‘Like a second family’
Autistic youth finds his place at hotel set to close
It was a sad day for Diane Dawson when she learned the owner of Bay Roberts Hotel and Scrunchions Restaurant plans to close his business and convert the property into condominiums and rental units.
For the last year-and-a-half, her 24-year-old son Shawn has worked there. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.
“He comes to work with a smile on his face, he’s in the kitchen with a smile on his face, and he leaves with a smile on his face,” Diane told The Compass during a recent chat in the restaurant dining room with Shawn seated next to her. “He fit right in, and it’s like a second family.”
Shawn, who lives in Clarke’s Beach with his parents, is not an overly talkative guy, but when his mom asks what sort of tasks he looks after, he can list them off with relative ease. There’s dishwashing, cleaning countertops, sweeping, and — perhaps most importantly — having fun with his co-workers.
Among his best buddies at work is Rod Delaney, the hotel’s general manager and the restaurant’s chef. It was Delaney who initially hired Shawn after he first contacted MRON in Carbonear to inquire about Supported Employment Services. Offered through a partnership between MRON and Advanced Education and Skills, the program helps people with developmental disabilities find employment.
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“He’s only treated differently in the sense that we know what his limitations are, and they’re not (significant) by any standards,” said Delaney. “He knows his job. He knows his job better than anyone else in this building knows his job, and that’s not to put a false sense of security or any accolades on him. He comes in here and he does a great job. It’s as simple as that. He goes straight to work.”
That commitment was apparent when The Compass arranged to meet with Shawn and his mother at the hotel. Diane initially couldn’t track her son down. It turned out Shawn went straight towards the kitchen to sweep the floor, even though he was just dropping by for an interview.
Shawn can list off the names of various co-workers, including his job coach Deana. According to his mom, Shawn even goes to work on days when Deana is sick.
“All we wanted for Shawn was to have a job — 15-20 hours a week was all we wanted,” said his mom. “He just changed when he worked here. He matured. He doesn’t talk a lot, but he started talking more.”
Shawn has gained some independence through his in- volvement in Special Olympics swimming and even attended competitions outside the province. Diane considers Shawn’s job to be even more valuable developmentally.
Delaney himself has noticed a change in Shawn.
“Now it’s more like he’s in there singing, carrying on, smiling, fooling around in his own impish way,” he said. “When Shawn first started here, you really thought he was in a shell in some manner. If he was that quiet now like he was when he started, we’d be wondering what’s wrong.”
Shawn has made a strong connection with Delaney. They share little jokes between them, and the affection Delaney has for his employee is obvious when you hear him speak.
“There’s no doubt he’s brought something to this place,” Delaney said. “And we were looking for that too on another level. I’d take all the abilities and all the accreditations, everything you can bring to the job, and all that’s to be respected and applauded, hands down. But I’ll take attitude on an equal level with any kind of piece of paper and diploma put on the table. Who you are matters to me, and we hit the goldmine here (with Shawn).”
Shawn Dawson, left, is getting a lot out of his job at Bay Roberts Hotel and Scrunchions Restaurant, and his boss Rod Delaney, right, appreciates everything he brings to the table.