Mack LaPlante isn’t supposed to be working today, but he’s scrubbing the sink anyway.
Unable to take a last-minute shift at Glenwood Meats this evening, the 20-year-old Colwood resident says he feels bad about the predicament, so he scrubs and sprays, donning blue gloves and an apron prepping for a maintenance crew coming in later in the day. His boss and store owner Rick Fisher says, LaPlante has become a welcome member of the team.
“We enjoy having (Mack) around, he is good to get along with, very polite, and like I say, he gets along with everyone … just an all-around great guy,” Fisher said.
“Just the fact that he is born with a little bit of what we could call a ‘disability,’ I look at him and see all kinds of things going for him that other kids don’t have. For some reason, certain people are classified in a different category. (Mack) is great.”
Fisher hired LaPlante through WorkLink, a Work BC employment service centre, and their Supported Employment program. The program works with those with challenges, or identifying as someone with ‘diverse abilities’ including LaPlante, who describes himself as a high-functioning autistic.
The West Shore resident, who bikes to Glenwood Meats three times a week for the part-time job, said finding work has been challenging. He credits Fisher for giving him the opportunity and those from WorkLink, who he said go above and beyond to make a difference for himself and others.
“It’s hard for a young person who hasn’t been to any post-secondary to find a job, even if it’s just some part-time labour,” LaPlante said.
“If you need a job (employers want) experience (but) if you need experience you need a job. At WorkLink they part the waves and give you a direct entrance.”
WorkLink’s Kim Dillon, a job coach for the program, said Mack is not alone. The West Shore community, where many of the clients are from, have been an invaluable partner in making a difference, she said.
“It’s just neat to hear people feeling like they can be included and enjoy the self-esteem and status that goes along with a paycheque,” Dillon said.
“Work is so much more than work, it’s our reason to get up in the morning and it can tell us we are people and we are worth it. It is neat to see the confidence that blossoms from the people we serve.”
She said businesses large and small have rallied behind the 30 to 50 clients the program serves – from those identifying with diverse abilities, including autism, mental health challenges, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, to those living with addictions and looking to overcome adversity.
“The reason our program is so successful is because we do a ton of background work with people we serve. We spend hours and hours with them and get to know what makes them shine as an individual and the support needs they have, so they can be an asset to the employer,” Dillon said. “That takes time.”
On top of Glenwood Meats, she said local businesses, from Royal Bay Bakery, Evedar’s Bistro and Pilgrim Coffee to larger outfits such as A&W, Westshore Town Centre, Quality Foods, Winners Homesense, Sooke Home Hardware, Designer Shoe Warehouse, Mark’s Work Wearhouse and M’akola ILBC Housing Society, Jesken Aerie are among many they partner with to place those looking for work.
“To be honest, most employers like the idea that they get a hard-working, loyal person who really appreciates the job and the chance to work,” Dillon said.
“The other thing that is really wonderful is the people on the ground, the front-line workers … (they) often feel more invested in the company they work for when that company values inclusion and diversity in the workplace, so it can really raise morale.”
Laplante said for him, it is about roots.
“Trying to get a job with (just) a resume is quite difficult,” he said.
“We should all be very thankful there are all these opportunities and organizations that are willing to lend people a hand. That lets me dig my roots in there, lets me make sure I have my foot in the door and lets me know I have more of a fighting opportunity. I really appreciate that; I like that I have my job here and it’s because of them.”