"Every Student has Untapped Potential"

Helping young people untap their potential seems to run in the family.  For more than 60 years, PHC has been training and employing people with disabilities by untapping their potential. In the beginning the Portland Children's Center was begun as a school for children with cognitive disabilities by Olive and Fred Stevens and a handful of other parents. Their hard work laid the foundation for PHC  which currently employs more than 500 people with disabilities. The Steven's legacy is also carried on by their grandaughter, Lisa Cochrum, who has been a high school teacher in Saratoga, Calif. for 22 years.

Above is a Ted Talk produced by her students, "Every Student has Untapped Potential." In it Lisa shares some of the early history of PHC.

Kindness of a stranger still inspires PDX worker

Her story could be a documentary drawn from the last days of the Vietnam War. Yet, today Liem Tran's life shines with that rare glow of kindness, once kindled by a single compassionate act of a stranger.

On a cold Chicago evening on December 16, 1995, a young Vietnamese woman, and her two-year-old son waited overnight in the airport for their connecting flight to Portland the next day. A pilot heading to his boarding gate the following morning noticed her and then realized he’d seen her there the night before. He paused, wondering why she was still there.  Immediately, he realized her plight. She must be hungry, perhaps lost or confused in a large, foreign airport. What he did next changed her life forever and today still impacts PDX passengers who may be lost or confused in the country’s best airport.

Recently Liem, who is a PHC janitor at PDX, was recently honored with the airport’s customer service award for her exceptional kindness to passengers. Previously she was named Customer Service Champion for the 1st quarter of 2013 and Customer Service Super Star for 2012.

“She offers a unique compassion to any non-English speaking PDX passenger,” an airline agent said when nominating her for the award.

Liem, who was that Vietnamese girl in the Chicago airport 20 years ago, is paying forward the kindness she received from that pilot when she, and her son, Thanh, were hungry, penniless and unable to speak English. That kindness helped blot out a lifetime of misery and is as vivid in her memory today as if it had just happened.

“Oh, No!” she recalled the pilot saying when he realized she’d been there from the previous night.

“Hungry?” he asked her, attempting to speak to her in English. She shook her head.  She didn’t understand.

He asked again using an impromptu sign language, motioning to his mouth and rubbing his stomach.  She understood and nodded, eagerly.

“I was just starving,” she said, remembering.

“He took me to a coffee shop and bought sandwiches for my son and me.  I was so grateful and I’ve always wanted to thank him for that kindness,” she said.

Later, she boarded her connecting flight and arrived in Portland to the warm welcome of a friendly former neighbor from Vietnam.  But, she never forgot that pilot.  After settling in Portland, she studied for her citizenship exam and began to assemble a new life. 

A few years later, Liem began working for PHC, and 13 years ago was assigned to PDX where Thair Khan, her supervisor then and now, had just begun as project manager.

“Liem is a very good all-around worker. She goes above and beyond the requirements of the job,” Thair said, smiling proudly. 

“Liem now spends every day attempting to make a difference in a lucky traveler’s day.  She is proactive, friendly and knowledgeable. But even more important, she is compassionate and helpful and always has a smile on her face,” the airline agent said, noting that her exceptional customer service skills have not gone unnoticed by fellow PDX employees.

Liem remembers what it felt like to not speak the language or read the signs and feel lost in a large metropolitan airport. Her job at PDX has given her the opportunity to give back for that pilot’s single act of kindness.  Her life has been touched by his generosity and has unfolded in unimaginable ways, which includes doing a great job for PHC.

“I have a family now with two more children and a house, and my car is paid off,” she said, expressing her gratitude to PHC for the opportunity to work in a place that holds so much meaning for her.

“Whenever I see someone looking confused, I always help them.  I help direct them if they seem lost,” she said, adding wistfully, “It’s me from before – dazed, worried, sad.”

“I put myself in their shoes.  I can imagine.  I speak a few words in Spanish and if they’re Vietnamese I speak to them and they are happy that someone can speak Vietnamese.”

And, while her new life is bright with a meaningful job and a thriving family, darker memories still drive her private mission to help other world travelers who may not speak English, feel lost or are sad. She has never forgotten the hard times before that day in Chicago and expresses her gratitude for her new life each time she helps a weary traveler.

