Tyffany Sukiennik, better known as Tyff, feels happier than ever. And she wants people to understand why. Tyff was the first Designer trained by Inspired Threads, and is now employed as our first paid independent contractor! Tyff shares her employment story here as part of the InspiredTHREADS Personal Journeys blog series, aimed at keeping a spotlight on the importance and value of employing people with disabilities.
For nearly three years, Tyff has worked hard to hone her serging and sewing skills making blankets and masks from recycled fabric. Tyff hasn't let the pandemic restrictions stop her. She sews independently from her apartment, with her sidekick (doggy) Bella, Zooming with the Inspired Threads team when she needs some help or some company. One of Tyff's goals is to help and train other people with disabilities. She's on the road to accomplishing that goal by supporting new Designers that join our team.
Tyff has found what she never thought she would -- a job she loves that allows her to do what makes her happy. And to create things that make other people happy. Here's Tyff's personal journey, in her own words.
Starting at the "Workshop:" They Didn't Understand Me.
My first job was in a workshop. I stuffed envelopes, folded papers, and cut tubes. Sometimes there was a lot of work and sometimes not enough, so we would do worksheets. I would get very stressed. I couldn't do the worksheets. They were too hard, so I'd get frustrated. They gave me coloring sheets, which made it look like I wasn't smart.
At one job I had, I was supposed to count 10 boxes, label them, and put them in rubber bands. One of the staff said to me that I don't know how to count and that hurt. I told them I could count to ten, but I can't count to one hundred. She didn't listen. I told her nicely.
It was hard there because I'm not comfortable with a lot of people going around me. It makes me nervous. I don't like people talking loud, and there was a lot of drama there. People stared at me. That made me not comfortable. I tried to tell them, but they didn't understand me.
One time I had a temper at work because my tooth broke. I have bad teeth, and I get a lot of toothaches. I had an abscess and had to get my tooth pulled. I didn't want to make trouble.
I didn't want to go back there, so I told my Support Coordinator what was going on and how I didn't feel they were nice to me. I told her about the one staff person saying that I don't know how to count, and that's why I got upset and left. They let me quit the workshop and go to another job program. I felt like someone listened to me.
Starting Over: Vocational Training and Job Sampling.
My Support Coordinator helped me start a new Job Sampling program. I had a Job Coach four different times.
I got a cleaning job. I liked it. I had to go to the dumpster, and the bags were heavy. At another job, I made boxes, put things into them, and taped them. They were very busy there, that was good. I also went to CVS and stocked candy. I like stocking shelves. I put the old products in front of the new ones. The people were very nice in these jobs, they helped me, and I could work on my own.
I tried to get a job at the YMCA and the animal shelter where I volunteered. I liked volunteering. I got to walk the dogs, and I cleaned up after them. I got an award because I did very good with the animals and at the YMCA, but they didn't offer me a job. I really wanted to work in both places.
Sewing Calms me Down - I am Making Things That Make People Happy.
I am happy to go to work now. I work for Inspired Threads two days a week and go to my other job the other days. Sewing calms me down. When I am sewing, I can touch the materials, and I can feel something. I can put my hands in the fabric and pick the pieces that I think go together. It helped me stop biting my fingernails. You can choose your own colors and mix them around. It was hard at first, and then you learn the colors are very nice. If you keep sewing, you get more experience and get better.
I like sewing with Inspired Threads from home. I can focus better. I don't hear the noise. I put a sign on my door when I'm sewing, so people don't come in. I need to focus. If I listen to noise, I get frustrated. Patrice, Margo and Kevin (the other Designers) are not loud and making noises. We see each other on our team Zoom meetings on Wednesdays. I like to have friends at work. In COVID, I can sew, and it helps.
During COVID, I made masks. It was a little hard at first, but you get it if you slow down and start over. I made a lot of masks when we had to stay at home. I made more than 50. I gave them to a lot of people. The people I live with and all the staff. I did it because they needed them to wear to be safe. They liked them and thanked me. That made me happy.
My first blanket was for a student at my High School for senior day. She is my friend, Alexis, and we put her name on it. I like to make things for people.
It's good because you are making people blankets to keep them warm when it's cold. I know people are in the hospital too, and it's freezing in there. I also like to work because it is helping me get money so I can buy things and I can take my dog to the doctor.
What Do You Want People To Know?
Transportation is a big problem for us. It limits what I can do.
I loved working at the animal shelter. The staff took me at first, but it was far away. We don't have a lot of staff to drive me places, so I have to take Access Link. They sometimes come late. I don't like to take it in the dark because I'm too scared. I have trouble scheduling Access Link. It's hard for me. I need help. I have to talk to people from their billing, and they don't understand me when I talk. I have a disability, and people have trouble understanding me when I talk on the phone.
Try to be patient. We need time to give our ideas. I need time to say things and do things. People are not always nice. I know people are making fun of us. When people make fun of us, we know it.
Special Olympics treats us nice. Much better than other people. The difference at Special Olympics is they know how to understand us. I have more friends there. We do great things. We need a chance.
People should not be mean to people with disabilities. They should see what we can do.
Living on Her Own, Earning Money Doing Something She Loves and Has Purpose.
Tyff lives in her own apartment in a supported housing complex that provides staff to help her with daily living activities like grocery shopping, budgeting, cooking, and cleaning. This is great because she's got access to help while she's working toward independence. Plus, she was able to bring her dog, Bella, to her new place.
Now that she's got her own place, Tyff has room to stretch her creativity. She is in an environment that gives her the quiet she needs to stay calm and stress-free. She spends her time crocheting, drawing, and, of course, sewing. Tyff has her own sewing machine. With access to the training and support she needed, she can now sew independently from her home during COVID and earn money making masks and blankets as an Inspired Threads Designer!