CMHA Swift Cur­rent starts new vo­ca­tional pro­gram

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Liebenberg mliebenber­[email protected]­

The Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion (CMHA) Swift Cur­rent branch has started a new vo­ca­tional pro­gram to give in­di­vid­u­als an opportunit­y to learn new skills and gain work ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Lunch Bunch can­teen in the E.I. Wood build­ing hosted an open house on Aug. 29 and of­fi­cially opened for busi­ness on Sept. 3.

The cold food ser­vice pro­vides paid em­ploy­ment and work ex­pe­ri­ence to par­tic­i­pat­ing CMHA mem­bers. Vo­ca­tional co­or­di­na­tor Jamie Rowe said par­tic­i­pants are ex­cited to be part of this ini­tia­tive.

“It’s a paid po­si­tion,” she noted. “So they’re re­ally, re­ally ea­ger for that, and to try to learn more life skills and so­cial­iz­ing. They’re so ex­cited. They’re just over the moon to try this out.” There has been a lot of in­ter­est in the pro­gram and five mem­bers were se­lected.

Each one will work one day per week at the can­teen, al­ways on the same day. A sixth per­son will be avail­able to help on any day that some­body can­not make it to work.

The CMHA has a li­censed kitchen for food prepa­ra­tion. The vo­ca­tional par­tic­i­pants will start their work day in the kitchen, where they will pre­pare food for the can­teen. The fruit and vegetable trays will then be trans­ported to the E.I. Wood build­ing, where they will as­sist clients in the can­teen. “They will learn how to make change and learn how to do the best food trays, how to prop­erly pre­pare a sand­wich, the prep­ping and the wrap­ping of ev­ery­thing, and mak­ing sure the safety food guide­lines are han­dled prop­erly,” she said.

They will work un­der the su­per­vi­sion and guid­ance of Rowe or Sylvia Thorburn, who is as­sist­ing with the coach­ing of pro­gram par­tic­i­pants. Rowe has a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence to share with pro­gram par­tic­i­pants, be­cause she has worked in the food ser­vice in­dus­try for many years.

“I started when I was 16 years old, right at bot­tom level, and the last 13 years my hus­band and I owned John­nie’s Lunch Box,” she said.

John­nie’s Lunch Box was lo­cated at the bus de­pot across the street from the E.I. Wood build­ing and just around the cor­ner from the CMHA Swift Cur­rent club­house.

She al­ready knew a lot of CMHA mem­bers who vis­ited John­nie’s Lunch Box for cof­fee or a meal, and it was there­fore an easy tran­si­tion when she be­came the vo­ca­tional co­or­di­na­tor. The Lunch Bunch can­teen is open ev­ery day of the week from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The op­er­at­ing hours and food items pro­vided might change in the fu­ture based on client needs.

“Since it’s our first ven­ture, it’s go­ing to be trial and er­ror to see,” she said. “If the de­mand is for more hours we’ll ex­tend it. We don’t know now. We’re still try­ing to find our feet, and see what sells. Maybe there’s more peo­ple want­ing gluten-free op­tions. We can to­tally look into that. If there is a de­mand, we will meet it, for sure.” For CMHA Swift Cur­rent Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Jac­qui Wil­liams the open­ing of the can­teen was an im­por­tant step in the cre­ation of a vo­ca­tional pro­gram at the branch.

“It’s a great vo­ca­tional pro­gram, be­cause it’s food ser­vice and we’ve trained ev­ery­one in food safe han­dling,” she said. “It’s also cus­tomer ser­vice and deal­ing with cash. So it’s a real nice vo­ca­tional pro­gram, be­cause it’s got all the fun­da­men­tal ba­sic job skills that you would need in an en­try level job.” The vo­ca­tional pro­gram al­ready started in the sum­mer, when four CMHA mem­bers were in­volved in the op­er­a­tion of a gourmet pop­corn booth, ini­tially at the Lady­bug Trade Show and there­after at Mar­ket Square.

The idea for the can­teen grew from sug­ges­tions made by staff work­ing in the E.I. Wood build­ing, where they did not have a can­teen ser­vice for some time.

The vo­ca­tional pro­gram is funded with a por­tion of the $125,000 grand prize money that CMHA Swift Cur­rent won last year in iA Fi­nan­cial Group’s sec­ond an­nual Canada-wide phil­an­thropic con­test.

Wil­liams is hope­ful the can­teen will gen­er­ate suf­fi­cient funds to keep the vo­ca­tional pro­gram go­ing be­yond the ini­tial two years of fund­ing.

She be­lieves it is nec­es­sary to have a vo­ca­tional pro­gram at CMHA Swift Cur­rent, be­cause it is a prac­ti­cal way to as­sist mem­bers who are fac­ing bar­ri­ers to em­ploy­ment.

“It’s some­thing they can put on their re­sume,” she said. “All of a sud­den they have a ref­er­ence who can speak to those skills that you need to main­tain a job, and it also builds their con­fi­dence. It’s not only the em­ployer who is won­der­ing if the in­di­vid­ual is em­ploy­able. The in­di­vid­ual is look­ing at him­self and go­ing, ‘I haven’t worked in years, what do I have to of­fer?’ If you can get them out and in the prac­tise of ac­tu­ally do­ing the job, they build their con­fi­dence and they build their skills and they have some­thing then to talk about in an interview and they do bet­ter as well.”

The process to build skills and gain ex­pe­ri­ence al­ready started when the par­tic­i­pants in the vo­ca­tional pro­gram sub­mit­ted their ap­pli­ca­tions. They had to ap­ply for the po­si­tions, they pre­pared and sub­mit­ted their re­sumes, and they were in­ter­viewed.

“So I think it’s im­por­tant for us, be­cause we do have a sec­tor of the com­mu­nity who are un­der or un­em­ployed and we can make them more em­ploy­able,” Wil­liams said.

“We can help peo­ple learn the skills that they need to main­tain and to keep a job and to be suc­cess­ful in a work­place. I think that’s why it’s im­por­tant here. We need to help our peo­ple live their best life and part of liv­ing a good life is get­ting ting ting up and hav­ing a job tot­ing up and hav­ing a job to do.”

The Lunch Bunch can­teen hosted an open house, Aug. 29. Pic­tured, from left, are Sean Ri­ach, a vo­ca­tional pro­gram as­sis­tant, and Jamie Rowe, the CMHA Swift Cur­rent vo­ca­tional co­or­di­na­tor.

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