Market owner sings praises of intellectually disabled employee

The Independent;  JOHN CAMPBELL

CAMPBELLFORD – Steve Sharpe is proud of his workers but he’s eager to sing the praises of his latest hire to other Campbellford employers.

Jennifer Grol, who has an intellectual disability, joined Sharpe’s Market a few weeks ago and is doing a great job, Mr. Sharpe said. Ms. Grol, 28, works in the grocery store’s deli department.

“(Her co-workers) have taken her under their wing and all the feedback I’ve got is that she’s doing a really good job,” he said. “She works very hard, she’s punctual. All the girls have spoken very highly of her.”

Mr. Sharpe decided to hire a person with an intellectual disability after attending a special breakfast for business people hosted by Community Living Campbellford/Brighton in January. The two keynote speakers were Joe Dale, the executive director of the Ontario Disability Network, and Mark Wafer, a Tim Hortons franchisee, who has hired more than 50 people with disabilities.

“They made a very compelling case,” Mr. Sharpe said, for tapping into “an under utilized segment” of the community — people who want to work but find it difficult to get a job because of their disabilities. He decided to take part in the Rotary at Work program that helps people overcome those barriers. Mr. Dale, a member of the Whitby Rotary Club, manages the program in partnership with Community Living Ontario.

“You’re not supposed to create a position, it has to be a meaningful job,” Mr. Sharpe said.

Community Living Campbellford/Brighton identified Ms. Grol as a suitable candidate for the deli position and E.A.R.N. provided a job coach for the first week and a half to help prepare her for her duties.

She caught on quickly, Mr. Sharpe said.

“We have 85 employees and she’s making a contribution like everybody else,” he said.

“I love it,” Ms. Grol said. “The people are fun.”

She works five days a week, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“I just go in and try to do my best,” she said. “I enjoy working every day.”

Mr. Sharpe has agreed to act on behalf of Community Living in trying to encourage fellow Rotary members and other local business owners to hire people with disabilities.

He said he did have reservations about hiring individuals with intellectual disabilities before he heard the two keynote speakers deliver their message. His concerns that disabled people were likely to get hurt on the job and be absent from work more often than the norm were shown to be myths by the statistics the two men presented.

“Certainly Jennifer so far has been a testament to that,” Mr. Sharpe said. “I’m very excited by the program.”

Mr. Sharpe is working with Amy Widdows, Community Living’s support and services supervisor. His new role as a champion for inclusive hiring practices will be the subject of a case study the local agency will present at a conference the provincial organization is holding in June.

It will demonstrate the value of recruiting a local business owner to promote the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, which Ms. Widdows said is “immeasurable.”

People in business want to hear from one of their own what the benefits are, rather than have them touted from an agency perspective, she said.

For more information, call Community Living at 705-653-1821 or toll-free at 1-866-528-0825.