Advocates at Thrifty Foods in Parksville are highlighting October as National Disability Awareness Employment Month.
“Recently manager Bill Rutledge came to the realization that Geoffrey’s duties were no longer commensurate with his abilities,” said Withanie Lemke as an advocate for her brother Geoffrey Trimble, who she describes as having autism but being very high functioning.
“This is a success story because often employers have token positions for persons with disabilities,” she said, adding often, “these positions are not tailored to the individual’s actual skill set, and lead to frustration for everyone involved.”
“Geoffrey started as a courtesy clerk, a position that no longer exists, bagging groceries and doing front end duties six years ago,” Rutledge said.
“Recently he’s had some challenges with his mobility and stuff so we started reviewing his duties, we looked at ‘what do you like to do?'”
It turned out Trimble had recently joined the Special Olympics, “just for the social aspects and to help the kids with bowling and swimming, help them improve their technique,” Trimble said, so he was looking to change his schedule.
He was also happy to get away from parking lot shopping cart duty, he now admits with some relief and good humour.
“I also just like the change, sometimes you just have to change what you’re doing,” Trimble added.
Trimble’s duties, now more focused in the grocery department, will also include working with and mentoring other youth and young adults with disabilities who work at the store through Ballenas Secondary School’s Life Skills and Compass Programs.
“This transition was a great catalyst to get Geoffrey working with Karen,” Rutledge said of teacher Karen Little who brings the BSS students in a few hours a week for real world retail experience and a chance to work on basic social interaction and teamwork skills.
Trimble already knows many of the students through community groups and things like the Special Olympics, he said, looking forward to new responsibilities as a mentor.
“I think that the community involvement piece really helps our students and assists them in making the connections between the skills they learn at school and those that are needed in the real world,” BSS vice principal Jane Reynolds previously said.
“We would love to see more of these types of partnerships that benefit the employer as well as the school, and most importantly, the students in our community,” she said.
“Employers like (Rutledge) are setting an example of what could happen when managers take the time to listen, learn and adapt,” said Lemke, encouraging others to do the same.