When thinking about communities in Saskatchewan where inclusive employment has been embraced widely, one area that really comes to mind is Humboldt. HDCS runs a fantastic supported employment program that has built many strong relationships with inclusive employers in the community and has a fabulous staff dedicated to a holistic approach to employment.
“At HDCS, I believe that we are investors. I believe that we invest in people and we invest in our community,” said Niamh Menz, Supported Employment Coordinator at HDCS. “Our focus is employment, but often this is secondary, we establish the relationship and build trust with the individual. In our agency there is no disconnect of services. We have a very holistic approach, we believe in looking at the person as a whole.”
To celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM), I asked Niamh to share one success story of an individual who has overcome significant obstacles to employment and the outcomes that working has had on this person’s life. She shared with me the story of Trevor, a young man who has been working at Sobey’s for over a year in the frozen food section, stocking the freezers and ordering products.
Trevor wears a prosthetic as he lost his foot in a farm accident in 2004. Trevor also has some learning challenges and is now a person who is experiencing seizures. “He is very polite, mannerly and an exceptionally nice person. He is a hard worker who has rarely said ‘no’ to work, whether that be breaking concrete, moving furniture, or walking kilometers daily up and down a highway with a sign advertising for a local business,” said Niamh. “He has a deep seeded need to prove to others that he can work, despite his disability. He’s very much focused on his family, his partner and her children, and he’s proud that he can take care of them.”
Social barriers and growing up in a rural community posed a unique set of challenges for Trevor. There were times when he felt that when his last name was mentioned it would cause a door to close immediately, assumptions and decisions were often made in a split second and he would be delivered another “no”, “we are not hiring”, or “the position has been filled”.
“We rarely ever moved past the first hurdle in our job search for him,” said Niamh. “We talk about stigma and stereotypes in communities, and although we live in a very supportive community there can often be a subconscious bias, an unrecognized and unspoken level of bias. Sometimes an individual is literally born on the wrong side of the tracks without the silver spoon but Trevor made a point of breaking that stereotype, and proving that despite these challenges he can work as hard as anyone else and be a contributing member of our community.”
In the year that Trevor had been looking for employment, he had been putting a lot of work into developing himself as a person and as a great employee. He attended in-house classes at HDCS where he worked on all the skills that he needed, he went back to school and completed his Grade 12 education, he even had wonderful references from his doing work experiences, but it just never went any further.
After a year of dropping off dozens of resumes, Niamh began chatting with the owner of Sobey’s, an inclusive employment champion in Humboldt, about Trevor who had dropped off his resume there. The process was moving slowly, “he didn’t know if he even had an opening, he wants everyone to fit in the right spot. He wants them to buy into the philosophy of wanting to work there, for him it’s very important, ‘does this person want to work at Sobeys or do they just want a job?’” Niamh said. So when The Brick called needing someone to carry a sign, of course Trevor said “yes!”
“He had done this for a week. I was driving by him one day, I stopped at the lights and I could see him. I just thought why is nobody giving this person a chance?” Trevor was walking all the way up and down the highway for a few hours each day with his prosthetic, he was showing how dedicated he was to working, and how tremendous of an employee he really was.
So Niamh went straight to Sobey’s and talked to the owner, she asked if he had seen the guy walking up and down the street with the sign for The Brick. When the owner learned that it was Trevor, he was immediately impressed, “he looked at me and without even blinking an eye he said, ‘let’s do it!’”
Trevor started working for Sobey’s and in just the first couple of weeks he was working there, Niamh was stopped by one of the managers who told her, “I just want you to know that Trevor’s not working today, it’s his day off and I can’t handle this place without him. I need him here!”
Trevor’s tenacity and positive attitude were integral in this process but much credit has to be given to his employer and their management culture. “To see someone for whom they truly are and to look past all of these stigmas and present an opportunity for employment in an inclusive environment was exactly what Trevor needed” Niamh said. “An assumption was made that he could work, wanted to work and would be a valuable addition to the team. Ongoing support and positive reinforcement in the workplace has secured a long-term employee.”
The outcomes of Trevor’s employment have been huge. “Economically, he can support his family and he feels very proud of that” Niamh said. He also feels more independent, has increased self-esteem, new friendships, and now has a sense of purpose. Trevor also has a great career ahead of him to look forward to.
“Trevor and I talk about what’s possible for him in the future” Niamh said. “Now he has options in a place that I think really builds people. I really feel that he could grow with Sobey’s whether that’s in a supervisory position, or taking over a little department as well. I just think he’s got opportunities. And that’s what we want for people.”
Trevor’s story is incredible because it shows that inclusive employment is more than simply finding a job for someone, it builds positive futures and opportunities for individuals that might not have otherwise been given a chance.