Below is a article from People’s First Canada Newsletter interviewing Jennifer Grol, a young lady we support and her employer, Steve Sharpe at Sharpe’s Food Market in Campbellford.



and able

Volume 2, March 2013

people with intellectual disabilities

creating an inclusive labour force

 Article by;  Michelle Strutzenberger

Owner of Sharpes Food Market in Campbellford, Ontario, Steve Sharpe has become convinced that hiring people who have a disability is a smart business decision. This is in large part due to a young woman, Jennifer Grol, who joined his workforce about two years ago. A Campbellford resident who had been living next to the Sharpes food mart and shopped there often, Jennifer wanted to work at the store more than anywhere else. Campbellford is a small town, and Sharpes is the family grocery store — a kind of “omnipresence” in the community, offering what’s important to people — food and a warm, welcoming, safe community atmosphere. “The people are so friendly, and the atmosphere about it, and to be able to work in the deli and working with serving people.” This is what Jennifer says drew her to want to work at the store. “I remember the first time someone asked me, ‘What is your dream job?’ I said, ‘Sharpes’. But she put in her resume about 15 times with no response.  In the meantime and like all of us; Jennifer tried a variety of jobs, everything from working as a crossing guard to cleaning the local theatre. In the process she gained valuable job experience, padded her resume and demonstrated she was ready willing and able to work. The dream to work at Sharpes never left, though at times her hopes to realize it began to dim. But with her tenacity and perseverance the stars began to line up. Steve admits that before hiring Jennifer he had a number of qualms about hiring people who have a disability, as many employers do. He was concerned about the liability, accommodations that might be needed and the quality of work done. Then several years ago he attended a workshop facilitated by the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN). There a fellow businessman, Tim Hortons’ franchise owner Mark Wafer shared his experiences hiring more than 70 people who have a disability. Other presenters also shared a compelling case against the myths surrounding the employability of people who have a disability. Then application number 16 came in from Jennifer. While he was still reluctant, he agreed to an interview, subsequently hired Jennifer for a trial period and hasn’t looked back. Jennifer now works in the Sharpes deli with 13 other women, as an “integral” part of the operation. “She’s just a wonderful young woman and we’re very happy to have her. I have 85 employees, and she makes a solid contribution just like everyone else,” says Steve. He describes Jennifer as “very reliable and conscientious,” and notes her peers say she is a “hard worker and very loyal.” “I think a lot of people labour under the same myths I did, and Jennifer has certainly proven that they are myths,” says Steve, who has since presented to other businesses about his experiences and new perspective on inclusive employment. In addition to changing Steve’s perspective, others say that by working at the deli Jennifer has begun to change the minds of many. From her co-workers to community members and to other people who have a disability who see her as a role model the chatter is now about those who are ready willing and able to work and not the myths of hiring a person with a disability. Jennifer’s story illustrates a bigger story, that “all people have struggles and all people have strengths, and you just need to find the place where you shine and you can be a huge asset to the community.” As for Jennifer, she says she’s at a place in her life where she wouldn’t change anything. “I make good pizza. I’m a hard worker. If it’s sometimes difficult, I don’t stop; I keep doing it until I learn it. I like serving people.” These are some of the strengths Jennifer says she brings to her workplace. She’s also enjoyed getting to know her deli co-workers as she works with them almost daily. They joke around, have a good time and sometimes go out to dinner together. All kinds of opportunities have now opened up for Jennifer. By saving from her wages at Sharpe’s, Jennifer and her husband have been able to buy a car. They now travel regularly to the nearby communities of Belleville and Trenton where they enjoy shopping. Before, they relied on local service providers for transportation. Jennifer and her husband are also planning their first-ever long trip to New Brunswick this fall. “Don’t give up, because the right job is out there for you… A door will open,” Jennifer says, describing her message for others looking for employment.

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