Welcome to Amplify Inclusion, a podcast where we share authentic stories of inclusion in action.
Episode 1 “An Open Opportunity” features a conversation with Life on My Own participant Amil and Program Director Kyle Gaughan. This is the first episode of season one of Amplify Inclusion.
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Check out the second episode, A Responsive leader, featuring Aspire’s CEO Jim Kales. To listen to more stories of inclusion, subscribe to Amplify Inclusion on the following platforms:
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Below please find the full transcript.
Release Date: 8.18.2020
Season 1, Episode 1: An Open Opportunity
Host: Clare, Director of Inclusive Solutions at Aspire
Guests: Amil, Aspire Team Member Kyle, Director of Life on My Own at Aspire
00:00:02 Clare Welcome to Amplify Inclusion. I’m Clare Killy, Director of Inclusive Solutions at Aspire. Thanks for joining us as we share real stories and conversations about the power and importance of disability inclusion. Aspire is a non-profit organization that envisions a community where people of all abilities live, learn, and grow together. Across each of our innovative programs, you’ll find a common thread- the idea that inclusion is more than a simple act. It’s a mindset that should lead us in our everyday approach to planning and preparing with others in mind. The current circumstances have pushed us to rethink how we share our vision, and we’re choosing to utilize this moment to connect with you in a new way. We hope this will help you get to know Aspire and what inclusion means to us. We believe that opportunities are everything, and for people with disabilities, lack of opportunity is a common barrier. Never having a chance to be at the table to have their voices heard. It’s our responsibility to acknowledge the barriers all around us and then work together to turn them into possibilities. We know that inclusion is not a place, but rather the meaningful interaction that occurs within and between people – the ways we help each other belong, and the relationships we build in the process. This episode is the first of a four-part series focusing on key aspects that support disability inclusion and the idea that workplace transformation starts small. Today we’ll hear from Amil, who came to Aspire as a program participant and is now an employee helping to reinvent our organizations approach to remote work, and from Kyle, a program director at Aspire who’s worked closely with Amil. Their story highlights the importance of creating space at the table for everyone and demonstrates how a single opportunity can create a tremendous impact. This is their story.
Yeah. My name is Amil. Born in Chicago, based in Oak Park. Been pretty much mostly living in Oak Park. Graduated from Columbia College. Yeah, I went to a computer school as well, so I have some technical knowledge.
I’m Kyle Gaughan and I am the Director of Life on My Own or Independent Living. So the Life on My Own program is a unique opportunity for adults and teens as young as the age of 16 to work with our life Consultants to achieve their Independent Living goals. New participants find us online, and when they find us they typically reach out and that kick-starts the process.
So like when I first started really a year or so, just a little over a year. I don’t know how she found it but my mom brought it to my attention- yeah, she just sent me an email and said ‘hey check this out’, see what you think.
Sometimes there’s a misconception that independence means living by yourself, but what we’ve learned at Aspire and working with our participants is that there’s a big range. So again, it’s a custom program that provides a lot of opportunity and creative learning experiences for everyone who participates. You know, first and foremost, we want to get the big picture of what their life is about what their goals are what are some of their challenges and how can we help them take those steps to achieve that goal of independence.
Adjectives to describe – life-changing, open-minded, cause everybody’s very open-minded, and I guess I’ll just say helpful cause it is- it has been very helpful.
00:03:57 Kyle So the first time I met Amil I was stepping in to work with him one-on-one and immediately you can just tell he’s very kind, very conscientious, very patient, and extremely polite. He is always thinking about how does he make an environment that’s calm, inclusive, and you know, he’s been a joy to work with ever since.
Well, I was interviewed at first just to- I guess, see where I was at as far as my skills, I guess, so they could know like what they would need to help me with.
And our skill assessment is our opportunity to get the full picture of a person.
And it was pretty easy, I guess, to open up to them and talk to them about more personal stuff.
You know, we’re that support system that our participants can turn to. You know, we’re that second, you know line of communication or sometimes first depending on our participants’ family background and support system.
00:04:57 Amil I live in a house with my dad. Yeah. I have kind of a big immediate family. So I have two immediate sisters and a half sister and half brother and I have another half sister, so yeah- big family. And there’s also these team huddles, as we call them, with Kyle and my family. So just seeing where I’m at with the program and where I can go from here.
So I think a triangle is a perfect way to describe our support system. We want to engage families because having parents involved, having us involved, we’re going to lift that participant higher and maybe faster because there’s more collaboration between everyone.
Goals I’ve set. I mean, I guess I said the big one already with living on my own. But yeah just, I guess the budgeting goes towards being more financially independent.
