Walking through the warehouse in north Kent, you see work tables set up with smiling workers at each station. Some are counting creamer containers into small bags for a catering company. Others are fulfilling orders of STEM boxes for kids. All are happy to be at work earning a paycheck and gaining work skills and experience. This is SKCAC Industries and Employment Services, a company that helps people with developmental disabilities get work experience and ultimately, jobs out in the community.
Fifty years ago, parents of adult children with developmental disabilities, after fighting hard to get them included in the public school system, realized there was no where for the kids to go once they graduated. A group of parents, educators and businesses came together in 1967 to start a not-for-profit corporation with the goal of helping people with disabilities become an integrated part of our society, calling it South King County Activity Center, now known as SKCAC.
SKCAC has changed and grown in how it delivers on its mission over the years. Government money started to dwindle in the ‘80’s, so they made the transition from a social service organization into a manufacturing based business. Their first contract was with NW Airlines to clean and re-tip headsets for the pilots. This job lasted over 25 years.
By the ‘90’s, they had built and owned their current 33,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Kent. In the 2000s, SKCAC successfully instituted new programs for providing employment services for people with disabilities and finding individual employment in the community.
Debbie Meyers was asked to become the new Executive Director in May of 2011. At this time the business name was changed to SKCAC Industries and Employment Services to better reflect the full range of services provided. Today, governed by a volunteer board of trustees. SKCAC provides training, employment, job seeking and placement opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Their next change is turning the production area into a training program and ramping up placing participants out in the community.
SKCAC’s main mission is: “Empowering people with developmental disabilities through gainful employment opportunities.”
For many, SKCAC provides the opportunity to participate in productive work, earn wages, increase self-esteem and gain independence. Their production operation provides employees with the opportunity of coming to work each day to learn packaging and assembly skills and gain work experience. Some examples of the jobs they do are making the seed sticks for the Woodland Park Zoo (using glue that won’t hurt the birds), cutting bubble-wrap to length and packaging it for their longest running customer, Pioneer Packaging, and assembling boxes that a machine just can’t put together.
Their community-based employment services assist the job seekers to explore opportunities, find and keep jobs as productive members of our community. They also have a community access program which gives participants the opportunity to join in on retirement activities.
About 80 program participants from throughout the South King County area, work in house either full or part time, and about 55 participants have been placed in jobs in the community. The great part of their program is the employers do not have to pay any fees, just the person’s wages, and SKCAC sends out people to support the participants. They specialize in customized jobs, bringing just the right person to do jobs employers would rather not have to have their other employees stop to do, like breaking down boxes, scanning documents, or wrapping silverware for table settings.
Meyers has been with SKCAC for over 35 years. She has instilled in her staff that you have to be passionate about this job to do well at it. You also need persistence to get a yes from businesses because you hear a lot of nos. The most challenging part of her job is getting their story out and getting employers to see that employing people with disabilities is not cumbersome, and SKCAC provides any support needed.
At this time, they are working with about 150 businesses between the production and employment services divisions. Some of the businesses in Kent that are taking advantage of this program are: Duke’s Chowder House, Panther Lake Safeway, City of Kent, Kent Library (volunteer position), Applebee’s, Arbor Village, Advanced Billing System, Kent Fred Meyer, Mitzel’s, Goodwill Outlet, Children’s Therapy Center, and Transdev.
Meyers said they have a lot of support in Kent, from the Mayor, the police, to the firefighters, City Council and state legislators. Her favorite part of the job is the people. They are really passionate about elevating people with disabilities to be included in the community.
“You have to do it one person at a time,” Meyers said, a Kent resident herself. “Right where you live, work and play.”