When Liem was only a month old, she was placed in a foster home by her Vietnamese mother living in An Khe, Vietnam. Her parents had been together for more than four years and had children together. But it was wartime, which apparently bends the usual rules between loving couples.

Liem’s American father was in the Army’s First Calvary 545 Military Police unit which had initially been stationed in An Khe in 1965 where he met Liem’s mother.  By 1971, the war was wrapping up and his unit was transferred back to Fort Hood, Texas, just a few months before Liem’s birth.  Unfortunately for Liem, her brother, her mother, and for many thousands of children born to Vietnamese women and American servicemen, the military would not allow servicemen to bring their Vietnamese wives and children back to the U.S. The servicemen were often unable to locate them even long after they’d been discharged, if at all. Liem, who knows her father’s name, has always hoped to find him.

When she was 15, she met her natural mother, who she describes as “a nice lady who was always buying her things and giving her candy.”  Her mother died in 2012. She also met her older brother, who the townspeople told her looks just like her father.  Today, her brother, who was born in 1968, is 6 feet 2 inches tall and lives in Louisiana. 

 Liem’s rough start in life worsened as her adopting parents began having their own children. At first they were kind, but gradually they became unloving. In Vietnamese society then, mixed children, those born to Vietnamese women and American servicemen were unwelcome.  It would be many years before the U.S. government would institute legislation protecting them as American citizens, but by then the children were adults often with children of their own and had taken the hard road to becoming citizens and finding a place in their fathers’ country.

Irish Moss: grand opening

In partnership with Home First Development, PHC Northwest has developed another affordable housing complex without sacrificing aesthetics, safety or space. The new Irish Moss, at 14050 E. Burnside St., Portland, is a 27-unit complex, with large and roomy three-bedroom apartments of more than 1,000 square feet.

The grand opening of Irish Moss will be from 8:30 – 10 am, Friday, December 19 in its community center, 14050 E. Burnside St., Portland.

Charlie Hales, Portland mayor, and Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County chair, will be on hand to address the significance of Irish Moss in their respective efforts to remediate Portland’s affordable housing shortage.

All are welcome to the grand opening. Light refreshments will be available. Please R.S.V.P. to Victoria Kearns, public relations coordinator, at 503-261-1266, ext. 187 or email vkearns@phcnw.com

Ask Demiko

Demiko Cherry, PHCNW Recruitment Specialist

"Time is Valuable"

Whenever you apply for a job always remember the time of a recruiter or hiring manager is his or her greatest commodity.  It is imperative you write your resume in a manner that leaves no room for interpretation.

When you apply for a job, make sure to match up your skills and experience with the job description. You need to read the job description carefully and take the time to list all of  your skills and experience that match it.  You would be wise to think of your resume as a sculpture you are carefully constructing to display a masterful representation of your professional self.

Demiko's e-mail is: dcherry@phcnw.com

Interviewing 101: The Interviewer Is Always Right

By: Demiko Cherry

Interviewing is always challenging, but it becomes a conundrum when the person your are interviewing with has a different viewpoint than yourself. As much as you would like to express your point of view, the interview is not the place to do so. Here are some quick tips to help guide you through the interview and to remind you what's important:

1. Interviews are designed for candidates to share their experience, showcase their talents, and sell themselves. Candidates interested in a position should always concentrate on how they can best describe their skills and convince the interviewer why they are the best selection.

2. An interview is not the place to express your personal opinion or to take a political platform. If the interview does ask your opinion on a controversial matter, one should find the positives about that subject matter and expound on those aspects and then IMMEDIATELY vacate the conversation.

3. It’s your job not to get trapped into discussing anything that creates animosity in an interview. One common trap interviewees often find themselves trapped in is the pay discussion. If you have to talk about pay, try to do it closer to the negotiation stage. The interview really is not the place for that discussion unless the interviewer opens that door. You may discuss pay at that point carefully. If the amount of the position is already posted, and you wish to ask for more than that amount, make sure you are at the stage where you actually being seriously considered for the job. Ultimately, it’s important that pay is not the foremost concern.

4. Again, the interview is really just a discovery process for all parties. It’s not a forum for haggling over money, politics, or any other sensitive topic.

