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.
Northwest Center is pleased to welcome Jenn Ramirez Robson as Vice President of Northwest Center Employment Services (ES). In this role, Ramirez Robson will lead Northwest Center’s individualized employment services for people with disabilities across Washington state and in Northern Idaho. These services include training and instruction for people with disabilities to build professional and social skills to prepare for employment, school-to-work services including job readiness, job placement, job coaching, and skill development for individuals in their final years of school, and support for people with disabilities to secure and thrive in meaningful careers.
Before joining Northwest Center, Ramirez Robson was Director of Resident Services for King County Housing Authority (KCHA), a position she held for seven years. In her work for KCHA, Ramirez Robson led a team of 40 people to provide health, economic stability, employment, and education programs, services, and referrals for families, the elderly, and people with disabilities that make up over 18,000 households in KCHA’s subsidized housing programs across King County. In that role, her accomplishments included implementing award-winning programs based on resident and community identified needs; restructuring the Resident Services department to a more effective regional-based model, initiating an agency-wide Trauma-Informed Care training program; launching a Resident Assistant Intern program; and, most recently, co-leading KCHA’s efforts to provide over 70 on-site COVID-19 vaccine clinics for vulnerable community members.
Previously, Ramirez Robson served as Director of Strategic Partnerships for Southwest Youth & Family Services, fostering donor relationships and managing fundraisers that supported critical services in significantly under-resourced communities within South King County including Southwest Seattle, White Center, South Park, Burien, and SeaTac.
From 2011-13, Ramirez Robson was Executive Director of New Futures, which operated community learning centers in four South King County low-income apartment complexes serving more than 1,700 children, youth, and adults each year, where she negotiated a merger between New Futures and Southwest Youth & Family Services. During her tenure, the children served improved an average of 1.4 grade levels in their oral reading each year, 96% percent of youth participants reported that they were planning for graduation and their future, and 72% of families reported increased involvement in their children's reading and homework.
As Vice President of Northwest Center Employment Services, Ramirez Robson will maximize the impact of employment programs centralized to best serve specific regions: North Puget Sound, East Puget Sound, South Puget Sound, and Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.
“Northwest Center Employment Services has a well-deserved reputation for responsiveness to the people we serve, a commitment to finding meaningful employment for people of all abilities regardless of barriers, our strong business relationships, and our person-centered services. With expertise in successfully serving people from a variety of backgrounds and communities, Jenn Ramirez Robson is the perfect choice to lead our Employment Services team,” says President & CEO Gene Boes. “We look forward to continuing to build on our services as we begin to place people in employment in Idaho and as more people prepare to return to work as the pandemic begins to recede.”
To learn more about inclusive hiring, please visit NWCenter.org/Inclusion.
We're living through an extraordinary moment in time. But what gives me hope is our equally extraordinary commitment to serving our community.
When COVID-19 first hit, Northwest Center's priority was to continue to take care of our employees and deliver on our mission for our kids, families, and clients. We knew we would have to work harder than ever to connect to the communities we serve.
As the effects of the pandemic continue to take their toll, I couldn’t be prouder of this organization for our ability to adapt and innovate so we could continue serving a community that needs us more than ever. And we couldn’t have done it without you.
Every second counts when it comes to Early Supports services—birth to 3 is the most critical time to reach children with disabilities or delays. In March 2020, we quickly pivoted to teletherapy, and we continue to provide remote services today—and more. Northwest Center has been a lifeline for more than 300 families: making deliveries of necessities ranging from occupational therapy tools to basic needs supplies while providing critical services and emotional support.
After a brief forced closure, our schools were able to reopen, but with extensive adjustments: new lesson plans accommodating changing guidelines; learning to convey emotions to babies while wearing a mask; establishing new, reassuring routines when parents could no longer drop kids at their classroom doors; and accommodating remote learning by juggling schedules and shifting to a longer day.
Our teachers put even more of their hearts and souls into our work to deliver effective solutions. Our parents recently shared that Northwest Center has served as a vital “safety and support net” for them to count on during these trying times.
