Rama ‘RJT’ Tall has been a King County employee since 1990 as a Parks Specialist with the Department of Natural Resources and Parks. He is also one of the employee athletes who represented the State of Washington during the Seattle- and King County-hosted 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.
Like Metro’s Jonathan Leckband, featured in Employee News leading up to the games, RJT competed on the soccer field. He and his manager, Parks District Maintenance Coordinator Gary Brown, shared some of RJT’s story before the games began.
“I’ve been playing soccer since 1987,” RJT told us. “It is important to me to be representing Washington Special Olympics Summer Games. We are trying to bring the trophy home to Washington State!”
Some of RJT’s biggest fans are his co-workers. “We as a shop, Duthie Hill Park and District Grand Ridge, are so excited about RJT being involved and being a participant,” Brown said. “Several of the crew have watched RJT practice and have attended his games, and will be supporting him during the 2018 USA Games.”
And support him they did!
There were two Washington teams in the games’ T-3 division; RJT’s Issaquah-based Washington Spirit and Jonathan Leckband’s Federal Way-based Washington Thunder. The Spirit placed third in the division, and the Thunder took gold!
RJT’s team regularly practice at the park complex, which allows Parks staff to see what areas need increased maintenance to have a healthy soccer field for all King County residents. “That playing time – that experience – then helps guide the maintenance activities on those field-turf fields, and helps train the other parks specialists,” Brown explained.
“RJT is one of our newer team members,” said Brown. “He transferred from another district and helps us maintain the Preston Community Center and Preston Athletic Field – one of his favorite sites.” RJT is really connected to Preston Athletic Field. It’s one of the reasons he transferred into the district. “He’s smiling and singing all day long. Whether it’s hot out, cold, rain, sunshine, winter, it doesn’t matter,” added Brown. “And that’s really contagious.”
The smiles RJT brings extend beyond his team to those visiting the park. “I like to meet people, talk to them, get to know them – in the parks,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of regulars here that know me, and they say, ‘You do a wonderful job in this park!’”
Senior Employment Consultant Liesa Spring, RJT’s job coach from Trillium Employment Services, has been working with RJT since he transferred from Tolt-McDonald to Duthie Hill. “I have had the pleasure of supporting RJT over the past three years and it has been incredible to see him come into his own at Duthie Hill,” said Spring. “He takes such incredible ownership over the work that he does, particularly on the Preston athletic fields. It is no wonder his passion extends on and off the field.” RJT has also taken a seat on the board of AtWork!, a local nonprofit employment agency, Spring added. “RJT is applying the success he has had through his King County career, as well as the leadership he shows on the field, to help pave the way for other people to have a more accessible pathway to employment.”
King County also participated in the first ever Job Fair at the Special Olympics with Human Resource Representatives from HRD, Transit and Parks. “It is truly an honor to showcase King County’s commitment to hiring an inclusive workforce at this historic event. RJT’s role with Parks highlights one of many success stories at the County,” said Christina Davidson, King County Supported Employment Program Manager. “DNRP is a big champion of Supported Employment within the county with 21 employees in the program. Parks Division has been particularly dedicated to maintaining positions and posting for vacant supported employment positions.”
King County’s commitment to supported employment began in 1990, and is the County’s approach used to match qualified job candidates with developmental disabilities to business needs within King County government. Over the last three years, 14 supported employees have been hired into King County and Davidson has consulted on 17 countywide recruitments, saying, “This is the largest increase of new positions within the program since the 1990s and early 2000s.” Department needs are identified through in-depth interviews and lean task development, which are then bundled together to develop a supported employment position. Quality employment agencies provide job coaches, like Trillium’s Liesa Spring and Highline’s Meghan Spellman, to support the job candidates through the application process, onboarding, training, retention of employment as well as ongoing career growth. The job coach also provides training and support to co-workers and supervisors on disability related topics as well as how best to work with the employee.
“To any other manager looking to hire a supported employee, or supported employees, I would tell them to give them the opportunity, give them a chance, and that you will be surprised in many ways,” said Brown. “What they bring – their life experiences, their background – only adds to the team. There are going to be tasks they’ll be perfectionists at on their own, there are going to be tasks they need support with – and that’s what the rest of your team is for. But don’t hesitate. Bring them on board, learn about them, get involved with them, utilize the services that the Supported Employment Program and Trillium bring, and work with the person. Over time it’s only going to add to and enhance your team.”