In this edition of NW Works in Profile, we are thrilled to introduce you to one of our long-term members of our Board of Directors: Andrea Koenker.
As a parent of a client, Andrea knows just how important it is for NW Works to the clients, their families, and to the community at large. Her eldest daughter, Mandy, has been a client of NW Works for over 20 years, after graduating from Handley High School and transitioning into the workforce.
Prior to getting involved with NW Works, Andrea and her family became deeply involved in the disability community when Mandy was born and diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Andrea recalls hearing from many people that Mandy would have a difficult life and being encouraged by well-meaning colleagues and community members to put Mandy into an institution. But Andrea and her husband knew they wanted Mandy to have the opportunities to grow up at home and make her own choices about her future.
Still, it didn’t always feel there were many opportunities available, especially once Mandy would age out of the school system. However, it was Andrea’s own mother who provided a great deal of hope for the family. She was a Special Education teacher in California who helped students prepare for the workforce and develop career training. Andrea realized Mandy could achieve independence and build relationships of her own after learning about all the progress her mother’s students were making.
Andrea and her family moved to Winchester in 1994, after living with her husband Doug and her three daughters (Mandy, Ann, and Kelly) in Virginia Beach. Mandy graduated from Handley High School and transitioned into NW Works for employment services. Andrea recalled her first visit to NW Works had her a bit worried. Would Mandy be happy working? Would she miss her friends from school? Would she be able to make new friends, especially since it seemed to Andrea that many of the clients at that time were older. Despite her concerns, Andrea says it was the kindness and compassion of staff at NW that assured her Mandy was in good hands.
Over time, Andrea and the family became more involved with the organization. She and her husband would often drop by for social visits and got to know both staff and clients personally. Andrea joined the Board of Directors in 2001, at the encouragement of fellow board member and parent Ellen Mason. She went on to serve as the President of the Board from 2013 to 2015 and has sat on a number of different internal committees over the 20 years on the board. Currently, she serves on the Mission and Programs Committee with her daughter, Ann Wadsworth, whom Andrea says is a joy to work with (and not just because she’s her mom!).
One of Andrea’s goals for the organization’s future is to ensure greater transparency for the families and guardians of clients. She understands first-hand the challenges loved ones can face when getting information about clients and hopes to increase the lines of communication for individuals. Andrea also looks forward to expanding partnerships with local businesses to get as many clients working in the community as possible. In addition, Andrea hopes to increase employee recognition, as she believes the staff at NW Works are truly making a difference in the lives of clients. She thanks all of the organizations staff, both current and former, for the work they do to help clients reach their full potential.
After a 45-year long career as a nurse working primarily in Critical Care, Andrea retired six years ago from Winchester Medical Center, although she still returns regularly to the hospital to teach Advanced Cardiac Life Support classes to healthcare providers. While she misses patient care, she loves being able to stay involved in the community.