A team of supportive coworkers (from left) Superstore assistant manager Adam Clarkson

A supportive work environment fosters independence and growth in Campbell River

Campbell River and District Association for Community Living’s Supported Employment Program provided assistance in finding employment

The Campbell River and District Association for Community Living’s employment program has been assisting people with developmental disabilities find meaningful employment for over 23 years. During that time, the organization has connected numerous businesses in the community with reliable, committed employees. The Campbell River Mirror is pleased to be able to present another in a series of articles profiling local businesses that have brought meaningful employment to people with developmental disabilities.


Having a support system in place is an important part of all people’s lives with and without disabilities.

“When I first came to Campbell River, I wanted to work but I didn’t know who to ask for help. I was intimidated by the city,” says Norman Chamberlain.

However, after attending NIC’s Employment Transition Program, he was introduced to the Campbell River and District Association for Community Living’s Supported Employment Program where he was given assistance to find employment. After a comprehensive job search, he was hired at the Real Canadian Superstore as a general service clerk.

“Now that I have a job, I feel I fit in more, like I’m an equal,” says Chamberlain who comes from Bella Bella, a small community located on the central coast. “Since I started working, I’m braver at getting around and doing things on my own.”

Another topic of conversation that ignites a spark in Chamberlain’s eyes is when he makes reference to his coworkers, “They always tell me if I ever need to talk about anything, that they are there for me. They support me,” says Chamberlain with pride and enthusiasm.

As it turns out, Chamberlain has many natural supports (a term used by those in supported employment). They are mainly comprised of the positive relationships he has with his coworkers.  His relationship with them encourages empowerment, independence and growth, which has also helped bring the best of his skills and abilities to the workplace.

For instance, rather than using a traditional job coach, management made use of a natural support, when they matched Chamberlain with a co-worker they felt complimented him for his training.

Superstore’s General Manager Garry Ogrodnik says, “Positions like Norm’s are key as it’s a big loss if they don’t show up, work needs to be done.”

He also says that in order to ensure their exceptional food standards are met, Chamberlain has to conduct fridge and freezer temperature checks several times a day.

Creating opportunities for Chamberlain to make choices, so that he can learn from his mistakes or reap the benefits of his actions is another way Superstore makes the most of natural supports.

Chamberlain explains, “When I go to work, the first thing I do is get my instructions for the day. That way I feel confident about what my job is. They tell me I can either do temperatures or check the bathrooms. I do the bathrooms to get them out of the way first; which also warms me up for the day. Sometimes I forget to sign that I cleaned the bathrooms, but then Adam will remind me; he taught me it’s important to sign, so that it proves our store is responsible for customer safety. Then I check temperatures, because they can’t be rushed. I like that I have a choice of which order I get the job done.”

Perhaps it is the values of the management team, that the employees at Superstore get their insight into behaviors that make their workplace naturally supportive. The organization employs 8-10 people with diverse skills and abilities, some of which are full time. Ogrodnick describes how customers have taken him aside and thanked him for hiring those who possibly couldn’t get work elsewhere in the community.

To which his response is, “No need to thank me, they are excellent employees.”

“At the end of the day Norman will call me on his way home, just to talk about what’s been done and what still needs to be done. He sets a good example for accountability. His confidence has increased significantly. At first he was a little shy, but now he’s more expressive and speaks openly to his coworkers. He’s also very polite and never leaves a customer hanging,” Ogrodnick says proudly.

Superstore has a culture of engaging people with disabilities in activities and relationships that are typical to all people in an employment setting. This has helped Chamberlain experience a sense of independence and personal growth. While natural supports will change from context to context, Chamberlain is proof that all people can work, given that employers and coworkers open their doors and minds to people with diverse abilities.

To learn more about how people like Norman Chamberlain can help your business, call 250-286-0394 ex. 331. Or check out the Facebook page at CRADACL Employment or follow cradaclemployed on Twitter.