The isolation and shutdowns of COVID-19 hit the disability community the hardest. Our team jumped into action, flexed their innovative muscles, and created new ways to actively support every client—even those who were out of work, but still needed to sharpen their employment skills. Our clients received virtual trainings tailored to their progress, and benefited from the much-needed human connection.
More of our clients have been able to find employment and return to work in the past few weeks, and despite all they've faced, our clients' success is once again shining through.
We are heartened by the promise of a return to “normal,” but the crisis of COVID-19 is still very much with us. The effects will linger: for babies who are missing critical therapy, for clients suffering emotionally and economically from lack of work, for families who have faced so much hardship.
We rely on your support so we can continue to serve our community at a time they need it most. We hope you will consider making a gift to Northwest Center this year.
We are grateful to all those who have supported us during this extraordinary year so that we can continue to serve our community at a time they need it most. Your partnership is crucial to our ability to deliver on our mission to promote the growth, development and independence of people with disabilities through programs of therapy, education and work opportunity.
Just as our staff and educators are a lifeline for families, kids, and clients this year, you are our lifeline.
Onward & Upward,
President & CEO
It’s an average work day at Bean Box for Alex. At a long row of tables, he packs samples of fragrant coffee into boxes to be mailed out to subscribers. He chats with employees who stop by to drop off supplies. He joins coworkers in the break area at lunch.
The fact that this day is so average is what makes it so important, says Alex’s mom Larisa. Because until very recently, she wasn’t sure it would happen at all.
Alex, who was diagnosed with Autism as child, has spent much of his life excluded from social activity with peers, his mom says. “Alex can’t really read social cues, so it’s tough for him.”
Work has posed more challenges. When Alex was working in a mail room as part of a school-to-work transition program, he became overwhelmed, walked away, and got lost.
“Then they put a full-time assistant with him,” Larisa remembers. “But they said, ‘We’re not sure he’s going to be in any kind of paid position ever.’ We didn’t have much hope.”
After graduation in 2020, Alex found a warehouse job through Northwest Center Employment Services, but he had trouble adjusting to an unpredictable work schedule.
The one bright spot in Alex’s week was playing Special Olympics sports. Then COVID-19 struck.
“When everything got closed down, he was crushed for months,” Larisa says. “He was not able to connect with anybody.”
Then, in late summer 2020, Northwest Center Employment Services got a call from Ben Adler, director of operations for Seattle-based coffee subscription company Bean Box. Adler was interested in hiring people with disabilities because his mother has taught special education for 20 years. “She always talked about people in terms of what they’re capable of doing,” he says. “Instead of focusing on disability, she focused on ability.”
“I like this job,” Alex says. “I get to talk to other people. I really enjoy that I get to work at Bean Box.”
“It’s a big thing for Alex to be engaged,” Larisa continues. “At Bean Box, people are nice to him and he understands what he’s supposed to do. They treat him like a valued team member.”
That’s because Alex, and every other client hired through Northwest Center Employment Services, is a valued team member, says Adler. “We’re not just providing people with work; we’re able to get things done more efficiently because they’re really good at the things that they’re doing every day,” he says.
And while Alex still has job coaches as he works to answer questions and help him stay on task, these days he needs much less support.
“I am really, really hopeful that eventually Alex will be able to go in by himself, start the task, and finish the shift,” says Larisa. “Even a year ago, we thought that would never happen. But now I see it happening.”
Northwest Center Employment Services is now operating in the state of Idaho, an expansion that will allow us to begin helping people with disabilities find employment opportunities in Kootenai, Shoshone, Benewah, Bonner, and Boundary counties.
Northwest Center Employment Services serves both youth and adult populations at every stage in their careers, and our consultants will work with businesses to find solutions as well—and consultation is free!
“Northwest Center is proud and excited to expand our Employment Services into the state of Idaho,” says Ryan Newell, Regional Director. “With Idaho’s ever-growing economy and abundance of opportunity, we are able to expand our mission and help bridge the unemployment gap for people with disabilities. We are eager to serve.”
Our Employment Services are backed by more than 60 years of experience providing people with disabilities and their employers with support such as:
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.