Dignified WorkDay


The ability for Andy to identify needs and develop innovative solutions is exactly why we hired him. Our program work is critical in serving communities, and you are making a difference every day. I also know there are times when you encounter limitations in what you can do because of programmatic constraints. What Andy brings to us is the opportunity to ask, “How might we create pathways for people who may not fit into traditional workforce development programs?” and then build out new options.

A perfect example of this is our new Dignified WorkDay program. Andy saw a pressing need in our community and worked with partners to rapidly develop a solution. I encourage you to read the full article to learn about the genesis of this exciting program and how it is already having an impact in just a few short months. While still in its early stages, Dignified WorkDay shines as a beacon of hope for what is possible when we challenge ourselves to look beyond conventional approaches. This is exactly the kind of innovation that will help us live up to our vision of breaking the spirit of poverty through the dignity of work.


Seeds are Planted

It is regrettably one of the most common experiences of everyday life in America, as we drive or walk the streets of our otherwise beautiful communities. At least once, if not dozens of times each day, we inevitably encounter or rather avoid encounters with fellow humans standing on the street corner in a state of distress, or holding a sign asking: “please, anything helps…”

Year over year when returning home from work overseas, I saw snapshots in time of a worsening epidemic of suffering in plain sight happening together with narratives of a booming US economy. Our entire society, it seemed, was like a boiling pot of frogs, slowly killing off the weakest of us as it warmed.

I joined Career Path Services in 2019, with a wish to do something, to play whatever role I could to confront this crisis – to turn down the heat and give those suffering a reprieve and a way forward. Our vision of breaking the spirit of poverty through the dignity of work perfectly represented the “how” that aligned with my aspiration.

Years of service in other countries taught me that the most valuable and durable investments we can make are directly in individuals. By empowering people with knowledge, skills and connection to opportunities, they can lift up and transform their lives. And if we can only do this on a large enough scale, we can greatly enhance our workforce, and transform the communities we serve as well.

And yet, once I settled into my role, I realized that while our team does amazing work to help lift up thousands of individuals and families each year, our programs parameters offer few solutions to the people with the signs on the street corners. These individuals had fallen off track for a variety of reasons and are often caught in a precipitous downward spiral and are no longer part of the “counted workforce”.

Homelessness is dehumanizing, and much of our society truly treats the unhoused as less than human. We are so alienated from one another, the housed and unhoused, there are few spaces for us to engage together to maintain recognition of our common humanity; and debate around what to do, how to help (or should we even help?) is so charged, politically and otherwise. It feels at once hopeless (nothing that can be done) and dangerous (don’t do the wrong thing). Seeing few opportunities for our workforce development efforts to make a difference, I did what I could on an individual basis.

For a time, my family took to carrying around bags of food that we could hand out especially during times of extreme cold or heat. Occasionally buying a person a hot meal at a gas station or grocery store. A few of these interactions made me begin to question my internal conflict. An occasional handshake, glancing eye contact, exchanges of normal pleasantries as you would with any other stranger at the supermarket or on a bus made me question my judgement.

Can I really not trust them to do the right thing if I just gave them cash instead? And truly, if I were in his shoes, can I honestly say I wouldn’t indulge to seek some comfort or numb the pain? I took to handing out small sums of cash, 5’s, 10’s and even an occasional 20 together with postcards listing out services at the Spokane Resource Center, and to chatting with folks to learn their stories.

…and so it begins.

Last summer, I witnessed efforts of St. Ann’s Catholic Church parishioners to work toward social justice in the East Central community of Spokane. I was inspired by their efforts and in them saw a way to transform these revelations into action.

Enter Tresa Schmautz, St. Ann’s parishioner and facilities volunteer, she shared:

“It was Spring 2023 at St Ann’s and the weeds were appearing before my eyes. Feeling discouraged and a bit desperate as the church garden lady, I saw a seemingly unhoused man walking past and blurted out, “Would you like to make some money helping me weed?” “Sure,” he said. He was a great worker, and at quitting time he asked if we could do this again. “Sure,” I said, and we agreed on Tuesday.

Tuesday came and he brought a friend. The next week the friend brought friends. “This is such a nice thing that you do,” they’d respond when I paid them for their work. I was astonished. For most of us there is no amount of money that makes weeding a nice thing to do.