You know, Amil is a self-starter; he seeks out opportunities and is always looking to better himself; someone who is motivated to learn someone who is motivated to get uncomfortable to take those next big steps in his life.
Biggest accomplishments. Well, getting this job at Aspire in the first place- that’s a pretty big accomplishment. Took me long enough to get a job at all, so. I’d been searching for a long time and I guess they had a job opening.
Back in the early fall, there was an opportunity for a position at Aspire. Amil had expressed trying to find a job and it had been a little bit of time since he had previously worked and when I heard about the position, it seemed like an awesome opportunity for Amil to work for our career placement team.
Okay. So Jim, Jim Kales, is the CEO of Aspire and I’m his Executive Assistant. So, basically it means that I schedule his day; I almost have to be the appointment referee, if you will. It takes a lot of good communication and patience and just taking it step-by-step until the task is complete. Being good at organizing is pretty important for a job like this.
It seemed like a really good stepping-stone into a work environment where he knows he’s going to get the right accommodation and be in an atmosphere that loves making sure that everyone belongs.
Things that didn’t come naturally- I guess sometimes, admittedly, being more I guess assertive, just like not being afraid to step up and be like, hey, I need help or something. Yeah, so I was always kind of shy, yeah, sometimes I still am.
So the presence that Amil brings to the office is very calm, collected. That type of energy, it’s refreshing and he is able to you know, accommodate other people’s requests. And Amil’s also very organized and he’s super tech-savvy. You know, our workforce is so heavily focused around emails, so this organization method which has been coined the “EO” method; he has been using this for quite some time since he gets a lot of emails, and he is taking everything that he has learned and helping all of us learn how to do it.
So “EO” yeah, it the Email Organization method and it really is just the idea is just to help people organize their inboxes better to help them keep better track of especially the more important emails.
Amil has taught me and I have become so much more efficient and more timely with the things I need to do. So prioritization is huge and something that I probably will use moving forward in my career. I think what started to take it to the next level was seeing how successful it was. And then from there, this whole Covid situation came into play. Aspire has jumped on this situation as an opportunity to introduce the method to the entire organization who’s working remotely.
Well for starters I didn’t even know I was going to be taking lead. Uh it just kinda unfolded that way, I suppose. But, yeah, once we got it where we wanted it, Jim was like- would you like to teach the method to the rest of the Aspire team? And in the back of my mind I was like- me?. But one, it could help everybody else and two, yeah, I mean I would be contributing to the team more.
So to date, Amil has taught three different teams and his goal is to teach every team who’s working remotely and then eventually all of Aspire. Like so many people, getting up in front of an audience is not easy. So I think building Amil’s confidence to get up in front of small teams virtually, you know, was a challenge. So Amil’s he’s been very flexible very receptive to feedback and very coachable. And one thing that I commend him for is that he’s been able to take this feedback and put it into action and use it to improve his skills.
I guess I will admit that I actually am nervous every time I go into a session, but I do my best to hide it. Yeah, especially Jim and Kyle’s supported me from the get-go. Especially at the very first session just with suggestions on how I can improve. Jim doesn’t sign into the sessions lately. He’s kind of been backing out a little bit more now that he feels that I’ve kind of grown more confident.
Watching Amil from the very first lesson with the Life of My Own team to his most recent, I’ve seen him use the feedback provided and it’s been hugely successful. Probably my favorite moment out of all this was talking to his mom, you know, trust a mom, you know, she knows her son, and he was really happy and she said he was beaming. Amil- I’ve seen him grow a lot and I mentioned it earlier, it’s like when you teach something that you know, I mean it’s empowering and the word ‘empower’ in that experience is I think part of everyone at Aspire’s mission. We want to empower our participants to try new things and ultimately succeed at them.
I do feel, I guess, the impact of my contributions. I mean I’m definitely glad it’s helping everyone. I don’t know if I really feel like a leader um, cause I guess I have taken a little bit more control of the EO sessions, for example, but uh, I guess a teacher is a little bit of leader. It’s always good to hear that your students, especially, are saying- hey, I learned something and it’s help me.
00:11:58 Clare I’d like to thank my colleagues Amil and Kyle for sharing their story.
00:12:06 Clare Join us next time as we explore yet another aspect of workplace inclusion- responsive leadership. I’ll be chatting with Aspire’s very own CEO, Jim Kales about the importance of living the vision. Until then, please rate, review, and subscribe to Amplify Inclusion and learn more at aspirechicago.com. Thanks for joining us. This episode was produced by the Aspire inclusive Solutions team and co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound.