuals, corporations, and government officials that have actively supported diversity in an outstanding way,” said Neal Morrison, Director of Diversity Recruiter’s Network.org. “It’s my pleasure to recognize Northwest Center for diversity and inclusion in their recruitment, hiring, and onboarding processes.”
Northwest Center’s Talent Acquisition Group is itself a diverse team of people where “inclusion and innovation go hand in hand,” Cupples says. “We find ways to leverage community and disability partnerships and reach out to diverse populations.
“Disability does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, or age,” she continues. “Neither does our recruitment process.”
Want to join the inclusion revolution with a job at Northwest Center? Visit our careers page now.
UPDATE: Due to COVID-19, the Seattle Symphony has made the difficult decision to cancel performances through July 31, 2020. However, our composition partnership is still going strong! We’ll continue to update you about our progress and any future performances.
Northwest Center unlocks the potential of people of all abilities, and now some of our Employment Services clients are discovering even more talents: they’re teaming up with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and composer Charles Corey to create an orchestral piece that will debut in June at the symphony’s popular Beethoven Festival.
Beethoven Festival also features community collaborations with a local children’s chorus and Native American tribes. The goal of the Northwest Center partnership is to demonstrate what people with disabilities can do and to promote inclusion at in the arts, business, and the greater community. It’s a perfect fit with a celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven, who composed some of his most famous music after he became deaf at age 26.
Northwest Center clients have worked on musical themes with the symphony since late summer through a series of workshops that ranged from making art playing musical instruments to outings to the Woodland Park Zoo and the Seattle Art Museum.
Not only is this collaboration about making music, it’s about making friends: Best Buddies of Washington has connected symphony employees with NWC clients for friendships that will last far beyond June.
Join Northwest Center June 19 and 21, 2020 at the Seattle Symphony to hear the world premiere, presented in concert with Beethoven’s legendary 4th and 5th symphonies.
Our founding mothers understood how to harness the power of government to make the world more inclusive of people of all abilities. We’re pleased to connect with a growing roster of state, regional, and national legislators who, like us, understand that until all of us are allowed to engage and contribute, none of us will reach our full potential.
Last April, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan chose one of our Early Learning Centers, Northwest Center Kids at Chinook, to sign the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) Levy into law. Including a first-ever exemption for Seattle’s most vulnerable taxpayers, FEPP promises seven years of publicly funded investments to increase access to and funding for education for people of all ages and abilities throughout Puget Sound.
In May, First Lady Trudi Inslee visited Puget Sound Laundry Services (PSLS), one of Northwest Center’s owned businesses. Operations Manager Ofelia Almanza led First Lady Inslee on a tour of the facility. Almanza told the story of the facility with pride: For more than 25 years, PSLS has provided superior quality laundry services and employed people of all abilities. Today, more than 60 percent of the staff at the facility has some form of disability. Following the tour, the First Lady talked with Northwest Center President & CEO Gene Boes, staff, and parents about making education and workforces more inclusive for people with disabilities.
In June, we were proud to host King County Executive Dow Constantine at Northwest Center headquarters for a discussion with our Kids team about our IMPACT™ program, part of the Child Care Health Consultation services funded by Best Starts for Kids, which funds programs for children across King County. Northwest Center Kids launched IMPACT in late 2018 to train regional preschool staffs how to welcome and educate children of all abilities. A little over one year into the program, IMPACT already surpassed a three-year goal of reaching 6,000 kids.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal rounded out the year with a November visit to Northwest Center Kids at Chinook for a discussion on education and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. After a brief chat with students, staff, and clients, Congresswoman Jayapal met with Katrina Caron, Director of Early Learning, and President & CEO Gene Boes.
With each visit, meeting, and event, it’s clear that many of our local, state, and federal officials support Northwest Center’s mission to promote the growth, development, and independence of people with disabilities through programs of therapy, education, and work opportunity. We know how much there is to be done—here’s to making more connections in 2020.
It’s an audacious goal, and by its very definition is not something we’re likely to achieve in 2020, or on our 60th anniversary, or even by our 75th. But it is the ultimate, fixed North that we work toward at Northwest Center, no matter what moves or changes around us.
