Terry Newman loves his new job at Extreme Pita on Bowen Road.
The 39-year-old, who has a developmental disability, has some volunteer and piecemeal work experience under his belt, but this is his first continuous job. The pride he feels in himself is evident in his smile and in the sparkle in his blue eyes.
Two days a week during the lunch rush, Newman greets customers, clears and washes tables and sweeps the floor in the restaurant.
It makes him feel good to be earning his own money and he likes interacting with the customers – he was nervous when he first started last week, but by the end of the first shift, his confidence had already increased.
Newman’s long-term goal is to earn enough money to live independently – right now, he lives with a family paid to support him in whatever way he needs.
“I’ve never done it before,” he said, of living independently. “I think it would be fun.”
Doug Carroll, owner/manager at Extreme Pita, hired Newman after meeting Debbie Hastings, an employment specialist with Nanaimo Association for Community Living’s employment program, at a Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce meeting.
Newman didn’t require extra training compared with his other staff and it was an easy transition, he said.
“Terry’s very coachable and he’s willing to learn,” said Carroll. “He’s capable of doing a lot of the tasks here. It gives us an extra person to do a job that we’d have difficulty covering. The rewards far outweigh what we’ve put in.”
This success story is an example of what Community Living B.C., the provincial agency charged with delivering support and services to adults with developmental disabilities and their families, hopes to see more often.
As part of its new employment strategy, which aims to see 1,200 new job opportunities provincewide for community living clients open up over the next three years, the agency recently launched three regional pilot projects focused on increasing job opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities, including one in the central and northern Island region.
“More and more people we serve have told us that they want to work,” said David Hurford, CLBC spokesman. “This really for us is a response to that growing demand.”
The project will gather together stakeholders, such as service providers, employers, self-advocates and school district officials on the Island from Duncan to Port Hardy to focus on community planning and building on existing strengths, he said.
The agency has set aside more than $2.5 million to go toward the three pilot projects.
The group, assisted by a project manager hired by community living, will develop a regional employment plan, set targets and then get to work implementing it, said Hurford.
“Part of it is to really educate employers about how easy it is to hire someone with a developmental disability,” he said.
“Employers think it’s harder than it actually is.”
The region was chosen because service providers are working well with employers already and there is a strong self-advocate community, said Hurford.
Of about 15,000 CLBC clients, about 2,200 had some sort of employment income last year, he added.
Hastings said the key is finding the right fit for both employer and client and when this is achieved, the result has benefits for both – people will support a business for being inclusive and it helps her clients feel more involved in the community.
“It builds self-esteem because they’re doing what they see the rest of their family doing,” she said.