NW Works in Profile: Yvonne Palmer

For some of our employees, they always knew they wanted to work with people with disabilities in some capacity. For others, like Direct Support Professional Yvonne Palmer, it was an unexpected twist.  

Photo of Yvonne Palmer. Yvonne is a middle aged Caucasian woman with pale blonde hair. She is smirking slightly at the viewer and is wearing a black shirt and glasses.

“My friend Tina [Martin] got me into this field,” said Palmer with a smile. “I started out as a master woodcarver for Henkel Harris furniture. When I got laid off from Henkel Harris, I had a difficult time finding a job and my friend Tina said, ‘Do I have the job for you.’” 

Born and raised in the Winchester area, Palmer always had an interest in the artistic trades, and drew inspiration from her mother, an accomplished disabled artist who primarily worked in stained glass and porcelain. A former medical secretary, Palmer’s mother’s interest in crafts started in childhood. 

“She had tuberculosis, so they put you in those sanitoriums back in those days,” Palmer said of her mother. “She had to learn something that would keep her mind occupied and something that she could do from her lap in a small area. And so, she just took up every craft known to man. Then she retired from her medical career –she was only 48 but the pain and her disability got to be too great. She ended up learning more, that’s when she really got into the stained glass. I mean, her stuff looked like tiffany lamp shades. She didn’t do little frou-frou stuff; she did entire windows and just magnificent work.” 

Palmer initially limited her craft work to a hobby, working at the Launching Pad Deli in Winchester for a decade as a young parent to her daughter Christina. Following a stint at the Compact Fluorescent Ballast Corporation alongside Martin, Palmer crossed paths with former NW Works CEO Debera Taylor at the National Wildlife Federation. But her life changed when she secured an entry-level position with the furniture company Henkel Harris.  

“As soon as I went in the door and I saw the carving department, I knew that’s where I needed to be,” she said. “I just dug and scratched and pawed till I made it over there.” 

Starting out in the sanding department, Palmer climbed the ranks for 17 years, achieving the status of master woodcarver. Her favorite piece to produce? An intricately carved rice bed.  

“It’s a four-poster bed and it looks like it’s got leaves carved into it,” she explained. “It’s a very ornate bed, the finials are real fancy. It’s just beautiful.” 

Being in a highly skilled but somewhat niche field, Palmer was unsure about transitioning into a human services organization.  

“When you’ve worked along, just you and your hunk of wood that you’re working on, yeah it was a massive shift,” she said about the transition. “I didn’t know if I was gonna make it for the first 90 days.” 

Hired into a production role, Palmer says she grew more comfortable as time went by.  

“When things [start] to finally settle down, these codes [become] second nature, and you get to know the people. The whole learning curve, the whole thing just started to come together. It was probably a good 6 months before I was really comfortable. But then it was no problem at all,” she said. “We ran production and we could have as many as 5 contracts running at one time and believe it or not we’d have up to 20 clients and just two staff. We managed it.” 

Today, Palmer has a deep connection to the disability community.  

“They’re just like anybody else. They have all the same rights, wants, needs, desires,” she said. “I think most of the misconceptions people have out in the community is that [people with disabilities are] not capable of doing anything. They’re not used to being around people with a disability because it may look different or they don’t speak well or this, that and the other. I think people are more intimidated by not knowing.”  

However, she hopes more exposure to the disability community will lessen the stereotypes. 

When she’s not working, Palmer loves spending time in nature, returning to her roots with crafting projects, gardening and reading. 

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