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Inland Northwest Lighthouse director ready to make agency shine

Kevin Daniel, shown standing in the Inland Northwest Lighthouse manufacturing area last month, is the agency’s executive director.  (JESSE TINSEY)
Kevin Daniel, shown standing in the Inland Northwest Lighthouse manufacturing area last month, is the agency’s executive director. (JESSE TINSEY)

Kevin Daniel became executive director of Inland Northwest Lighthouse on April 12. An offshoot of Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle, the agency employs sight-impaired and sighted workers at its office-supply manufacturing facility on North Addison Street, which opened two years ago.

Q.How did you come to be executive director of the Spokane Lighthouse?

A.I was a leadership fellow at the National Industries for the Blind, the Lighthouse parent organization. Before that, I was a supervisor at a Starwood Hotels call center in Austin, Texas.

After interning at Lighthouses in New York, Arkansas and Virginia, NIB notified Lighthouses around the United States that I had completed my fellowship and was ready for a leadership position. I had offers from Milwaukee and Little Rock, but I knew Kirk Adams, president of the Seattle Lighthouse, and I knew working for him would be special. And I loved what they were doing in Spokane. In many places, for example, you don’t see families pick up workers after their shift, the way they do in Spokane.

Q.Have you always been blind?

A.No, but there is a history of macular degeneration in my family, and doctors told me I could expect my sight to start deteriorating at around age 40. They were right on. I started not seeing things I knew were there. But it was hard to accept, and part of my process for dealing with it is mentoring others going through the same adjustments.

Q.What do you do here as executive director?

A.My job is to put together a great company outreach program, to increase awareness of Lighthouse and to generate additional revenues. My job is to make Spokane shine. We don’t want to be just a Seattle satellite.

Q.How is this Lighthouse doing?

A.We had to add a second shift, which is unheard of in the Lighthouse world. We have set records for production by a facility manned mostly by the blind. We hit $1 million in sales in May. My guys are asking when we can get to $1.5 million. A lot of people don’t know the blind are very competitive.

When things get tough I come out here (the manufacturing floor). These guys really want to make you work harder.

Q.What is the breakdown of blind and sighted workers?

A.We must have at least 75 percent blind in order to qualify for government contracts. We are at 82 percent, and my goal would be 100 percent, but because I love you sighted people, I’m going to employ a few.

Q.How many are employed?

A.Now, 55, and I hope to double that. … We’re adding 48,000 square feet of manufacturing space. We’re raising funds for a state-of-the-art dog facility so they can run around instead of sitting in a kennel all day. That’s a big selling point to blind workers who have other options. I also have a parking lot begging for a state-of-the-art call center. I’m on a tele-services work group with other Lighthouse officials looking at how it could be done.

I want to offer my employees something besides manufacturing.

Q.Lighthouse sponsored an Agora Award this year (a program recognizing businesses in the region that exemplify leadership in supporting a strong economy).

A.We sponsored the small-business award. I took six employees to the luncheon. They got all gussied up. They were on cloud nine. It was a moving moment for me.