There you go! Some quick, snackable tips for you to try at your next interview. Good luck and remember - stay upbeat and positive!

Jeremy Barber, a PHC Employee, has been recognized by the Port of Portland PDX International Airport!

On Tuesday, a small crowd gathered at the Port of Portland PDX International Airport for a luncheon. This wasn't an ordinary luncheon however. It was also a chance to celebrate and award several people who work at the airport that have provided exceptional customer service over the last quarter. Honored with an award called the "PDX Make the Connection Champion" was one of PHC's own employees - Jeremy Barber. He was nominated for the award by one airport traveler who accidentally left his wallet in a men's restroom. The lucky traveler recounts what happened and the reason for Jeremy's nomination:

“One Sunday in April, I was traveling through PDX with three family members, plus my five-month-old grandson, when I stopped to use the restroom in bag claim. I washed my hands and took a couple of items out of my brief case in preparation to check in and exited the restroom to join the rest of my family. Within a couple of minutes, I realized I did not have my wallet, which contained a fair amount of cash and the rest of my day-to-day world! I hurried back down to the restroom to find a janitorial cart parked nearby, but no worker, and no wallet. Luckily, a Port Police Officer was passing by, so I stopped him and explained the situation. Using his radio, I heard him make an inquiry and a voice came back, “Ralph Graham?” WOW! In a minute my wallet - with everything included - was handed to me! I am forever grateful to Jeremy Barber, who found my wallet and did a very, very honest and right thing by turning it in! Please pass along my compliments to Jeremy, who really made this husband, father and granddad a very blessed person that Sunday evening.”

Congratulations to Jeremy for your well-deserved award!

The Connecting Communities Coalition’s Leadership Academy kicks off first class with inspiring talks by Mari Watanabe and Yvonne Chang

The Portland Alliance building on 200 SW Market Street was mostly deserted, with only a few employees of the various businesses locking up or heading out of the building. While most were headed out for the day, though, one of the conference rooms remained open. Slowly, students of the Connecting Communities Coalition’s new education program began to arrive. Sitting down in twos and threes at various tables, the students greet each other, talking excitedly about what they would learn in just a few minutes at the inaugural class of the Leadership Academy.

Officially kicked off on Tuesday, August 6th, the first class was led by two inspiring guest speakers – Mari Watanabe of the Portland Business Alliance and Yvonne Chang of Yvonne Chang Consulting. Speaking on the steps that each took to become a leader, as well as the challenges that they had to overcome to hone their leadership skills, each intertwined their experiences together to create an effective and powerful lecture for the fourteen students in attendance.

Upon completion of the lecture, the students were separated into groups and tasked with listing the stereotypes of people with disabilities, as well as stereotypes of leaders. The students came up with several examples for each, including that people with disabilities are viewed as slow and unable to be productive and that leaders must make tough calls. The lists were used as a jumping off point for a discussion on the best approaches to leadership and understanding community needs.

“I’m very excited to be here,” Says Samantha Richards, a student of the Leadership Academy, “I want to learn how to become better connected with my community.”

Next week’s class will feature a discussion on conflict resolution and communication. With guest speakers Bob Speltz and Jennifer Soulagnet from the Standard and Christina Albo from NW Resolutions, the class is expected to be an informative and invigorating class session. It will take place on August 13, 2013 from 6 – 8 pm at the Portland Alliance building.

PHC Helps to Clean up the City Hall Sidewalk!

The warnings that Portland City Mayor, Charlie Hales, has been giving out in regards to cleaning up and uprooting the homeless that are camping on the sidewalk outside of City Hall have come to pass. Last Tuesday at 8 am, Portland police began rousing campers and telling them that they would have to leave the City Hall sidewalk and move elsewhere.

To encourage the campers to move, the City of Portland commissioned us at PHC to pressure wash the blocks. Two of our Building Maintenance Trainees (Kevin Douglass and James Richardson), one of our Building Maintenance Trainers (David Morrison), and one of our Maintenance Supervisors (Tony Monroe) worked to wash the pavement. All eyes were on them as they worked to clean the path, and they were featured in The Oregonian’s photo essay on their website as well as in news clips on KATU, KGW, The Associated Press, and KOIN 6.

