By David Churchill
I first met Jennifer in the summer of 2021 when I became an Employment Support Specialist in the Employment Supports Program (ESP) at Causeway Work Centre. Jennifer has been a client with Causeway for a number of years and when looking through her employment history at the time, I saw that she was working short-term contracts through job placement agencies. The inevitable outcome of such an arrangement was that she would constantly be looking for work when her contracts ended until the placement agencies would call again. It was during these times that Jennifer would book job development meetings with her Employment Support Specialist at Causeway.
When Jennifer and I first started working together, we went through the usual motions of applying online for jobs like dishwashing and cleaning positions, prepping for interviews, and going door to door to submit resumes. It was grueling because it did not produce the results we wanted. While working together, I learned that Jennifer did not have strong computer skills due to a lack of access and exposure to computers and data devices. Yet, in spite of these setbacks, Jennifer never gave up on herself or let her mental health challenges prevent her from moving forward to find a job. By December of 2021, when her three-year term in the Employment Supports Program came to an end, she reapplied to the program to continue her job search.
When we met up again, I knew that if we were going to be successful with finding meaningful employment, we needed to change our strategies. In line with Causeway’s values and mission of helping people overcome challenges and reach their full potential, I, too, wanted more for her.
Although Jennifer had years of experience in the food industry, by reassessing her skills and other qualifications to market demands, it became evident that she lacked certain skills and certifications which made her less competitive with other applicants. With that in mind, it was necessary to take a step back, address some of the challenges she was facing to create a better foundation while still helping her look for part-time work.
The first step was to encourage Jennifer to enroll in a basic computer program for a few weeks where she would be supported by a teacher to learn how to access and respond to emails, add attachments, and learn any other related job searching tools in our modern times. I was thrilled when she passed the course in spite of her inherent learning disability.
The next step involved Jennifer joining a short-term culinary program at the Ottawa Mission’s Food Service Program where she learned various skills that would qualify her for better paying jobs like a prep or line cook. She learned all about the ins and outs of the food service industry, developed excellent knife skills, and learned about food safety protocols, how to prepare soups, stocks and sauces, and cooking a variety of foods for the Mission’s outreach program, catering business and soup kitchen. One of my most memorable experiences with Jennifer was attending her graduation ceremony and seeing how successful she had been in the program.
When I think back on my time working with Jennifer, I realize just how much she has changed. Since her time in the Mission’s program, and especially since she graduated, Jennifer speaks a lot more now, shares her opinions, and likes to make jokes and laugh. It’s been really nice to see her come out of her shell like that. Our next goal is to find a full-time prep or line cook position in the greater community. With a resume that is on par with other candidates in the market, combined with Jennifer’s reliability, dependability, and strong work ethic, I have no doubt we will find a supportive employer and an opportunity for Jennifer to create a better future for herself.