Lewis County event celebrates Disability Employment Awareness Month


While not exactly sure how he does it, the staff at Harrison Square Presbyterian Church in Centralia say the building has shined since Michael Dobyns took over as janitor.

“He is a perfectionist,” said Barbara Stark, the ministry assistant at the church. “He keeps the church windows sparkling.”

Dobyns, in the role for around six months, said he loves the “laid-back atmosphere” the job offers.

“I actually love, love, love to clean the windows,” Dobyns said. “I’ve actually introduced a new cleaning method to my church.”

His secret? A spray bottle with an equal mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water.

“It does totally awesome,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, Dobyns and Stark were celebrated in a video during an event at The Loft in Chehalis to mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Hosted by The Washington Initiative for Supported Employment (Wise), the Lewis County Autism Coalition and Cultivating Inclusion Lewis County, community officials and disability rights advocates came together to celebrate inclusivity in the workplace.

“These events really highlight the importance of creating an accessible community and giving opportunities and opening doors for individuals who are our neighbors,” said state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia.

Abbarno said whether it’s expanding accessible playgrounds to creating job opportunities for those with disabilities, “everybody deserves an opportunity.”

For Dobyns, a longtime member of Harrison Square Presbyterian, that opportunity has made all of the difference.

“Now it’s his church, and he just glows and talks to people,” Stark said, praising his sense of humor and character. “He’s just immediately likable.”

The timing of the event also marked special significance. September marked the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities by federal contractors and programs that receive federal funding. The legislation was a precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which expanded the protections to all employment, public accommodations and telecommunications.

“These laws continue to be vital tools used to expand access and equity for workers from historically underserved communities,” said Sarah Sons, developmental disabilities program coordinator at Lewis County Public Health & Social Services.

In her remarks, Sons said she wanted to highlight the “positive impact that having a job can have on a person’s life.”

“When a person's gifts, skills and interests can be matched with an unmet employer need, it’s truly a win-win situation all of the way around,” Sons said.

At the breakfast, Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope credited Sons for her work in the community.

“The work that the county does, mainly Sarah Sons, with our community that has disabilities is just fantastic,” Swope said. “She helps many people in our community to find jobs, which this is about. But not only that, it’s just all of the time and effort that she goes above and beyond trying to make sure that there’s going to be funding available.”