By Fall, 60-65 people were showing up to work each week. They worked so hard I couldn’t find enough weeds or other work to keep them busy. I couldn’t believe it. I just hadn’t realized how many people wanted to work. Parishioners brought food and people enjoyed each other while they worked. We extended our workday services to other parishes and to cleaning up parts of downtown. It was crazy and fun, but it was not sustainable.

Andy Dwonch, a fellow parishioner, saw what was happening and knew how to build something functional out of the mayhem. Dignified WorkDay was born and today I’m continuing as a volunteer site supervisor, refinishing church pews for St Ann’s. It’s still very fun, and I’m learning new skills from the WorkDay crew members who have prior experience in cabinetry and fine woodworking and much more.”

Watch us grow

Late summer, CPS leaders got to work formulating a plan to build upon the momentum of these community efforts. We sought to create a new type of employment program that can serve as a ladder for individuals to climb back from the spiral – toward stability in their life circumstances with fuller employment as a sturdy foundation.

Through close collaboration with our HR and fiscal colleagues we formulated a model for weekly client payrolls and flexed our program supportive services policy to be able to pay cash stipends to our workers during intake or training sessions and provide food during work shifts. While these innovations and seed grants from SDS Realty and BECU Bank made the program technically “possible”, as with all great work that Career Path Services delivers across the state, great “potential” can only be unleashed through our People Power!

We needed some people to help power this initiative forward. Enter Holly Bohnert:

“My passion to serve the homeless population started 8 years ago while volunteering for ‘Blessings Under the Bridge’ – quite literally serving healthy quality meals to the homeless under one of Spokane’s many downtown viaducts. We live in a society of judgement without any real response to the crisis, rather than one of empathy and effort to dig deep to resolve the root causes of our community issues. Every person has a story, and no two people have the same story. And when you hear their stories, you recognize that if not for one or two bad twists and turns, they could have been just like you and me. You sense that we are all vulnerable.

When Andy presented Dignified WorkDay in a meeting at WorkSource Spokane, I didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity to help out. I believe all people should have an opportunity to better their lives with a support system that helps them transition and to stabilize their lives through dignified work.

I am privileged to have this opportunity to give voice to these homeless members of our community, and to provide support, resources, and mentorship on their path toward stability. In doing so, I get to assist in restoring, rebuilding, and empowering the identities of the homeless community while also making a difference for our community as a whole.”

Thanks to the openness of WorkSource Spokane’s leadership, Holly was able to join our team as a part time employment practitioner / case manager to support our participants on their journey from homelessness toward stable housing and employment. With the turn of the new year we enrolled our first 8 DWD participants, a number that will reach 20 by the end of February.

While scaling up our workforce, we are also developing work sites with organizations that can cover the cost of our worker labor. We see an opportunity to fill a critical gap in the available workforce while also helping to increase the supply of affordable housing in our community.

We have started working for SNAP (Spokane Neighborhood Action Program) which manages 400 affordable housing units across Spokane county. At any given time, they have months-long wait lists for each of their properties, AND ALSO 20% vacancy rates! Why, might you ask? Workforce of course! They lack the capacity to be able to turn the apartments between tenants due to labor shortages. Through DWD, we have been able to turn two apartments in the last weeks, allowing our team to try their hand at drywall patching, priming and painting, and general maintenance, all while getting paid for the efforts.

At this point you’re probably wondering – do Holly and Andy know a lot about turning apartments?! Nope! Enter our newest team member, DWD Foreman, Christian Westbrook. Chris has come out of semi-retirement to become our jack of all trades, been there done it all before site supervisor. Chris leads and mentors our work crews from within the group, often rolling his sleeves up and getting paint splattered together with the rest of the crew.

He is also a longtime member of St. Ann’s parish and is close to the beating heart of the community’s striving toward social justice. Chris shared recently that “when Career Path Services presented me with this opportunity to help steward this project, I thought I should reconsider trying to answer one of my long-held question: “why Is there such social and economic disparity in our world?” and focus instead upon how I might be able to help fix it.

They say that many hands make light work. Dignified Workday is in its infancy, and if not for a multitude of supporters and volunteers would not exist at all. In the years to come we hope this effort can grow and shine like a beacon of hope and testament to People Power and the goodness created by reaching across divides to work with “others” in support of our common humanity.

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