We met with Northwest Center last week in an unusual setting. Instead of meeting at their offices, we met in a coffee shop. Believing it more convenient for both ourselves and our contact. He resides on the Eastside of Seattle, as do we. So, the spot would be a coffee shop in Kirkland. We arrived ahead of schedule, seemingly in our habitual mode. Finding an overcrowded coffee shop. Having never been to the café, we looked around to find an open table hiding somewhere out of plain site. We weren’t surprised to find the absent of any hidden table. The entire experience was out in front of anyone walking through the door. We waited for a few moments, feeling that a decision wasn’t required until the arrival of our host. As we stood in the entry with mild uncertainty, a table opened in the corner. It would be a good spot to meet with Northwest Center. Another chair would be required, which wasn’t challenging to find. The chairs were arranged in something that would seem to function well. Small talk consumed the conversation, while waiting patiently. We spotted a tall gentleman walking along the sidewalk, dressed in a sport coat, and guessed it was our meeting. The connection with Northwest Center would begin.
He walked through the door and we all made eye contact. Knowing smiles of greeting seeped over our faces. We rose for greeting, shaking hands and placing faces with the names. It has always been interesting to me, the smoothness of these introductions. Meeting someone you have never seen in the middle of a crowded coffee shop. Somehow, we know almost instantaneously, when we find the people we’re searching for. The gentleman set his notebook on the low table, as small talk continues. With the holidays upon us, we all spoke of family. Another way of getting to know someone before entering into a meeting. Making our way from the table to the counter, we placed our coffee orders. It didn’t take long for each of us to be set up with some caffeine. Placing a lid on my Mocha and grabbing a straw went on without trouble. We made our way back to the table. The seats were cushioned and positioned low to the ground. The table followed suit, seated not high off the ground. There was momentary concern over my ability to function at the unique height of the table. But, after sitting to open the binder, it felt relatively comfortable. We all took a sip of coffee, which turned out to be surprisingly delightful and away we went.
The first couple things we learned about Northwest Center was their Early Intervention and Early Learning programs. The Early Intervention program was similar to other EI programs we have learned of during our process. Each program seems to be centered around a specific geographical area. Northwest Center, like the other organizations we have visited, does work with children within their natural learning environment. This could be in the home, at a child care facility, or anywhere the child spends the majority of their time. The families are also involved in the Early Intervention program. Providing them the ability to continue working with their child after the therapy session has concluded. Each of the organizations providing Early Intervention have some unique qualities. Each involving the families from what seems to be their own perspectives. Northwest Center has family meetup and playgroups for families and children to interact. These programs can bring about the sense of community in these Early Intervention programs. Helping create positive and supportive atmospheres in the beginning stages of life. After spending, much of our meetings with organizations learning about Early Intervention, my ears perked when we moved on to talking about Early Learning.
While learning about the journey of growing with cerebral palsy, the Early Learning piece has been fascinating. Early on in our visits with organizations we learned of the step following Early Intervention. Which seems to entail some type of Preschool or Early Learning environment. Something we didn’t plan on encountering was the expulsion rate from Preschool. I recall us learning of this fact, looking at one another, and looking back at our hosts during that meeting, saying, hold on…you can get expelled from Preschool?” It brought about an interesting realization, as they informed us, kids with special needs, who can’t be “handled” are at risk of being expelled. But, some of these organizations go about finding solutions for these situations. Northwest Center has been one of those organizations. They have two Early Learning centers in Seattle. One in the Greenwood and another in the Chinook areas of Seattle. The schools serve kids from birth to five years. An interesting aspect to learn of these Early Learning schools was the integration model they follow. The classrooms are built to have 40% of kids with special needs and 60% of kids typically developing. Listening to information on the structure was exciting, as it supports the concept of inclusion from such an early age. It seems to be working as well, with the knowledge of their long wait list for these Early Learning schools.
The conversation moved from Early Learning into a discussion around employment. Employment for adults with special needs has been an interest. Coming out of college it was challenging to find employment. Often leaving me wondering if cerebral palsy had anything to do with the circumstances. Thought my disability probably wasn’t the main factor for being turned away, it would have seemed to play some role. The situation leaves me curious about how to bridge the gap between school and work for people with special needs. Northwest Center has found programs to help ease this transition. Their goal to begin working with kids in high school. Helping them develop skills and identify a path toward meaningful employment following school. The organization itself has six businesses spanning the state of Washington. A couple of those businesses pointed out during our meeting were a laundry service in the Tacoma area. The laundry service serves large hotels and hospitals in the Puget Sound area. Another business we discussed was their janitorial service in Spokane. These are just two of the six we talked about in our meeting. Northwest Center operates their businesses with an inclusive environment like their Early Learning schools. With a percentage of special needs adults working alongside typically developing adults. Believing businesses win with inclusion.
As our meeting with Northwest Center concluded, we all shook hands again in farewell. Our host walked out of the coffee shop. Down the sidewalk from which he arrived. We gathered our things from the table, walking out into the wet Kirkland afternoon. The meeting had been productive. Learning many things about Northwest Center, making them a unique organization. The first organization to this point providing assistance for any age of a special needs child. Taking them through Early Intervention and Early Learning. Then, on to helping special needs in high schools. Making certain they are prepared for life after finishing school. Their businesses continue to practice the things they hope. Creating communities of inclusion, where people with special needs work alongside adults who are typically developing. It was another positive meeting with an organization committed to assisting people with special needs. Northwest Center works with people of all abilities. We appreciate their President & CEO Gene Boss for taking the time to meet and we look forward to a continued partnership. For more information about Northwest Center please visit their website: nwcenter.org