Serving a mission: Nonprofit Skils’kin celebrates 51st year finding employment for disabled workers

<p><p>Tony Swisher likes his job at Dick’s Hamburgers. He was hired just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, then laid off until he was hired back in September.</p></p><p><p>“I like the people,” Swisher said. “They’re like family.”</p></p><p><p>Swisher is a client of Skils’kin, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on community inclusion and employment programs for people with disabilities. Swisher said he’s been working with the nonprofit since 2013. “They have helped me get employment,” he said. “They’ve helped me out with a lot of stuff. I really like Skils’kin. They’re really nice people.”</p></p><p><p>The organization, which also has locations in Great Falls, Montana, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, is celebrating its 51st year. The mission is to empower people, enhance opportunities and enrich the community, said Director of Communication Tami Dillon. “We have a lot of different ways to serve the mission.”</p></p><p><p>It’s a process to get someone matched with a job, Dillon said. The job needs to be something the client is interested in and needs to be a good fit for both the employee and the employer. “We don’t believe in placing people,” she said. “We believe in job-matching.”</p></p><p><p>It’s all about meeting the client where they are, Dillon said. “We don’t look at their diagnosis or disability,” she said.</p></p><p><p>Some employers who haven’t had any experience with disabled employees can be reluctant to hire someone with disabilities, Dillon said. “We really work to help them bridge that,” she said.</p></p><p><p>The process can be a bit different for each person, said CEO Brian Behler. “It’s really that person-centered approach,” he said. “One of the realities of people with disabilities is that they’ve often felt unsupported. When they get to working age, that gets exacerbated.”</p></p><p><p>Leona Eubank, director of community services at Skils’kin, said she’s worked with Swisher for a long time. She describes him as an energetic person who wants to do a good job and wants to learn.</p></p><p><!–[photoset id=11628]–></p><p><p>Eubank said Skils’kin doesn’t just help people find work. They teach the client how to dress, how to do a job interview and more. There’s also often a process to determine what work is a good fit.</p></p><p><p>“It depends on the individual,” Dillon said. “Some people have never had a job and don’t know what kinds of jobs are out there. It’s exciting to work with someone and show them what’s out there and what their abilities area. When they realize they can do something and do it well, that’s the best thing ever.”</p></p><p><p>Skils’kin also partners with AbilityOne to provide custodial services, food services and grounds maintenance services to the military and U.S. government agencies. There are currently 125 employees in the federal program. “We are the largest employer of people with disabilities in Spokane County,” Behler said.</p></p><p><p>Locally, that means teams of employees working at Fairchild Air Force Base and at the federal courthouse downtown. “It doesn’t feel like a program,” Behler said. “It feels like employment should be. We don’t lower expectations. A job well done is still well done.”</p></p><p><p>The nonprofit also has a community inclusion program that focuses on social involvement, building relationships and developing a social network.</p></p><p><p>Their job is not only to assist the disabled, it’s to dispel myths about disabled employees, Dillon said. “Nothing is as big or insurmountable as it seems,” she said.</p></p><p><p>Eubank said her favorite part of her work is seeing the looks on clients’ faces when they land a job. “There’s really not any part of it that’s not fun,” she said.</p></p><p><p>Swisher said he’s grateful for everything that Skils’kin has done for him. “If it hadn’t been for them, I probably wouldn’t be employed,” he said. “Leona has always been there for me.”</p></p>