Meet AJAC’s new Fiscal Specialist—Stephanie Simmons! Stephanie has over ten years of experience in administration, accounting, human resources, and fiscal compliance within the casino and hospitality management industries, as well as five years of advocacy work for disabled youth in foster care. Stephanie joined AJAC in March 2021, starting as an intern for the Pre-Apprenticeship Manufacturing Academy program before being hired full time as a Fiscal Specialist.

What’s the best part of your job so far?

The atmosphere at AJAC is so friendly and accommodating, I have felt welcomed and valued since my first day as an intern for the Manufacturing Academy. I’m also really thrilled to be part of an organization that gives people opportunities to find meaningful work with competitive wages.

 If you could master one skill you don’t have right now, what would it be?

Speed reading with full retention would be so useful to me. No matter how many books I finish, my reading list never seems to get any shorter.

 If you could live in a book, TV show or movie, what would it be?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! Who wouldn’t want a device that detects what food you’re craving and makes it for you, or a fish that can translate any language in real time?

 If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I have always wanted to visit Finland. It is a place where education and overall wellbeing are highly valued, the architecture dates back to the stone age, and the natural landscape is stunning.

 Which is your favorite four-legged creature and why?

I have been a dog person my entire life, I can’t imagine what my world would be like without them. I have a pit bull terrier and a chihuahua waiting for me at home right now, and their enthusiasm when I come through the door is the best part of my day.

Meet AJAC’s new Financial Aid Manager, Leo Vogel. Leo comes to AJAC with over 12 years of experience in financial aid which spans career/adult education, private university education, and public/state university education. Prior to joining AJAC, Leo was the Assistant Director of Financial Aid at the University of California San Diego where he worked closely with many underrepresented student groups including student veterans, undocumented students, and first generation students to assist them with obtaining the funding needed to reach their goals.

What is your proudest career moment?

I’ve had a lot of really great moments in my career but I’m going to lump all the small moments that are similar into my proudest moment. There have been countless times that a student or a parent has called or emailed or sent a card expressing how much the counseling and/or time spent with them helped them through this complicated process and allowed them to understand how they could afford achieving their goals. It may not seem like much, but those reminders of how impactful my work is on people’s lives is very rewarding and that’s the reason I try to help make it as easy as possible for students or apprentices to understand and navigate the application and awarding of financial aid funds. These funds are there to help make this journey easier for people – so removing as many barriers as possible is something I strive for every day.

If you could master one skill that you don’t have right now, what would it be?

Investing. I know that there is a big rise in average person investing with the ease of apps that have been developed, but I like to know and understand something before I do it. I think that knowledge of investing is something that should be taught to people in high school – as it’s such a big part of how the wealthy become even more wealthy and the average person never does. I was always taught to save money growing up – but the more I read the more I feel like I should have been investing money instead of putting it in a shoe box under my bed! I think that’s part of why it’s so exciting to work with AJAC. Helping people gain financial flexibility and get a good paying job is the first step to them having financial freedom. And with that freedom comes the ability to do things like invest or travel or buy a home – things that many of us aspire for but lack the ability to do in our current circumstance.

If you could bring one musician back from the dead who would it be and why?

John Lennon…and I’m not even a fan of the Beatles! My mom however grew up during the time of Beatle mania but she was too young and didn’t have the means to go and see them. It would be the ultimate gift for her – a lifelong dream to see John and Paul perform on stage together.

What would be your perfect day?

I love to golf and since this is a perfect day we’ll throw out reality. I think my perfect day would be to somehow get to play Augusta National with my dad, my grandfather who passed away a few years ago, and my son who is currently only 18 months old. Maybe finish the day with a big BBQ with family and friends coming over and The Highwayman playing live in the backyard.

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

I get confused with Edris Elba, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and a lot of the other guys I saw when I googled “most handsome men 2021” 😊.

Lonnie Franklin | 5 Questions

What was the last experience that made you a stronger person?

Making the move back to Seattle was something that made me a stronger person.  Moving and going through a worldwide pandemic at the same time was hard. 2020 has taught me how to rely on those closest to me and find inner peace from within as well as learn how to master a few new meals.

If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?

The person I would choose to mentor me would be Lebron James. The reason I am chose Lebron is because his overall growth over the past 17 years has been amazing. I would love to sit and ask questions about his inspirations and what motivates his drive and determination. Speaking to someone who has not had the father figure in his life yet silenced his doubters—I would love this conversation.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to spend time with my family and when I can, golf is a past-time of mine. I would have to admit anything dealing with the great outside is something I can handle. I have been called a party starter, so I guess I can be the life of the party as well!

How would your best friends describe you?

