Island Businesses

AtWork! – Part Three: A Manager’s Perspective

By Aly Norling

Last September, Anthony started working at Little Bird Gardens with help from AtWork!, a supported employment nonprofit organization that works throughout the state of Washington to match people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with good jobs in their communities.

Susan, Anthony’s supervisor, answered a few questions about supported employment from her perspective. She watered a flat of “Pink Pixie” catmint before we sat down to begin.

A: Susan, what jobs is Anthony assigned at Little Bird Gardens?

S: Anthony is assigned the jobs that we assign all our part-time employees. Emptying the compost, tidying plants, shifting old plants to back-stock or the greenhouse, sweeping tables, pruning back plants seasonally, helping to water …

A: How is it different to supervise a person with a disability?

S: Delegating tasks is essentially the same as delegating tasks to any part-time employee. Communication about those tasks can always be hard. Just leaving space for things not to be done to a certain expectation all the time. Delegating more time to a task so that Anthony can feel successful without feeling pressured. Anthony is really learning and becoming more independent. Even things like his muscle movements from the time he started to now – he navigates the uneven terrain with more confidence than he did before.

A: Totally! Just today he went down a hill to get the bulbs planted in and I was thinking …

S: Right!

A: … that’s a big step forward from when he first started.

S: What’s important to me as a supervisor is that it meets what he needs out of employment, not just what I need out of an employee.

A: Why do you think it’s important to have supported employment in our community?

S: Everyone deserves the opportunity to work and be successful. To feel important and needed and a valuable part of the community. Without supported employment, people sit at home feeling sad and depressed. I want work in the community to be less about efficiency and more about relationship. More about meeting people where they’re at and giving everyone a place.

A: What has been Anthony’s greatest success while working at Little Bird Gardens?

S: Seeing all the bulbs he planted bloom and people purchase – that was such a win! That was awesome, that was like –

A: You can see it!

S: – A visual reward. But my most exciting success for him is that I was able last week to send him on a task and have that task completed without me or his job coach. That was such a big win. For me and for him. Because that means he’s gaining skills, gaining independence. That independence, the way his self-esteem is increasing – that is such a big win.

A: Is there a lot of laughter that happens at work at Little Bird Gardens?

S: Yes. Yes, yes. Anthony has a great sense of humor and I love it to be fun.

A: Susan, is there anything else you want to say to the Vashon community about supported employment?

S: If you can do it … do it! Include somebody. Change the way you think about your employees and what they mean to our community. What they mean to your business. Make space.

For more information about AtWork! and how to begin services, visit or call (425) 274-4000. For Island businesses wishing to discuss partnerships with AtWork!, contact Aly at

June 6, 2023

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