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