It’s Hard to Imagine a More Challenging Beginning. Or a More Promising Future.
Juana didn't meet the son she gave birth to until he was ten days old.
It was the summer of 2017. She was five months pregnant. When the weather turned extremely hot, it aggravated her asthma.
“The air quality was bad,” Juana (pronounced JAAN-uh) says. “I kept going back and forth to the hospital saying I couldn't breathe.”
Once in a hospital room, Juana went into cardiac arrest. To save both Juana and her baby, doctors placed her into a medically induced coma and delivered Terrance via C-section at just 26 weeks.
“He was a micro preemie,” Juana says. “He was in the NICU for three months.”
A few weeks after Terrance came home to his mom and older sister, a public health nurse noticed he was behind on some milestones. She recommended Early Supports services from Northwest Center Kids.
“I knew of Northwest Center because I have a cousin who has Downs syndrome and he worked with them,” Juana says. “My aunt completely recommended Northwest Center as well. But I didn't know anything going into this about what occupational therapy was or what Terrance needed.”
The Northwest Center Kids Early Supports (Kids ES) team quickly put her at ease.
“They came to my home,” she says. “We did an initial consultation with Melinda [Bourgette, a family resources coordinator].
Then the occupational therapist and the physical therapist assessed Terrance individually, and he qualified for weekly visits.”
The family-centered, home-based approach worked well for Juana and Terrance.
“They make it very easy,” she says. “There was a speech therapist, a nutritionist and an occupational therapist to make sure he was eating, and a physical therapist for him to learn how to sit up, then stand, and then walk.”
One aspect she liked best was that the team individualized strategies for Terrance “instead of lumping him in a big group,” Juana says. “They just said, “'Okay, we’ll take it step by step, try a couple things to see if he likes it. We’ll see where he's moving forward and nurture that.'”
The team was also able to provide items for the family like a high chair so Terrance, who had spent his first weeks using a feeding tube, could practice sitting and feeding himself; and orthotics to help him walk, decorated with airplanes and fire trucks.
As Terrance progressed, his services changed to work toward the family’s new goals and focus. “He started eating regularly, so we didn't need the occupational therapy anymore,” Juana says. “He started walking and running normally, so we didn’t need the orthotics anymore.”
New Challenges, Steadfast Support
Speech therapy continued, and things were going well. But then COVID-19 brought new challenges for Juana.
“After having the heart attack, my immune system wasn't so great,” she says. “My asthma still wasn't under control. I was worried about catching Coronavirus. Plus I was on this heavy medication that made me gain weight, so I wasn't able to do much.”
To keep families safe, the Early Supports program quickly pivoted to teletherapy. Like most people at the time, Juana had never heard of Zoom, so the team supported her as she navigated the new system, then came up with creative ways to connect in a safe, socially distanced way.
“Our first Zoom meeting had the occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist, and [family resources coordinator] Melinda so we could do our yearly review,” Juana remembers. “They said, ‘If you need anything, just let us know, and we'll be able to drop it off.’”
And they were true to their word.
“I needed help with everything, basically, during the pandemic,” says Juana. “When I needed a stroller, Melinda said, ‘Of course,’ and she brought me the stroller that we use to this day. It was a brand-new stroller! If I needed diapers, she was right there. And then she would bring me extra things. She would say, ‘Hey, I brought some wipes and I brought some masks.’ Toothpaste and toothbrush, diaper cream clothing and shoes for him, so I wouldn't have to go out and get those things.”
Then, in April 2020, a new worry: Terrance, now two-and-a-half years old, had stopped talking and had become more withdrawn. The Kids ES team referred Terrance to Seattle Children’s Hospital for a virtual evaluation. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The first thing the Kids ES team did was make sure Juana was okay. (“They said, ‘How are you feeling? Do you need more support?’” she says.) Then they once again adjusted their services to address Terrance’s new needs.
They reassured Juana: “’Now we know, and now we can move forward,’ they said.”
But the stress began to take its toll.
Once again, her family resources coordinator was there to provide equitable services and support.
“Melinda was like, ‘Let’s pull up those files on Zoom, and we can get them filled out, and I can come over and have you sign them, and then I can send them out for you.’ That was why I was able to register him for SSI and why I was able to register him for school.”
Then Terrance began hurting himself.
“He was scratching himself—his legs, his stomach, his arms,” Juana says. “It was starting to worry me a lot; I didn't want him to use that as some kind of coping mechanism. It was leaving a ton of open wounds and scars.”
