THE RIGHT TO WORK

Winnipeg Free Press - - COVER -

UN­LIKE most peo­ple, Ryan Mor­wick is al­ways ex­cited for Mon­day morn­ing to come around.

For Mor­wick, Mon­day means wak­ing up, get­ting dressed, mak­ing break­fast and hop­ping on the bus to the Asper Jewish Com­mu­nity Cam­pus, where he’s worked as a cleaner for the last three years.

“One day, I said, ‘I re­ally want to work at the Rady,” says Mor­wick, an em­i­nently friendly and cour­te­ous 29 year old who loves floor hockey, bas­ket­ball and french vanilla cof­fee. “I did it, and it makes me feel re­ally proud.”

A part-time job might not seem like much, but 10 years ago, when Mor­wick was just start­ing with GROW Win­nipeg — a life-skills devel­op­ment pro­gram for young adults liv­ing with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties — he wasn’t sure any­one would ever give him a shot.

“I didn’t think it was pos­si­ble for me to get a job,” he says Mon­day morn­ing af­ter wrap­ping up his first shift of the week.

GROW, which stands for “Gain­ing Re­sources Our Way,” be­gan in 2001 with a sum­mer pro­gram in Gimli, aimed at de­vel­op­ing nec­es­sary skills to gain in­de­pen­dence. In 2009, it was ex­panded to fully sub­si­dized Mon­day-Fri­day pro­gram­ming in Win­nipeg, where par­tic­i­pants — 16 cur­rently — learn how to bud­get, cook, com­mu­ni­cate and find their way around the city.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mis­sion is to en­hance the po­ten­tial of its par­tic­i­pants and to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­gage­ment in com­mu­nity life, in­clud­ing paid, fair em­ploy­ment. Mor­wick and his brother Ri­ley were among the pro­gram’s first full-time par­tic­i­pants.

Some po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers have in­ac­cu­rate views of peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties and their ca­pa­bil­i­ties to work, says pro­gram direc­tor Sandy Sheegl. But if they can see past those mis­con­cep­tions, they are re­warded with loyal, ea­ger, ded­i­cated peo­ple seek­ing mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment.

“When em­ploy­ers have no ex­pec­ta­tions of some­one as an em­ployee, that per­son has noth­ing to live up to,” Sheegl says.

“Al­most any work site has jobs that peo­ple with de­vel­op­men­tal or in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties are ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing,” says Oly Back­strom, pres­i­dent and CEO of SCE Life­works Inc., an or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties to work and par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­nity. He says busi­nesses are of­ten re­luc­tant to give jobs to that seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, based on a gen­eral lack of aware­ness.

Na­tional statis­tics from 2012 show that while more than three-quar­ters of Man­i­to­bans with­out dis­abil­i­ties were em­ployed, only 56 per cent with dis­abil­i­ties were in the work­force, Back­strom says, adding that 20 per cent gap rep­re­sented more than 18,000 peo­ple ca­pa­ble of con­tribut­ing who couldn’t find jobs.

“I feel some busi­nesses are fi­nally start­ing to un­der­stand and think more broadly about this un­tapped labour pool,” says Back­strom.

GROW par­tic­i­pant Rachel Nickel, 25, knows what it’s like to be un­der­es­ti­mated. In high school, a teacher told her she’d never be able to work with chil­dren be­cause of her spe­cial needs. Now? She’s vol­un­teer­ing at Rady’s day­care fa­cil­ity, and has all the nec­es­sary cer­ti­fi­ca­tion needed for a full-time po­si­tion.

Mor­wick, who lives in a condo with his brother, says see­ing his friends suc­ceed is just as im­por­tant to him as his own achieve­ments. “I’m so proud of ev­ery­one here,” he says.

“Ryan is a huge suc­cess story,” says Sheegl. “Once you build con­fi­dence in some­one, it’s amaz­ing what they do with it.”

Mor­wick en­joys what he does: clean­ing, tidy­ing up and or­ga­niz­ing equip­ment around the gym fa­cil­ity. He’s a fa­mil­iar face at the Rady, which is down the street from GROW’s of­fices, and loves to be a mem­ber of the team there.

“GROW and the Rady have given me so much,” he says. “Be­tween the first day I showed up here and now... I just feel so proud of my­self.”

And he gets paid fairly for his work. “That means I can buy more cof­fee,” he says with a laugh.

MIKAELA MACKEN­ZIE / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Will Gault has gone from home­less­ness to run­ning a food kiosk at the Deer Lodge Curling Club.

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