Now this is a good question. My friends would say I am the same person that they met 38 years ago. I love to have fun and play jokes on my friends. They would also let me know that we have not had a fallout in 30 years. So, bottom line is, they would say he must be cool, to have been my best friend for 38 years.

Which is your favorite four-legged creature and why?

His name is Blu and he is the best dog you can find for free. I love love love dogs. They can make you smile when humans fail to do so, and they wont even say a word. Having a dog is one of the best things a person can do for their lives. My dog gives me strength and comfort when I need it and he knows me better than most. I am one of those people who talk to their dogs and then answers as if he would be speaking. So yes, that is me.

Priscilla Johnson

What will your new role at AJAC include? 

My role here at AJAC will be teaching the Manufacturing Academy pre-apprenticeship program. I will be providing instructional training for individuals that are wanting to start their career in the manufacturing industry. This 10-week course covers all aspects that pertain to the development of skills required for an individual to be successful working within this trade. I’m an excited for this opportunity to provide the education needed to assist others in starting new careers that will pay a living wage and help improve their quality of life.

What is your favorite part about working in the non-profit industry? 

The non-profit industry has never failed to attract an energetic and passionate workforce. I love the fact that non-profit heroes (employees) put their heart and soul into their work even when the resources are spread quite thin compared to larger corporations.

Even on my most challenging days, when I’m swamped with deadlines to meet, it’s so easy to stay motivated when I know that I’m working to educate and empower people from all walks of life to take back control of their careers and better their quality of life. All of the hard work truly pays off when I read an article or watch a video about a student that went through the Manufacturing Academy program and went on to graduate from their apprenticeship. There’s a ripple effect to the work that we do here at AJAC, as we strive to help people better themselves, in turn, they become inspired to help make the world a better place.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love the outdoors…I lived in Alaska for 7 years when I was in the military and I fell in love with the minimalist survival hike/camp concept, never looking back! Within this concept lies the idea that intentional discomfort provides us with the opportunity for self-growth and reflection; as well as, confidence in self and metal clarity. I could honestly say I am an adept minimalist hiker/camper, which means that minimal food and supplies is backed for the trip and much of what is needed is source from the land or we do without. My husband and I hike in to remote camping locations all over Washington and Oregon. My one tip to anyone that wants to try this style of camping out would be to camp need a natural water source. 

I also like to snowboard, but my husband and friends question why I keep torqueing myself. HAHA. To say the least, I’m not a rockstar on the board, but I’ve got resolve because I keep trying.

What’s one thing about you that would surprise me? 

I play women’s Roller Derby. Oh, and I practice Brazilian Jujitsu.

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us? 

Alaskan Style Street Tacos..! Fresh wild caught lemon butter salmon or halibut with fresh pico de gallo, black beans, brown rice, guac, and a bit of garlic dill sauce. There is only 1 word…Amazing..!  

If You Could Travel Anywhere In The World, Where Would It Be? 

Blue Lagoon Hot Springs in Iceland. I love going to hot springs everywhere I travel, as I’m a huge believer in hydrotherapy and the concept of “Water is Life”. I want to go to the blue lagoon someday during the northern lights. 

Stephen Matcak

Please welcome our newest Manufacturing Academy instructor, Stephen Matczak! In 2010, Stephen completed his machining degree at Perry Technical Institute in Yakima, Washington and in 2013 became one of the AJAC instructors for the Machining Apprenticeship at Yakima Valley College.

As the Maintenance Manager for JELD-WEN (Yakima) he found his passion for Industrial Maintenance and blended his love of teaching with his job and cross trained his team in machining and electronics troubleshooting.

Stephen currently instructs AJAC’s new Manufacturing Academy pre-apprenticeship program in Yakima. This new 11-week program will help job seekers in Yakima County develop skills and certifications for the region’s industrial maintenance and food processing industries.

If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?

My parents divorced when I was 8 and my father moved back to Philadelphia. We would spend the summers there visiting family and going to a lot of Phillies games. My dad passed away in 2017 and he is certainly the reason I became a machinist however, I never had to opportunity to learn from him what he knew about machining. I would chose my father, Joe Matczak, as my mentor.

What is your favorite part about working in the non-profit industry?

What excites me most about being part of this organization is the ability to pass on the knowledge I have gained in the fields of electronics, maintenance and machining.

What’s the #1 most played song on your iPod/iTunes/Spotify?

I listen to three types of music: Bluegrass, Reggae and Punk. My go to song is The Exploited – Punk’s Not Dead.

What’s one thing about you that would surprise me?

I am a cake decorator. From birthdays to weddings and everything in between. I love baking too.

What was your dream job growing up?

I wanted to be an architect.