Graham Hanaka (left) has found meaningful employment at Popsey’s Restaurant thanks to owner Ruth Lim’s support for building an inclusive community.

Graham not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get down to it

Building inclusive communities is a goal that must be shared by all British Columbians if it is to be realized

The Campbell River and District Association for Community Living’s (CRDACL) 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 a series of articles profiling local businesses that have brought meaningful employment to people with developmental disabilities.

Popsey’s is well known in our community for good food, friendly service and of course the old fashioned log cabin design of the restaurant.

What might not be so well known is the small but integral role in the community they also play. Graham Hanaka, an individual with disabilities is in his second year of employment at the establishment.

Building inclusive communities is a goal that must be shared by all British Columbians if it is to be realized. Ruth Lim, Owner of Popsey’s, believes in this philosophy and is doing her part to see that an inclusive community encompasses a work force with members of diverse abilities.

Hanaka is at the helm of the dish pit every Friday over the busy lunch hour and excels despite their high volume of dishes.

“Graham is very punctual,” says the owner, “very reliable.’

Lim has tailored a two-hour shift during the peak hours for Hanaka and is pleased with his consistency and reliability.

“Fridays is one of the busiest times at Popsey’s and Graham comes along and is just a smiling face. He gets right at the dishes and he knows his routine,” Lim says.

Hanaka was trained to use the equipment and cleaning supplies by the job coaches from the Association of Community Living and his supervisors when he first started working. Coworkers all enjoy working with Hanaka and understand the limits of his disabilities. They are able to support him and provide a working environment that makes everyone happy. When the dishes start piling up and things get hectic, Hanaka says that he stays in his zone and “Just powers through it.”

The training process is very comprehensive and supportive.

“I’ve found it a very supportive and flexible process with the Association, getting a person with disabilities into the work place,” Lim says, “they come in with the client and are physically here doing the work, doing it with him. The first shift is done together, and then a few sequential shifts are only assisted part of the time.”

The supportive employment of CRDACL has a good follow up system. Safety training and work routines are all done through the job coaches and at no extra expense of the employer. Hanaka and Maureen Brinson (the Job Coach) did the training, “But I got the job!” he says with a laugh.

Job coaches are receptive to each employer’s specific needs and concerns, coming in during the demanding hours of business, including evenings, weekends, and even statutory holidays. The staff likes to joke with Hanaka that any broken plates will come out of his pay check, but in reality, any retraining or skills building would be handled by the supportive employment. Lim is comfortable contacting the association with any concerns or questions regarding her employee and finds the lines of communication to be always open.

Lim explains how they still communicate with her regularly, “ A few months ago Graham had to miss some work because he was having dental surgery and so when he came back he was a little off track with what his duties were. I put an e-mail into Maureen and someone came in with him for a couple of hours on a couple of shifts and supported him through that period. Everything continued as smoothly as normal.”

Working in the community is a big part of inclusion. People with developmental disabilities want and need to work at jobs where they are paid real wages and feel valued as employees. Lim finds the principal very important.

“I like seeing the people in the community with disabilities being supported and working,” she says. “I am glad to be a part of that.

“I would even be open to having another employee to come in and bus tables on the Prime Rib Sundays.”

Research has shown that an inclusive work place increases morale. By being included, individuals with developmental disabilities can also “include” others into their way of seeing and understanding the world.

“Graham has some connections with some of his coworkers here,” Lim says, “we only learned after Graham started working here that some of the other staff had family members and loved ones affiliated with or supported by the association as well. Working with, or living in group homes.”

The staff at Popsey’s share a deeper bond than most work environments. The approach needed to address these challenges needs to be multifaceted and encourage the involvement of families, individuals, employers, employees, governments and community service providers. Hanaka says that he is happy that he has a job and they are proud of him. He likes the job because it keeps him busy and it is about much more than just the money. Unlike a lot of his peers, the money that Graham earns does not go to partying, but into the bank for savings. When asked whether or not he’ll spend his money buying gifts for his friends and family he laughs “No way! All that hard earned cash is for me alone.”

Popsey’s has been in business for 17 years and has previously employed another person with a disability but have found Hanaka to be a more compatible fit. Not every employee works out but through the transition period or difficulties, the Association has been supportive every step of the way.