Empowering through employment

Garth Homer Society hosts open house to promote benefits of hiring employees with developmental disabilities

Kate Jones

Everybody wants a purpose, and finding that fit is what drives Jeanine Reemst.

At any given time, Reemst and a five-person staff manage about 80 clients with developmental disabilities through a four-stage process to permanent employment at the Garth Homer Society.

“We have clients who can perform some areas of a job, and do those parts really well, but maybe not all the tasks of a regular job description,” says Reemst, employment services manager at the     society.

Reemst recently invited the community to visit the organization’s newly established space on the third floor of the Garth Homer building (813 Darwin Ave.) in Saanich.

“The long term plan is to educate employers about our opportunities,” she says.

Job coaches work with clients who face barriers due to any one of a long list of developmental disabilities such as autism, Asperger syndrome, Down syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome.

Clients are assessed for their autonomy and other factors before coaches assist in job development.

“We have to sleuth out how independent they are, find out what they like and why they like it, and then move ahead to find an employer willing to adjust a job description or expectations to find a fit,” Reemst says.

One client, December, has found her niche as a re-packer for the Six Mile Liquor Store.

December comes in once or twice a week to process deliveries and run a machine that quickly separates flats of beer and cider into six packs.

“They consolidated a set of tasks into one day for December, which saves time for the store clerks, who previously did it on demand throughout the week,” Reemst says.

Since May, the department has helped place 12 people in permanent jobs.

Once a job is found, clients begin working during the training and support stage, which can last from a couple of weeks to several months. The training goes beyond the client, as coaches often educate the employer and other employees about the work arrangement.

Coaches visit the client as little as once a week during the maintenance stage and back off once the employee is thriving in their new role.

“They don’t want us there anymore, checking in on them week to week,” Reemst says.

Jobs are almost always part time and can range from a few hours each week to a few hours every day.

Though most clients collect the federal Person With Disability benefit, they can still earn up to $800 each month without affecting it.

To consider hiring a client of the Garth Homer Society, call 250-475-2270, Ext. 281.

reporter@saanichnews.com