Work with special-needs students helps Harbor Square’s Micah Walker pay it forward

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Regulars at Edmonds’ Harbor Square Athletic Club all know Micah Walker.

He’s the guy who makes sure there’s always extra towels available, plenty of supplies in the locker rooms, and that the facilities are up to the standards club members expect. Quick with a joke and never at a loss for a comeback quip, he’s become very popular with members who love to trade barbs with him as he goes about his job.

But what many don’t know is that Walker, a lifelong Edmonds resident, is giving back to the community in a big way.

By drawing on his very personal past experiences, he uses his job at Harbor Square to help developmentally disabled young people from the Edmonds School District’s VOICE program gain the skills and confidence they’ll need to find viable employment and become independent members of the community.

A 1999 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School, Walker freely admits that he struggled in school to overcome a learning disability. But he found help through an earlier program similar to VOICE that ultimately landed him at Harbor Square, first as a student helper and then a permanent employee.

“I came to Harbor Square 24 years ago as part of a program for kids with disabilities,” he said. “So I’ve walked this path. I know what these young folks are up against. I’ve faced and overcome these challenges. Back then a lot of great folks were there for me, and because of that I’m in the lucky position to be here today for a whole new crop of young people.”

And the management at Harbor Square agrees.

“We’re so gratified to provide the space and opportunity for Micah to work with the VOICE students,” said Club General Manager Jackie Tawney. Jackie took over the reins just last year from her father Jack Tawney, who opened the club 33 years ago. “We’re a family business based here in Edmonds. We love this town, and doing this is part of our ongoing commitment to give back to our community.”

Walker gets a new group of VOICE students each September and January, whose disabilities range from mild to severe. But even with non-verbal students, Walker is able to call on his own experiences to successfully instruct them in simple tasks.

“Just learning how to fold towels can be a big challenge for some,” he said. “But we all learn in different ways, and for these kids, hands-on is so much more effective than traditional classroom learning. And when they ‘get it’ that light goes on, and I see the glow on their faces. There simply aren’t words to describe the satisfaction that brings.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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