Central Okanagan  

Coffee served with ability

The job statistics for adults with developmental disabilities are slim, in Canada less then 50 per cent are employed.

However, several Okanagan companies are improving the odds for those adults in the region with 'diverseabilities'.

Starbucks works with TIER Support Services to employ nearly a dozen hard-working and valuable employees from West Kelowna to Vernon.

The Starbucks' message is clear, these individuals are employees they value and cherish.

Dale and Leanne Froese have been married for 16-years and are both cafe managers at Starbucks in Kelowna.

They were two of the first cafe managers to be hired with Starbucks; both have been on the job for over six years.

The pair says their jobs give them a purpose, a feeling of belonging and the pay cheques help them make ends meet.

“It is very nice to have the equality. We live with a disability and we thrive on the inclusion and to work as an equal partner here at Starbucks,” says Dale Froese.

“It is not easy to find work for people with disabilities because people think we are not capable,” adds Leanne Froese. “We get a little bit of extra money and we can pay the bills and it makes us feel like we are independent now.”

Dale works at Starbucks Central Park and has become an integral park of the team.

Store Manager Trina Zacharias says the decision to bring him in is one she never thought twice about.

“You can teach anyone the skills but you can't teach people the passion and the drive and the loyalty you get from someone like Dale,” says Zacharias.

“Dale has brought in loyalty not just from our partners but from our customers too. Customers come in and look for Dale, they have talked to him, they have that human connection with him. We will protect and defend Dale until the end of the time and he will do the same for us.”

A sentiment reiterated by Starbucks' Guisachan Village Store Manager Joyce Preussner who hired 25-year-old Jeremy Brereton, another local cafe manager, three years ago.

“Jeremy is an amazing cafe attendant. He is fantastic, he just adds so much personality to the store,” says Preussner. “He is hard working, he is always early, he has never been late. Sometimes I wonder if I got the time wrong because he is so early, he is very eager to come to work and very enthusiastic and energetic.”

“You get to meet new people, you get to meet new staff. I love it here, it's beautiful,” Jeremy told Castanet. “It puts money into my pocket which gives me more freedom.”

TIER Support Services Employment Programs Coordinator Scott Klassen is excited companies like Starbucks are spreading the message about the program.

He says his clients are hard-working, loyal, and dependable employees. Regardless of any disability they are a smart business choice.

“Anytime you are not re-training, anytime you have growth, anytime you have customer loyalty as a result of employee loyalty, those are bottom line business decisions,” says Klassen.

“It does feel good, it has changed Dale and Leanne and Jeremy's lives having an income, and that is fabulous, but from a business perspective there is that bottom line and it has to make sense for a business and in this case I think it does."

Klassen says everyday his company is presented with so many people with so many abilities and competencies, that desire to work, but what they are missing is the opportunity to do so because many employers aren't giving them a chance.

“I think it is a bit of a misconception of what hiring a person with a disability looks like. I think when you mention working with adults with developmental disabilities there is an image in their mind immediately and sometimes we just want to break through that,” says Klassen.

“I understand from an employers perspective it has to be value based, they have to bring value to the job. The days of it just being a good thing to do does not work anymore, not in this economy.”

And so he and his team work with employers throughout the Okanagan like Starbucks that break the mold and give their clients a chance.

“If one out of two people with a disability aren't working that needs to change,” says Klassen. “It is really about creating opportunities and getting employers to see that it is not just the traditional jobs that have been in the past, but there are so many more opportunities that could be created based on what the individual wants to do and what their interests and abilities are.”

“Instead of asking why would I hire someone with a disability it should be why wouldn't I consider this?”

The team at TIER helps find the right fit for each person and employer with the aim at creating a long lasting working relationship. Something Klassen says his clients crave, like we all do.

“Work is what defines us. You go somewhere and the first thing people ask you is what do you do, and they mean your job, so we know the value of work. It is financial dependence, it is a feeling of significance,” says Klassen who adds that his clients are loyal employees who value their work above all.

Part of his job is asking employers to forget the old HR resume rules and judge the person, not the piece of paper.

“For many of our people the resume is not going to win them the job compared to other people. Their personality is going to win them the job, their work ethic will win them the job, their intense loyalty to the employer will win them the job, but those things aren't covered in an online application.” He urges businesses to, “Make a decision based on competency and ability after having met them.”

Starbucks District Manager, Robin Lukash, says the cafe managers are invaluable.

“It has been unbelievable."

She says it was a business decision with no regrets and she encourages other business owners to consider the opportunity they are missing.

“If they are afraid to try and afraid of the work I would say don't be afraid of something that is this rich, and that gives back this much,” says Lukash.

She also feels the impact the cafe managers have on other staff is far reaching and impactful.

“When you look at the demographics of our partners, they are typically younger and they are forging their way and developing their own social conscience. When they have the opportunity to know and work with Dale and Leanne it is changing how they view the world and changing their social conscience.”

“It is a good business decision, it is a good financial decision, but I also think it is going to change the landscape,” adds Lukash.

TIER which stands for Teaching Independence Employment and Responsibility has been serving the Okanagan since 1987. Clients are referred to them from Community Living BC and their services are government funded .

If you are interested in hiring someone with developmental disabilities or learning more about the program visit TIER.ca


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