Inclusive employment embraced

·4 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — When it was located next to the Moose Hall on Fort William Road, the Monty Parks Centre was synonymous with their floral car toppers in the 1970s and has provided the community with many woodwork creations over the years. They also produced popular dog biscuits baked fresh in their kitchen.

The centre is responsible for connecting hundreds of people with disabilities with life-changing job opportunities. The Fort William Road building has since been transformed into the Roots to Harvest headquarters.

And what happened to the Monty Parks Centre? The name has been dropped, but the search for work opportunities continues.

“We have moved to John Street,” says Kim Kelly, acting manager of Thunder Bay Community Living Centre Employment Services.

The relocation in 2020 resulted in the elimination of the kitchen/bake shop and carpentry room in the new centre so they can better focus on transitioning people into paid employment, which they have been doing since 2012.

Kelly said this is important for the employee because it provides the employer with an excellent worker who has support and who will gain the knowledge and experience they need to build their independence and confidence.

“They will have the capabilities to access our support (person) who will help the individual on the job site as well as supporting the employer with whatever issues come up,” she said.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to get out into the community, become involved and see what it’s like to be in an employment setting to gain full worker experience and get a regular paycheque.”

Lisa Foster, executive director for Thunder Bay Community Living, says their goal is to embrace the whole idea of inclusive employment with a fair wage, which she called a provincial advocacy issue.

“Younger people who are coming into service . . . have a whole vision of work and they want real jobs,” Foster said. “We (had been) preparing for that changing demographic that we were seeing for a while.”

This meant developing a summer employment experience for high school students with a disability to get their first summer job. She said students move into the working world and experience all of the things that happen when they get their first job.

“They figure out, ‘I have to show up, I have to be on time, I have to work with people and I have to start thinking about what I want to do after high school.’” Foster said.

“I think for most of us, being needed and having something to contribute to and be a part of, and having something to do every day . . . helps to learn, grow and push yourself to learn new skills and make a fair wage.”

The success rate for matching employees with employers is almost 100 per cent. The centre works with 80 adult people with disabilities with 10 of them working in a volunteer capacity and the rest all employed.

With upwards of 35 students each summer, at least 25 of them have been placed in jobs.

“It’s quite popular,” Foster said. “Some of the kids actually keep their job part time throughout the year, which is wonderful because who doesn’t want extra money?”

Foster says it’s “quite remarkable” how employers and businesses in Thunder Bay embrace inclusion employment. With almost 100 separate businesses involved, they are slowly building back up to that (active number) on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supportive employment for adults with disabilities is typically referred to the centre through the Developmental Services Ontario referral process.

“We try to match people with what they’re interested in and our staff does a really good job working with that potential employer to find out what the need is there, what skills, abilities, interests and tolerances are needed for the job,” Foster said, adding that their staff helps the (new employee) in the early stages of the job and make themselves available if they are needed to navigate through any issues.

With so many businesses feeling the stress of worker shortages, Foster says Thunder Bay Community Living can provide employers with very committed conscientious employees who are reliable and happy to work.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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