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A Good Fit

With the help of an employment program for teenagers with disabilities, Marcel Duruisseau overcame his fear of applying for a job
Marcel Duruisseau

Victoria’s Red Barn Market, on the corner of Vanalman and Glanford Avenues, is a bustling place. Customers come and go, day in, day out, some grabbing a smoked-meat sandwich for lunch, others picking up a week’s worth of meat and fresh produce.

Outside, where the fruit and veggies are neatly stacked along the storefront, is where Marcel Duruisseau spends some of his shift, refilling boxes and answering questions from shoppers. At other times, he’ll be driving the forklift, unloading a truck that’s arrived from up-island with freshly dug beets and potatoes.

You won’t likely notice him, because Duruisseau is just one of the staff—working hard, doing his job, fitting in. And should you see him comfortably interacting with customers, or confidently driving the forklift, you certainly wouldn’t guess that just 16 months earlier, he would have been too scared to even apply for a job here.

“I just think it would be really cool for the B.C. government to have a politician on the autism spectrum,” Marcel says confidently. “If I become the B.C. Disability Minister, I’d help to fund multiple programs like this.”

“I would have been afraid to admit to them that I’m on the autism spectrum,” says Duruisseau. “Even though I’m really open about that in most situations, I do fear telling people when I apply for a job because I worry that they’ll think I’m incapable.”

When he was in Grade 10, Duruisseau’s mother encouraged him to apply to a new program designed to help teenagers with disabilities find and keep part-time employment. TeenWork is a pilot project founded by a group of partners in Greater Victoria, administered by CanAssist at the University of Victoria, and funded by Vancouver Foundation through a generous grant of $150,000 over three years.

TeenWork’s manager, Brooke Parlby, became Duruisseau’s job coach, helping him figure out where he should look for work. “He was lacking a little direction and not having much success,” she recalls. “He was able to secure a few interviews but never really got beyond that stage. So we worked together, to look at his values, look at his strengths, explore that and then really target a business that was in line with that.”

Red Barn Market seemed like a good fit. Parlby accompanied Duruisseau to his first few shifts, making sure he understood his duties. It didn’t take long for the young man to impress his manager, Darcy Dahlin. “He did very well,” says Dahlin. “Followed instructions, and did things exactly the way that we showed him.”

Not only that, but Duruisseau was eager to take on more shifts and more responsibilities, eventually asking to be trained on the forklift. “He really followed that up,” says Dahlin. “He must have asked about three times, and we finally brought an instructor in.”

What started as a part-time position for Duruisseau has grown into almost full-time summer work. “I have absolutely no complaints and everyone here really thinks highly of him,” sums up Dahlin. “It’s been a positive experience.”

With the funding to grow the project provided by Vancouver Foundation, the TeenWork program will be able to help more teenagers find jobs and get started on satisfying careers. Since the program started in 2009, more than 60 youth with various physical, cognitive or mental health challenges have found employment including positions as animal care assistants, car lot attendants and commercial sandwich makers.

Parlby says the biggest hurdle is finding employers willing to take a chance, but when they do, the experience is so good they often want to repeat it. She recalls one employer who has retained a person hired through TeenWork for two years after previously struggling to keep anyone in the job for more than six months. “And he’s looking to us again,” she adds.

As for Duruisseau, he plans to continue working part-time at Red Barn Market while he completes his Community Support and Education Assistant Program at Camosun College. After that, he wants to work as a teacher’s assistant, a job coach or a manager of a program for people with disabilities.

But his ultimate career goal? To run for political office. “I just think it would be really cool for the B.C. government to have a politician on the autism spectrum,” he says confidently. “If I become the B.C. Disability Minister, I’d help to fund multiple programs like this.”

Story By: Suzanne Morphet
Photos By: Leanna Rathkelly

 

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