In early spring, Northwest Center received a letter. It started like this:
I am writing to convey my deepest admiration and appreciation for the expertise, commitment and excellence of Charly Walters, Employment Consultant, Spokane Northwest Center. Your organization could not be represented by a more professionally outstanding individual. I first met Charly when I interviewed her for the 2014 annual report for Spokane Country Regional Support Network (RSN), the public mental health administrator for Spokane. Charly’s participation in a collaborative initiative between Spokane Public Schools and the RSN to facilitate employment for high school students with acute and chronic mental illness was selected as a Highlight of Excellence for the RSN’s report. It was abundantly obvious…that the pioneering success of this initiative was due in large part to the vision, mentoring, enthusiasm and expertise of Charly Walters…. So, I thought, if Charly can accomplish employment success for this challenging population, perhaps she could assist my unemployed adult son, Spencer, who has Down syndrome. That was a mere two months ago, and this Saturday, after not being able to secure independent employment since 2007, Spencer will start his new job at Wendy’s.
The letter was written by Susan Hammond, whose adult son, Spencer, had been through what she called a “long, depressing and frustrating journey” trying to find work. Spencer, whose fraternal twin is typically abled, “benefitted from a fully inclusive education and also having a same-age peer,” Hammond says. “As a result, for his disability, he’s really high functioning. He owns his own condominium, he makes the mortgage, he lives independently.”
But when the economy went south in 2008, Spencer, along with many coworkers, was laid off from the store where he worked.
“Spencer had a long period of unemployment,” Hammond says. “We went through three different agencies and nothing came out of it at all. I think it was very lackluster, just meeting minimum state requirements,” she says. “Nothing was changing. I really despaired that he would find competitive employment again.”
When Hammond spoke with Walters at Northwest Center, something clicked. “I called her back and said, ‘This has actually nothing to do with RFN or the annual report. I am wondering if you are willing to take my son.’ She and Spencer met within a week, and in three he had a job—his DREAM job,” Hammond says.
Spencer is now a host at a local Wendy’s. “Charly went right in there like, ‘Oh, Spencer, you have a job,’” Spencer recalls. He was so happy to be hired, he wore his new uniform to a family dinner. Now Walters also supports him in his job doing maintenance for his condominium building.
“At Wendy’s I am a lobby attendant,” he says. “I sweep, I clean tables and clean trays. And do what they ask me to do. I greet the customers and say, ‘Hi, welcome to Wendy’s.’ Sometimes I’m restocking the forks and spoons and knives and stuff like that in the compartments they go in.”
One perks of the job that Spencer enjoys is his employee discount, he says. “The food! I love the French fries.”
Spencer recently turned 29, and Walters was one of the guests at his birthday party. “Charly is really wonderful,” Spencer says. “My mom likes her a lot and I do too.” “She makes both Spencer and I feel like she has no other clients,” says Hammond. “She’s got such exceptional relationship skills, because what she has to be with a potential employer is a salesperson, to sell the idea of it not being a good thing to do [to hire people with disabilities] but a good business practice. She’s clearly passionate about what she is doing.”
As for Walters, she’s slightly embarrassed by the high praise. But she is pleased by Spencer’s success. As Hammond wrote, “Charly’s work with Spencer has transformed the quality of his life. Spencer will now have an adequate income to cover his living expenses, and more importantly, the structure and purpose that employment brings to everyone’s life.”
Spencer plans to keep “having fun, being a homeowner,” he says. “I can do what I want pretty much. And be independent.”
His self-esteem is evident even in the outgoing message he recorded for his phone: “Hi, this is Spencer. I’m 29 years old and most likely to be awesome for the rest of my life.”
When asked why he mentioned being awesome on his phone greeting, Spencer’s answer is obvious: “Because I am.”
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.