Juana was so overwhelmed that when she tried to ask her team for suggestions, she burst into tears.
“It wasn't just over him scratching himself. It was about the pandemic. It was about the Black Lives Matter marches—I have a Black son. I was just so scared of life in general. There were so many things to be worried about at that time, and then him being diagnosed with autism and scratching himself. I just broke down.”
Ready for the Future
Northwest Center Kids Early Supports responded with new strategies and even more support—for both mother and son.
Weighted blankets helped Terrance feel more secure.
Juana set up a daily schedule for Terrance, similar to one he would follow when he starts school, so he’d get used to a new routine. She was skeptical, “But it worked!” she says.
Because Juana liked singing to Terrance, they encouraged her to sing to help calm him. “They suggested all these songs I already know,” Juana says. “I hadn’t even thought of that. That has actually been the most helpful by far.”
The team made sure to check on Juana, too. “Melinda would send me things to my phone like a happy birthday GIF. She would let me know that everybody's thinking about me.”
And, when the holidays approached, Kids ES came through for the family again. When Juana was unable to buy gifts or find other assistance, “I called up Melinda a week and a half before Christmas,” she says. “She literally showed up with a shopping cart full of gifts for both of my kids.”
Today, Terrance is 3 and attends pre-K classes at a school where the staff includes autism specialists. Juana says that moving on from Northwest Center services made her sad, “But they made it a happy sad, you know?” she says.
“I wouldn't have been able to get him to this point without those services. I was so fortunate to have these services, especially during a pandemic. I’m extremely grateful.”
Even more important, “Now I'm confident moving to the next stage,” she says, “and I know that Terrance is more confident in himself. Everything that we've done with Northwest Center, I've been included. And it wasn't even about Terrance having a disability; it was about him as an individual. In the end, they were able to give me tools so I can run the household better and take care of Terrance a lot better, especially with autism.
“I understand that he will be in therapy for a long time,” Juana says, “but it’s just his journey. He's the sweetest, funniest little kid. I just want him to live a happy life.”
Onna captured hearts in 2015 during Northwest Center’s 50th anniversary. With her little pink coat and impish smile, the “Dancing Iron Baby” (a nickname from her parents, inspired by Onna’s joy and strength) was featured on Northwest Center anniversary ad campaigns. Five years later, Northwest Center is celebrating our 55th anniversary year, and Onna is now attending third grade where she is fully included with kids of all abilities, and still “dancing through life,” according to her mom Marija. Here’s what Marija had to say:
Q: Do you still call Onna the Dancing Iron Baby?
A: Oh no, we are not allowed to call Onna a baby any longer! Those are clear orders from the boss herself! She is no baby now and won’t let anyone call her anything other than by her first name. But she still dances through this life with such determination and pride, despite the systemic and structural barriers she experiences on a daily basis.
Q: How has Onna met or surpassed your expectations for her when she was a baby, when she was at NWC Kids, and now?
A: Onna has always been Onna, and that she will continue to be—disabled and fully proud of her disability as part of her identity, culture, and community. And we fully embrace and celebrate everything that she is. The only thing I’d say has changed over the years are my own expectations—not towards her, but towards society.
When you start this journey, you are surrounded by well-intentioned people trying to help “fix” your kid or teach her how to mask her disability and to make her appear as indistinguishable and as “normal” as possible so that she “fits in.” But imagine a life of never being accepted for everything that you are, for your humanity; always having your membership in the society conditional on how well you “fit in,” how much you appear to be “normal.” People with disabilities are valuable and worthy members of our society just as they are.
While there exists a lot of discrimination and barriers for disabled folks, those are the fault of society, not inherent in anyone’s impairments. So, it is not Onna and those like her that need fixing, but it is our society that needs to be fixed and step up to ensure access, inclusion and equitable opportunities in life, and full membership of all individuals.
Every step toward a more inclusive world is a step toward a better world. So yes, we expect and demand this societal change, and we teach Onna that she unapologetically demands her membership in this world.
Q: How have things changed since you had your little boy? What is their relationship like?
A: Onna is a very empathetic child and finds it challenging when others are crying and upset. And we all know how much babies cry! So it took some time for Onna to get used to a baby in the house. But her brother Corbijn is a big boy now and they have a wonderful relationship. They are great support for each other and look out for each other. Occasionally, we may have difficulty in understanding what Onna is communicating to us, but her brother always understands her perfectly.
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.