Look for a new blog post next week that features an interview from one of our staff members who was snapped in a photo by Benjamin Brink.

Ask Demiko: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying for a Job

By: Demiko Cherry

So many people apply for jobs they do not want but they think they need. When you’re looking for a job be sure that you ask yourself these key questions:

  • Is this something I have a passion for?
    • If you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing, why do it? Most likely you won’t be producing your best work, nor will you be able to learn from the work that you do. Find your passion, and let that steer you in the right direction instead.
  • Could I see myself doing this all day long?
    • If you can’t, then it isn’t the right job for you. Instead, look for a job that better aligns with your interest. You’ll be much happier and passionate about the work that you’re doing.
  • Is this something that I would get tired of?
    • Working long and flexible hours is difficult to do, and the time doesn’t go any faster if you’re tired of what you’re doing the minute you walk in the door. If you answered yes to this question, then most likely the job you’re thinking of applying for isn’t the right fit.
  • Is this a position that I can grow in?
    • This is probably the most important question that needs to be answered. Your career is a series of stepping stones, and if you’re not going to be growing in the position that you’re applying for, then you can’t get to where you want to go.

The reason that these questions are so important is so that you don’t get stuck doing something that you can’t or won’t do well. So many people today apply for jobs in desperation which can make the difference between whether or not you apply for a job you want or apply for a job that you need.

Proposed Senate Bill 805 Struck Down!

This year’s legislative session has come to a close, and there were a few controversial bills that were introduced and discussed just before the legislature adjourned. One such bill was Senate Bill 805, which was sent back to the Senate Rules Committee to be amended, and never made it to the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 805 stated that contracting agencies will be required to perform cost analyses in regards to services like busing, landscaping, and janitorial. The contracting agency would look at wages and benefits and if the cost analysis shows that it is less expensive to conduct the service in-house, then government agencies would have been forced to provide that service in-house. The law would have prohibited contracts in which the only difference between the in-house cost analysis and the private company cost analysis was the cost of wages and benefits.

PHC Northwest believes that this bill attacked service providers and state programs that work to support competitive employment for people with disabilities in the public sector. “This bill has such social impact on people with disabilities as it puts this underserved population once again at a disadvantage in competing for jobs in the real world.” says John Murphy, President & CEO at PHC Northwest. Those who desire to live independently and seek out QRF’s and nonprofits in order to accomplish this goal will find their path barred by this bill. The State of Oregon’s Qualified Rehabilitation Facilities (QRF) Program supports competitive employment through contracting opportunities in the public sector.

An Oregonian article was published recently that highlighted the effect that this bill would have had for government agencies, including schools that wanted to contract out. “If your mission is to educate kids, you should dedicate as much money as you can to that core mission, which means saving as much as possible on ancillary services.” says Oregonian staff member Erik Lukens in the comments of the article. This bill would remove those savings by forcing schools to pay government employees instead of giving these busing, landscaping, janitorial, and other ancillary jobs to people who rely on contract work as means of employment.

While this article did not focus on people with disabilities, the arguments brought forth by the Oregonian Editorial Board are even more clear and compelling with the disproportionate effect on people with disabilities, as the relationship between government agencies and schools is symbiotic. Each group has a mission to serve, and this bill would have effectively hindered both missions.

“SB 805 surreptitiously affects people with disabilities by cutting off an avenue for scarce jobs that could offer them living wages and benefits. Having these jobs breaks the reliance on tax-payers dollars in the form of government subsidy.” Says Therese Mclain, head of contracts and communication at PHC Northwest.

We are happy to announce that the bill was not put to the senate floor last week for discussion. This is because several groups, including PHC, rallied together to express our outrage. The opposition of the bill was brought to the attention of Senator Laurie Monnes-Anderson. This is a great success for the QRF program and nonprofits that help people with disabilities, and we hope that there will not be a similar bill created in the next legislative session.

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About Our Blog

Whether you're a person with a disability looking for a job or paid training or an employer looking to add to your workforce, you've come to the right place. PHC Northwest is here for you. Check back often for helpful hints for job hunters, and the latest in disability employment. For information on paid training in janitorial and / or building maintenance, contact Tom Reed, PHC Recruiter, at 503-261-1266, or email us at careers@phcnw.com.