Supported employment program works wonders

Rachel at city hall: Rachel, seen sitting at the mayor’s desk, enjoys many duties she performs for Carolyn Rempel and Mayor Lawrence Chernoff with the assistance of Bernice Beckstead (right.) - Photo submitted by Judy Gutwald
Rachel at city hall: Rachel, seen sitting at the mayor’s desk, enjoys many duties she performs for Carolyn Rempel and Mayor Lawrence Chernoff with the assistance of Bernice Beckstead (right.)
— image credit: Photo submitted by Judy Gutwald

Our daughter, Rachel, has always been a happy and fairly independent person. Sure, she’s needed some guidance and encouragement along the way, but what child or young adult hasn’t?

Throughout her 24 years there have been educational opportunities, social outlets, and plenty of family and friend support. The one thing that seemed to be missing, however, was a real sense of being part of her community.

That all changed a few years ago when Rachel was hired for her first job.  To a lot of people this may not seem like that remarkable of an achievement, but for her it provided a tremendous source of pride and accomplishment.

You see, Rachel has Down syndrome, and as a result, the “typical” progression of events throughout her life hasn’t always come that naturally.

In March 2008, the Kootenay Society for Community Living (KSCL) approached our family with the prospect of implementing a supported employment program in the Castlegar community. Rachel had been involved with KSCL for many years and they had been remarkable in providing many opportunities for those with mental challenges, and this new undertaking was very exciting for all of us.

Bernice Beckstead, one of the co-ordinators for the supported employment program, came with the belief that “employment is a positive and therapeutic activity that directly influences self-esteem, personal value and how people with disabilities see themselves.” She canvassed for suitable job placements for Rachel based on her strengths, abilities and interests, while also helping her fine-tune her resume and prepare for job interviews.

Soon after this, Rachel was hired by Kootenay Family Place in North Castlegar and began working there. Her duties ranged from recycling, shredding, tending to plants and disinfecting the children’s toys and physiotherapy equipment.

It was just for a few hours a week with Bernice’s assistance, but it was a real job and it was hers.

As Rachel’s parents, we had always found her to possess quite a bit of confidence, but the increase in her self-esteem became very apparent to us as she continued working. The sense of pride she had as she prepared to leave in the morning and the joy she showed while sharing her accomplishments was incredible for us to see.

And she was not the only one feeling the benefits of this new experience.  Janice Keillor, Kootenay Family Place office manager and supported employment program contact, stated: “I wish to commend everyone involved with this great program. We consider Rachel a valuable employee and look forward to her help on Monday mornings. Always punctual, she is thorough, and does a good job with a variety of tasks. Rachel has a great memory and keeps us on our toes. Shy at first, she has become more outgoing now that she is more familiar with us. We feel lucky to have her in our lives here at Kootenay Family Place.”

What is also heartwarming is that the confidence Rachel has developed at work has extended past just her job environment. She has shown more comfort in facing day-to-day personal challenges and illustrates an increased ability to problem-solve situations when confronted with new tasks.

A year later in June 2009, Rachel began her second job at city hall in Castlegar. Again, it was just for a few hours a week but the benefits to her have been significant. She shines about knowing Mayor Lawrence Chernoff and working for the city she lives in.

Bernice states that the job has required Rachel to learn difficult tasks including preparing/collating information for manuals or meetings, but “fortunately, she is very focused on her work and can complete most tasks independently.”

Carolyn Rempel, director of corporate services for the City of Castlegar, states that “Rachel has a very pleasant manner, she always takes on her tasks willingly and she takes great pride in the work that she does.” She adds that “the staff at city hall appreciate her assistance around the office every week and (we) have enjoyed seeing her gain confidence and comfortably settle into our work environment.” They look forward to Rachel continuing to work with them over the coming years.

When asked how she feels about working, Rachel says “I love everything about it. It makes me happy to work hard and help other people.” Now when she says “I love my life,” she includes her jobs in her list of things she is thankful for, and for that we are truly grateful to KSCL and the Castlegar community.

Over the past three years, KSCL (which is funded by Community Living B.C.) has successfully assisted in placing 17 clients for work in the Castlegar area through the supported employment program. This translates into 25 weekly placements with 17 different businesses (some individuals work more than one shift a week and/or work for more than one business.)  All clients are supervised by KSCL staff so the time commitment to the contact business staff member is minimal. Each individual is considered an employee of the business and is paid directly from their employer.

On behalf of all those involved in the supported employment program at KSCL, we would like to thank Kootenay Family Place, the City of Castlegar, Andre’s AudioTronic, Kootenay Market, Blueberry Creek Community School, Kootenay Petopia, Soap n’ Suds, the Castlegar Heritage Society, H. H. Contracting, The Movie Company, Safeway, Joey’s Restaurant, Uptown Subway, Sears, Pharmasave, A & W, and the Castlegar News for opening their doors to this employment opportunity.

They have had the wonderful opportunity to impact the lives of people in such a positive way, and we’re sure that they have seen the personal benefits of this as well.

If there are any other businesses in the community that would like to participate in this mutually beneficial experience, please contact Betsy Goolieff, KSCL executive director, at 250-365-2624 Ext. 3.

/Submitted by Judy Gutwald

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