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
From Heart Surgery to Hospital-to-Home Therapy, Early Supports to Early Learning, Northwest Center Supports Jackson Every Step of the Way
The moment the family walked through their front door, Northwest Center was there to help: the family signed up for Hospital-to-Home, Northwest Center’s Early Supports for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program that supports families when a baby comes home from a long hospital stay.
“Immediately upon leaving the hospital, we started doing motor and feeding therapy with our speech-language pathologist Natalie Miller,” says Jackson’s dad Nathan. (Miller, who is also a Hospital-to-Home Clinical Supervisor, remains Jackson’s therapist to this day.)
“It would have been unbelievably difficult to not have that support,” Kamille says. “It’s so overwhelming to be hooking your child up to a machine to be fed. It was really important to have someone dedicated to infant feeding. Natalie had worked with kids with tubes, she'd done swallow studies before. It was not her first rodeo and it was definitely ours.”
“Without that support, I think we would have clogged up our doctor’s phone lines,” Nathan says. “Or we might have pushed Jackson a little bit too hard on trying oral feeding if we hadn't had experts helping us understand his limitations.”
“Your first year feeding and taking care of a child is vital to their wellbeing for the rest of their life,” Kamille says. “The most important part of our day was getting Jackson fed. Natalie would talk to us, give a second opinion of ‘That’s normal or not normal’ or, ‘Yes, you should talk to a doctor about that’ or, ‘Here’s some referrals and resources; let me connect you with this person that might give you some more guidance.’ It was a support system.”
Part of the Family
Jackson, who turns 3 in November, has since reached some major milestones.
“We’ve been with Early Supports services from the get-go. On top of that, Jackson started going to Northwest Center Kids Early Learning at around 6 months old,” Nathan says. “We knew we couldn’t go to just any daycare because of Jackson’s feeding tube.”
“At Chinook, they support his Early Supports therapy,” Nathan says. “They’ve always really supported any changes we needed to make. They never complained, always asked if there was more they could be doing.”
Still Connected, Still Thriving
The family is grateful for the consistent support from Early Supports and Early Learning, especially their long relationship with their speech-language pathologist.
“I consider Natalie a wonderful resource and a close friend,” says Kamille. “I think of her as somebody who I trust with my child's care. Northwest Center was able to facilitate me having support and Nathan having support, and his grandparents having support, by coming into our homes, and that was key to his success.”
Because of COVID-19, in-home visits are suspended for now, but Jackson continues to expand his vocabulary thanks to weekly telehealth therapy. These days, he is practicing saying words and phrases typical for a two-year-old like "I want juice" and "I love you."
“My hopes for Jackson’s future are just like any other parent,” Kamille says.
“I want him to have a normal childhood with normal ups and downs,” says Nathan.
“I want him to be loved by everyone, because he is absolutely worthy of it, as any child is,” says Kamille. “It’s so important to us that Northwest Center’s work continues—for Jackson to have good care and other kids to have an inclusive place to go.”
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.
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.
At just four months old, Noemie was having trouble getting enough nutrition. Her diagnosis was complex: tongue-tie (ankyloglossia), a condition that restricts the tongue's range of motion; acid reflux; food allergies; and sensory processing disorder.
Noemie’s pediatrician referred her to a special clinic for children who have trouble getting enough nutrition. As the months passed, she saw other specialists in gastroenterology and nutrition, and began outpatient feeding therapy. And yet, Noemie made little progress.
Finally, the pediatrician referred Noemie’s family to Northwest Center Early Supports for Infants and Toddlers’ (ESIT) feeding therapy program, and they began working with occupational therapist Molly Nolan-Jones. The in-home visits were valuable, but after a few months, Nolan-Jones felt that Noemie’s diagnosis was not complete.
"At that point, Molly told us what turned out to be some of the most important words: ‘I feel like something else is wrong; you need to take her back to the gastroenterologist,” says Noemie’s mom Nichole.
“Molly became more than a feeding therapist,” Nichole continues. “She became a family advocate. She spoke with doctors on our family's behalf, and she was instrumental in helping the doctors find a proper diagnosis: eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease.”
Eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease (EGID) makes it painful and difficult to swallow and digest food. Because Noemie’s EGID diagnosis was delayed, she had developed a pediatric feeding disorder. So Nolan-Jones continued to work with the family.
“I provided education about how to present food, how to engage in sensory play throughout her day, sensory approaches to food, and mealtime routines at their home,” says Nolan-Jones.
When Noemie turned 2, Early Supports transitioned her occupational therapy services from her home to the Early Learning classrooms at Northwest Center Kids at Greenwood.