We are making great strides in the journey. Our Kids team launched the IMPACT™ program in 2018 with the goal of making inclusive early learning available to 6,000 more kids in King County in three years. They reached that goal before the program was even a year old, and are now well on their way to doubling that number as we progress into 2020.
Our Early Intervention, Early Learning, and Employment Services teams once again served a record number of kids and adults with disabilities in the past year. And with new, innovative approaches in place like the restructuring of our Employment Services into a scalable, geography-based “pod” structure, we’re poised to make inclusion part of even more workplaces and lives across the country in the coming years.
Our North goes hand-in-hand with the Strategic Plan we adopted two years ago. We’re continuing to build OneNWC by enhancing our workplace culture with more professional development opportunities, more sharing of our success stories, and more opportunities to connect across divisions.
Every step we take is designed to achieve significant, ongoing growth as an organization while ensuring a positive experience for our employees and our customers. Every step we take is toward our North. Because until all of us are included, none of us reach our potential.
Onward & Upward,
President and CEO
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.
Working Together: How Seattle Athletic Club Employees Helped Get a Beloved Northwest Center Client Back to Work
Sandy is the “light of the world,” says Sarah Shafter, membership and corporate accounts manager at the Seattle Athletic Club (SAC). “She is someone truly special and an integral part of our team.”
Sandy, a Northwest Center client and women’s locker room attendant “towel folder extraordinaire,” has worked at SAC for more than 12 years. “She’s an ‘institution’ and is loved by everyone at the club—members too,” says Shafter.
But last year, something happened that threatened to keep Sandy from the job she loves: a life-threatening stroke paralyzed her left side and affected her ability to talk and swallow.
SAC employees were devastated by the news. Sandy was in the hospital for more than three weeks and then was transferred to a nursing home. A few months later, she desperately wanted to return to work at SAC, but was not yet fully recovered.
“It looked like she would spend the rest of her life in the nursing home,” Shafter says.
That’s when SAC employees decided to nurse Sandy back to health on their own.
“Each employee would take turns to visit her and would bring her back to the club for therapy swims and workouts to build her strength up,” says Lisa Huisingh, housekeeping supervisor and childcare director at SAC.
Due to the employees’ efforts, Sandy made progress and began walking again.
“We knew if we didn’t step in to help Sandy, she could still be in the nursing home today,” Huisingh says. “We missed her so much while she was gone and it’s a miracle to have her back on her feet without having to use special equipment to get around.”
The club was so happy when Sandy came back to work, they awarded her “Employee of the Month.”
“She’s taught me so much in life over the years, “Huisingh says. “To always be friendly, that it’s okay to be silly, and to never ever give up. We are blessed to have Sandy back and see her beautiful smile again that lights our world!”
“I don’t have Down syndrome; it’s a lifestyle,” Barbie exclaims as she sorts through hundreds of fibers and yarn at Paradise Fibers in Spokane.
“My hobby is knitting and being able to work with yarn and fiber; every day is a dream come true,” says Barbie. “Working here makes me feel more independent and I can do stuff on my own and earn money and spend it the way I want to.”
Barbie’s dream of knitting and working with fibers every day became a reality right away when she visited Paradise Fibers. Her employment coach scheduled a day for her to meet the entire store team and she was hired on the spot. “We all loved her immediately,” said Karlene Oliver, shipping and purchasing lead at Paradise Fibers. “We decided on that day Barbie was going to be part of the team because of her terrific personality and great smile.”
Not only does Barbie organize yarn in the store among many other duties she has at Paradise Fibers, but soon her own knitting work will be offered as part of the store’s Fiber of the Month Club, a subscription service that sends special yarns and other goodies each month to more than 500 members. Barbie will design the March 2019 box in honor of Down Syndrome Day, and she has requested that all proceeds from the blanket she knits will go to Northwest Center and the Down Syndrome Foundation of Spokane.
