At 7 a.m. while sleepy West Seattleites enjoy their weekend reprieve, Chris is packing his lunch for the full day ahead of him. The newest addition to the West Seattle “Big Blue Truck” donation station team, Chris sees his work as a way to give back to his community. For his job coach and colleagues, he is the embodiment of what Northwest Center stands for – inclusion for people of all abilities. It was less than six months ago when Chris first came to the South Park based non-profit to work with a job coach on developing the skills he would need to apply for his first job.
One of the nearly 300 adults served each year by the center’s employment services team, Chris has since become a daily reminder of the importance of the center’s work – coming full circle by joining on as a member of their team. “I help the people with disabilities now,” Chris says. “Plus I feel like I’m contributing to society. But mostly I just like helping people.” Each Saturday and Sunday, from noon until closing, Chris works alongside his fellow donation attendant, collecting clothing and household donations and loading them into the truck. “There is always a lot going on at my job and sometimes the job coaches and the driver still have to help me with that.”
Chris aspires to be a Christian rap artist and actor, he says his job as a donation station attendant is just as great because it is his first step into the working world. “He’s still working on learning the ethics and guidelines for being a working professional,” says Chris’s job coach Aneta Kalicka. “This job in particular has given him a great opportunity to improve his social skills in a working environment.” Known among his coworkers for his bubbly nature, excitement and chatty personality, Chris says his job has given him a chance to learn the difference between talking to friends and talking to customers. “I have to remember to let the customer answer me after I ask them how they are doing. Sometimes I get too excited to ask them another question first, so I’m working on that.”
Last year, Chris applied to work at a local animal shelter to help dogs and cats – another passion of his. Though he wasn’t brought on as a volunteer, Chris hopes his work as a station attendant will give him the skills he needs so that he can apply again. “They wanted me to have some experience and work on my customer skills,” Chris says. “This job is great because sometimes customers bring their dogs with them and if they are friendly I pet them. It lets me practice working with people and animals.”
If you drive up to Northwest Center’s donation station in Mukilteo, the firstface you see will likely be Walter’s. He greets donors at their cars with a big smile and a hello, and then asks how he can help them. That type of warm, personal service makes people feel appreciated, and it keeps them coming back—sometimes just to say hi!
Walter is a Northwest Center client, and he’s been at this job for almost two years. During his 20-hour work week, he accepts donations of clothing and household goods, gives customers tax receipts, separates the donations, boxes them up and puts them on our big blue trucks for delivery to Value Village. It’s a busy job, which is perfect for Walter’s energy level. “I don’t like to sit around, and this job gets me out of the house and gives me something to do,” he says. And when he does head home, Walter enjoys having some cash in his pocket—which he often uses to buy kites and bird feeders.
Northwest Center uses the revenue from clothing donations to fund its programs for people with disabilities, and it’s a win-win when we can employ our clients as well!