When you first meet Pierce James, you are immediately drawn in by his infectiously funny and quirky personality. When he speaks, he will almost certainly make you laugh because of the way he expresses himself; no-filter and brutally honest. Whether it’s in the classroom or at work, he’ll never hesitate to ask questions because of his desire to learn. It’s why his coworkers love working with him and why he has become an essential part of the team at a local restaurant in Ottawa called The Third. Though his personality is energetic, what you may not know is that Pierce has struggled for many years with mental illness. At the peak of his struggles, he had an accident resulting in an acquired brain injury for which he needed time to recover.
When Pierce first came to Causeway, he was immediately interested in working out in the wellness centre which offers clients the use of a fully equipped gym located in the basement of the agency. Having access to proper gym equipment and an understanding personal trainer allowed Pierce to focus on refining his motor skills and to lose the weight he gained while recovering from his injuries. It was his way of getting himself back into a routine after the accident.
It didn’t take long before Pierce was recommended to begin his employment journey by joining the Employment Supports Program (ESP) and eventually the Solutions for Youth program. Pierce barely had a resume when he first began in ESP and only had experience busing tables in various restaurants downtown – nothing that was really stable or permanent. Due to some learning difficulties, school was also challenging and after his accident, he didn’t really know what kind of work he wanted to do or even what kind of jobs he could do. His options appeared to be limited but one thing was for certain; he wanted to work and he was eager to learn – regardless of his acquired brain injury, regardless of his experience, and regardless of his barriers. While in the Solutions for Youth program, Pierce had the opportunity to learn how to interact with others, work on his resume, and even learn some hard skills in the kitchen such as knife handling and basic food prep. When it came time in the program to do a work placement in the community, it was such a natural fit to connect him with The Third.
Ashley Struthers, co-owner of the Third, has seen first-hand the progress that Pierce has made in these past 6 months. “When he first started here through [Solutions for Youth], we just had him cleaning dishes and sweeping …he’s been doing really well, and I think he enjoys the learning part of [the job] – learning things he never knew before – you can see him taking it in”. When the Solutions for Youth program came to an end, Ashley made the decision to hire him on part time. The Third has given Pierce the chance to be acknowledged for the progress that he’s made in his life and for the work that he is doing. He is proud of where he is now and how far he’s come since starting out in the wellness centre. When speaking to Pierce’s progress, Ashley says, “He’s also responsible – he’s kind of the anchor with the back of the house. He is doing dish-washing, he is helping with prep, and anything that the guys and girls at the back need through a really busy time. They can count on him to be their right-hand man.”
In the past, Pierce never thought that working in this capacity was a possibility for him given the challenges he’s faced with his mental health and his acquired brain injury. When you ask him now about the kind of advice he would give to someone who was struggling to find employment, he would confidently tell you to keep trying and persevere because it will happen and it can completely change your outlook on life. Today, Pierce continues to inspire hope as a valued team member at The Third developing his skills and meeting new challenges in a supportive and meaningful work environment.