It’s not the first time Barbie has used her knitting skill to help others. She was so moved by the movie “The Fisher King,” she decided she wanted to help the homeless.
“It gets so cold at night during the winter,” Barbie says. “My favorite things to knit are hats and scarves so I can hand them out to homeless people and the elderly, too. I wanted to make sure to keep them warm.”
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.
Dani works at Value Village to sort hangers and return clothes from dressing rooms. With the help of an employment coach from Northwest Center, Dani has found success at Value Village. In fact, when you ask her what she likes best about her job, her answer is “Everything!”
See Dani in action in this short video—and thank you for making it possible for great employees like Dani to find jobs they love!
It takes a lot of skill to become an artisan of donuts, and that’s what Anna is beginning to master. As a “donut engineer” at Retro Donuts in Spokane, one of Anna’s many responsibilities is to make sure the sweet treats are filled with delicious creams and jams. It’s a work of art.
“I take a regular donut and grind it up a bit and then push the fillings inside,” Anna says. “It’s a lot of fun and so rewarding knowing that someone is going to really enjoy eating it.”
“I’m not a hero and I’m not brave, I just got a chance to do what I love, and I did my best,” says Lauren Potter, best known as cheerleader Becky Jackson on the hit TV show Glee.
Career success like Potter’s is what Northwest Center’s 2018 Golden Hearts Luncheon is all about. This year’s event will raise funds for Transition Services, so more students with disabilities can find rewarding employment. As keynote speaker, Potter will share how she achieved her career goals.
“I am incredibly honored to speak to the people at Northwest Center,” Potter says. “I think the work being done by Northwest Center supports people to their fullest ability. It lets everybody know that we should be together, not separate. It helps give people a head start in life and makes them stronger. Without places like Northwest Center, inclusion is impossible!”
In the surgical room at Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services (SCRAPS), everyone works quietly and efficiently. The vet is finishing up a minor surgical procedure on a rescued dog. Mercie, her assistant, monitors the animal’s heart rate and prepares for his transfer back to his crate. When the surgery is complete, Mercie joins another assistant to prep the next animal, carefully inserting a breathing tube and shaving patches of fur.
This is Mercie beginning to fulfill her lifelong dream—one that teachers, peers, and even her father once thought was out of reach.
In the back of Makers Mercantile in Kent sits a bakery; a bakery with a spotlessly cleaned kitchen.
“I have worked many places in the industry and no one has been as thorough as Crystal,” said Rumi, head chef at Rylie Cakes.
Crystal has worked at Rylie Cakes for a year.
In three days of competing in the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, local soccer squad Team Spirit scored 17 goals and managed to make it into the semifinals, netting a bronze medal.
Head coach Mike Quinn, Northwest Center’s VP of business development, gave all the credit to his players, who managed to defeat Hawaii and South Carolina in the early rounds. In the semis, Team Spirit tied the Washington Thunder 1-to-1 in the elimination round to secure the bronze. Washington Thunder went on to win gold and Maine took the silver.
By Trevor Pacelli, Contributing Writer
Enjoy this first-person account of Trevor’s trip to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, where he joined with other Northwest Center employees and friends as a self-advocate for inclusive employment.
“Why should I be an advocate?”
That’s a question many of us ask when we learn how few people with developmental disorders have a good full-time job. Earlier this year, many of us from Washington state traveled to the state capitol to find an answer to that question.
We met up at the United Churches, a block from the Legislative Building, to talk about our plan for the day. Outside, the air was nippy, with snow barely glazing the lawn. Inside, the pews were packed as the sun beamed a carnation violet through stained glass windows. Together, we heard the hope among the good and bad news.
“One, two, three, edge-to-edge, edge-to-edge. One, two, three, edge-to-edge, edge-to-edge.” Glenda’s table wiping process is precise—each table cleaned with unparalleled focus and care.
Glenda works at Red Robin in Renton, where she gets the restaurant ready for the day before opening—a job that she, her managers, and her job coaches agree is a perfect fit. Glenda has been at the job for a little over seven months, gaining confidence by proactively adding new responsibilities and even taking on another shift on Saturdays.
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.