"Noemie, her mom, and I would join the classroom at lunchtime,” says Nolan-Jones. “Our goal was for Noemie to spend time around other kids who were eating and enjoying food. This was motivating for Noemie, and she would eat more food during these meals.”
This past fall, Noemie officially transitioned to Early Learning as a student.
“Words can’t even explain how thankful I am to Molly and everyone at Northwest Center,” Nichole says. “It made a big difference in Noemie’s life and saved her from further complications. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Learn about EGID at Apfed (American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders). Visit Northwest Center Early Supports for Infants and Toddlers to learn more about services for children from birth to age 3.
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.”
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.
Kam grabs a slice of “watermelon” from the play food on his family’s coffee table. He pretends to eat it, then offers some to Ricky, his dad.
It’s more than a happy family moment, says Susannah Major, a Speech Language Pathologist with Northwest Center Kids. “This is huge,” she enthuses. “Pretend play is such a prerequisite for language.”
While to some, top performer may seem like a minor achievement, for many people with disabilities their whole lives have passed without ever being recognized for their contribution.
When a new shift begins, associates clock in and head to “Stand Up,” an area of the warehouse where managers go over daily announcements and celebrate top performers in front of their coworkers. For Mihret, who has worked for just over six months, Stand Up became a goal from day one.
Mihret, born in Ethiopia, is deaf yet does not know American or Universal Sign Language. English is her second language and this makes communication and connection difficult for her. Yet in June 2017, Mihret came into work and saw her name, written in big green letters. Mihret was awarded top performer. Two days later, Mihret achieved her goal yet again. In fact, that day, three out of the four top performer awards were given to associates placed by Northwest Center, all with diagnosed disabilities.
By Richard Solomon, Lead Employment Support Coordinator
Conlan holds up a finger and furrows his brow, focused on the screen in front of him. He’s working as a Problem Solver at Amazon’s Prime Now warehouse (UWA1) in Kirkland, a job he found through Northwest Center Employment Services. The warehouse is a hub for Pacific Northwest fulfillment, with a torrent of inventory that gives him plenty to do.
Stephan knows a thing or two about dancing in the rain. An avid hip-hop dancer, Stephan enjoys every day as a Donations Station Attendant for The Big Blue Truck™, no matter if there are sunny skies or some of our Pacific Northwest mist.
While Stephan is a happy, vital member of The Big Blue Truck™ team, it took some trial and error to find the job where he could excel. A member of the School-to-Work (S2W) program, Stephan was actively preparing himself for employment opportunities before he graduated from high school. It took some job coaching and training, but when Stephan saw the people in the Big Blue Truck™ he knew he wanted to join in.
Northwest Center is the recipient of Value Village’s 50 Year Partnership Award. Since 1967, we have had a long-term partnership with Value Village to collect clothing and household donations with our iconic Big Blue Trucks and blue donation bins. Value Village buys that merchandise to sell in its stores, and the revenue Northwest Center receives funds education and employment programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities in WA State.
Trevor Pacelli grew up in Sammamish, Washington and was diagnosed with a form of autism at age 5. As a child, he published drawings in two children’s magazines and illustrated a children's book at age 15, written by his sister Briana Pacelli, “The Kindergarten Adventures of Amazing Grace." an autism awareness book. At 19, he wrote a book in the "Six-Word Lessons" series to help people with autistic children in their families understand how an autistic person really thinks and feels. He is a graduate of Arizona State University in Film and Media Studies. Trevor recently joined the team at Northwest Center in July 2017.
Trevor shares his journey to gaining employment at NWC and his experience with workforce inclusion.
As an individual on the autism spectrum who has gone through several interviews over the years, I could tell you a lot about my long, endless job search. While confidence wavered on when or if I would find a job in key moments of my life, my jobs across the last five years served to teach me plenty of useful skills, as well as some important wisdom about workforce inclusion.
Written by: Amy & Connor Doran
Edited by: Jennifer Owen
It started as a hobby. Pulling a string, defying gravity with every twist and turn of his body, Connor Doran knows how to fly a kite. He enjoyed gliding his kite through the crisp Washington air, but it wasn’t until 2009 that he thought to share his talents with the rest of the country.
By: Tracee Christie
Writers: Jennifer Owen
Tracee, Senior Area Manager at Integrated Facility Services (IFS), has been with Northwest Center for 15 years and knows what it takes to succeed. From working long hours to personally inspecting with her teams the 1.6 million square feet of property she manages; Tracee knows that hard work and proper management leads to successful teams.
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