Steve Sharpe shares positive experience

By: Janet Richards The Community Press

CAMPBELLFORD – Steve Sharpe knows first hand the positive results of hiring people with disabilities.

Sharpe is general manager of Sharpe’s Food Market in Campbellford which he owns with his brothers Tom and John.

Sharpe hired his first disabled employee in 2011 after attending a Community Living Campbellford/Brighton breakfast and learning about the Rotary at Work program. Rotary at Work founder Joe Dale and Toronto Tim Hortons owner Mark Wafer, who has had great success with disabled employees, were guest speakers.

Sharpe said the meeting helped dispel myths and made him realize he’d been “labouring under misconceptions” about hiring people with disabilities. With the assistance of Community Living he hired a young woman to work in the deli department. “She works with 13 other women and does a great job, she’s part of the team,” said Sharpe.

Prior to his involvement with Rotary at Work Sharpe said he thought hiring disabled employees would result in high absenteeism, a greater risk of accidents and could require expensive accommodations. “This young lady has the best attendance,” said Sharpe, adding those myths have been dispelled and he has realized disabled employees have a lower turnover rate and are extremely loyal and hard working.

His employee Jennifer Grol-Rae appears with him in a video promoting the Rotary at Work program. She holds a sign reading, “Got my dream job”. Sharpe said the Campbellford resident always wanted to work in the store. Sharpe now uses his positive experience to champion the cause through the Rotary program. “As an inclusive employer and Rotarian I was asked to help with the Rotary at Work program,” he said. The program introduces employers who have experience with people with disabilities to those who are potential employers.

Sharpe also arranged for Dale and Wafer to speak at an independent grocers association meeting of 500 suppliers, wholesalers and retailers. In addition, Sharpe works with a Community Living committee to try to advance employment opportunities for those with disabilities. “It’s been very positive and we’ve had a number of hires,” he said.

In November 2012 Sharpe was presented with an Annual Champion’s League Award at the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) Conference in Alliston. “This is a vast untapped labour market,” said Sharpe. “It’s not benevolent, it’s good for business.”