The NOW takes a closer look at the posAbilities employment service, which has helped close to 200 people with developmental disabilities find work over the past four years.
Years ago, Burnaby's Katarina Lovric worked as a volunteer picking up groceries for seniors, but what she really wanted was a pay cheque and some experience under her belt.
She enjoyed volunteering and felt confident in her abilities, and she connected with an employment agency. Lovric spent seven-and-a-half years with that agency, attending meetings and taking courses but had no luck finding a job.
"It was really frustrating," she says.
Then Community Living B.C. stepped in and suggested another agency, posAbilities, which took all of five months to land her a cashier position at Costco.
"I know, I know!" the 31-year-old says giggling with glee. "It's crazy, it didn't even take them that long. It's a good feeling."
Eight months ago, Lovric started at Costco. She was nervous at first but quickly grew comfortable with her duties and now considers her coworkers family. She clocks in 20 hours a week, at $10.25 an hour, and she's happy as a clam.
"I love it here. The people are great," Lovric says in the noisy Costco cafeteria, before her Friday-afternoon shift. "I've made a lot of new friends."
Lovric's among nearly 200 people from all over the Lower Mainland who have found work through posAbilities, an organization dedicated to empowering people with developmental disabilities. The disabilities can range from fetal alcohol syndrome, to brain injuries, to autism - things that could make it challenging for people to find work on their own. PosAbilities helps by identifying people's workplace strengths and connecting them to jobs they would do well at. The service includes access to a job club, help with resumes or cover letters, on-site job training and referrals to more services if need be.
There's also Melissa Tobin, a posAbilities employment specialist, who helps people like Lovric settle in their new positions.
"(Katarina's) so outgoing, and she gas a great personable attitude. As soon as we got the interview at Costco, I knew she was in. She had them laughing the whole interview," Tobin says.
In the beginning, Tobin worked alongside Lovric and helped her bag groceries, but as Lovric grew more confident and independent, Tobin visited less frequently.
Costco is just one employer posAbilities works with. Kalena Kavanaugh, the posAbilities employment service manager, says the employers include Thrifty Foods, Lowe's, White Spot, the Vancouver Public Library, Value Village and Casalinga Foods, a Burnaby-based business. Most job-seekers find posAbilities through Community Living B.C. Parents can call CLBC and ask for a facilitator's referral for their family members with developmental disabilities.
In the earlier years, families were about nervous about sending their children off to the workplace, Kavanaugh explains.
"Families put a lot of faith in us," she says. "Everything is scary when it's new."
But she also describes a shift that took place.
"That shift was a mindset for people who wanted to have purpose in their day, who wanted to be included in the community," she says.
Lovric, who lives with her parents, is happy to now have her own pay cheque. She spends her earnings on Backstreet Boys concert tickets and merchandise and pitches in to help with some family expenses.
"It feels good. I feel like I'm giving something back as a gift. I'm not asking my parents for money anymore," she says. "I feel like I'm giving back to the community."
Lovric's goal is to stay at Costco as long as she can, but she has advice for others looking for work.
"It's hard to get a job. I was one of the lucky ones that got what I wanted," she says.
"For the people that don't have a job, I know you guys can do it. I have a lot of confidence in you guys, and I wish you the best of luck," she says, lowering her face, tears welling in her eyes.
For more information on the program, go to www.posabilities.ca.