With funding for the employment-at-risk program, clients and supporters are singing its praises CBC News

A woman in her late 30s or early 40s stands by the pharmacy shelves.
Charlotte Winsor has been a clerk at Badger Bay Health and Beauty for 22 years as part of the area’s supported employment program. (Troy Turner/CBC)

For many clients of Green Bay Supported Employment Corporation, their job is more than a job. It’s a career, a personal achievement, a sense of purpose.

But all of these things could soon be removed, following a cut in funding from the federal government.

Kem Young, employment manager of the corporation, says they remain optimistic that a solution will be found to continue working.

“Moving forward, we’re positive and I feel very positive that this will be resolved,” Young told CBC News this week.

Detailed in this year’s federal budget is a $625 million cut to the Labor Market Development Agreement, which funds community support organizations that help people find work. For Newfoundland and Labrador, that means a loss of $16.5 million a year.

Employment corporations can still draw from the $142 million pool the province receives. The provincial government has increased the federation’s share until the end of June, but the future of employment corporations beyond that remains uncertain.

A 20-year-old woman in a wheelchair looks at a computer monitor
Alisha Young says she would be devastated if she lost her job at the Icecap Youth Center in Springdale. (Troy Turner/CBC)

For customers and their families and employers in the Green Bay area, it’s a devastating blow.

Alisha Young wears many hats at the Icecap Youth Center in Springdale. She handles social media for non-profit organizations, organizes programs and plans events. There’s nothing about the job she doesn’t like.

“I like hanging out with the kids, getting to know the young people in town,” she said. “I like that when I’m not at work, they notice me and we stop and have a chat and I feel like I can be a safe person. I also really like working with other children with disabilities.”

Young has been a client of the employment corporation since 2019.

“If I walked into a building, the first thing an employer sees is my wheelchair, not my potential,” she said. “And as sad as it is, it’s the truth. So a program like this, I’m able to get into the workforce and not be discriminated against, even if it’s not intentional.”

Young says she will be devastated if the funding dries up, adding that it will cost the government in other ways.

“The money will be spent on mental health services, it will be spent on housing services because many of us will not be able to afford our rent. It will be subsidies for our light and electricity bills. It will be spent anyway, so why not put it somewhere where people are able to feel like they belong, feel like we have a purpose?

A 20-year-old man wearing a red shirt and ball cap pulls weeds from a raised garden
Isaac Chaulk, employed by the Town of King’s Point through the supported employment program, clears several plots in the community garden. (Troy Turner/CBC)

For the past two years, Isaac Chaulk has been a janitor for the city of King’s Point. He takes care of the fire hall, mostly, and does some cleaning work around the RV park, as well as other odd jobs in the community.

Before that, he worked at Springdale, but he says his current setup is more enjoyable.

“Well, I meet new people. Every day is a different cleaning experience and that. And, you know, me and [my support worker] always joking around or trying to have fun and just get out into the community.”

FRIEND | 2 people explain why a supported work program is so important:

This program hires people who feel discriminated against, but it can be eliminated

Alisha Young enjoys her job at a youth center and Isaac Chaulk keeps busy as a cleaner and laborer for the Town of Kings Point. But cuts in federal funding mean the program that linked them to their jobs is in jeopardy. Young and Chaulk say it would be a big hit.

Chaulk likes living in small towns, and when he goes to work, or sees community members out and about, it creates familiarity.

“I would like to be there forever,” he said. “You know, enjoy it to the fullest. [Even] if I’m offered another job, I want to keep it because you go out into the community and I can help.”

In King’s Point, the city has two program clients. Superintendent Boyd Tucker says it’s a win-win situation.

“I hope the program stays put, and actually, for me, I’d like to see the program go bigger,” Tucker said. “I wish the government would invest more in it so we can get more of these people. And for the town of King’s Point, I mean, we’re different, we don’t care what people are , we’re likely to hire them and do what we can do.”

Small communities like King’s Point rarely have any extra cash flow, he said, so when they can have a program that shares employee wages, it can help a lot.

“If you didn’t have that [some work] it wouldn’t end because, there’s only a certain amount of money and maybe the city wouldn’t be able to afford to hire someone just for their jobs.

“The saddest part for me is seeing all these people probably get laid off and no income coming in. So what are you going to do?”

For more than 15 years, Norma Best has watched her daughter, Donna, go to work every week, rarely missing a day.

For the past five years she has been employed at the grocery store in King’s Point, just a short drive from her home in Rattling Brook. Best says she’s watched her daughter grow over the years and become more independent through the confidence she’s built by having a job.

“It’s very important, because I don’t know what would happen to Donna without her. She’s up before I wake up in the morning, she gets ready. When it’s time, she says, ‘Come on, Mom.’

“There are no words to say how important this is. I mean I know firsthand, and if she doesn’t have work this winter, I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s just me and her.”

A man in his 40s wearing a green dress shirt stands in front of the drug history shelves.
Cory Wiseman, pharmacist and owner of Lawtons Drugs in Springdale, says the supported employment program brings a lot of value to the community. (Troy Turner/CBC)

When Cory Wiseman took over Lawtons Drugs in Springdale and BadgerBay Health and Beauty in Triton, both businesses were already taking advantage of the supported employment program.

“We get somebody coming in like the two employees we have now, with a different perspective, they generally bring some light to a situation,” Wiseman said.

“It just gives employees with some disabilities some opportunity to be part of the community and also shows the community that these people can contribute in a meaningful way.”

Wiseman hopes both levels of government will work together to find a solution and give clients who don’t normally have a strong voice a place in the community for years to come.

“These are real people, this is a real community,” he said. “Hopefully we can come to an agreement that shows what the benefit of this program is and we can secure funding for the long term.”

Kem Young, who has worked for the employment agency for more than 20 years, says her work to advocate for the disabled will continue as it should.

“We are positive and I feel very positive that this will be resolved,” she said. “It’s not just going to work, it’s the community connection. We need to keep that connection in our community and in our society for those individuals.”

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