“It fit the definition of a sheltered workshop,” explained Executive Director Sherri Kroll, “because the people who were working at the restaurant, we considered them trainees, and they only received a training allowance.”

In operation for over 20 years and a favourite stop for many in Mount Brydges, the restaurant was established to assist people with developing hospitality skills, which they would then use to gain employment in the community. However, since many people stayed on and treated the experience as a job, Middlesex Community Living felt it should be paying them minimum wage. Unfortunately, the restaurant was not generating enough revenue in order to do so.

“People had the skillset to go beyond training,” Kroll explained, “[But] they were choosing to remain there because it was work that they enjoyed doing and it was very comfortable and safe. As long as we operated the restaurant, people would choose to stay there.”

That’s why the organization brought in outside consultants to develop the Take a Chance. Make a Change initiative.

Wanting to move from a life in service to a life in community, Middlesex Community Living met with each person affected and their families to discuss and envision what their lives might look like after the Mercantile closed.

“They hadn’t taken a chance or thought about other opportunities that they could explore in their life,” Kroll said.

These hopes ranged from part-time work to volunteer opportunities to quiet retirement. One major success story, Kroll recounted, involves a man who used to work at the Mercantile and now has two successful part-time jobs in the community. One is at a lawyer’s office while the other is with the local YMCA.

She said he was unhappy after the restaurant’s closure, but “we encouraged him to reach out to his community for support, which he did. And just last week, he got approached by another community employer about a potential third opportunity.”

While admitting that the change was hard for him, Kroll thinks that’s okay.

“I think he recognizes that he went through some personal growth as a result of that,” she assured, “and sometimes difficult things have to happen to lead you to a better place in life.”

In fact, Kroll admitted that the transition wasn’t a smooth one for many former Mercantile trainees.

“They had kind of built their life, like many of us do, around what many people saw as their place of employment and when that closed, they felt a sense of loss.”

Even support staff had to make adjustments. Employees had been used to helping people learn the ropes at the Mercantile. Now, they must “really focus on helping people to gain personal independence and build the skills to be self-sufficient,” Kroll added.

The effort has been so successful that Middlesex Community Living has been applying the Take a Chance, Make a Change mindset to other areas of the organization, such as housing. Some people who had previously lived in group homes are now in their own apartments in the community.

“We try to be a support net for people, a safety net for people,” Kroll described, “without being everything to people. Only through chance and change do you see new opportunities in your life.”

Middlesex Community Living will be discussing how to Take a Chance, Make a Change as part of its session at Community Living Ontario’s AGM and Conference in September.

 



All About Community Living

[ All About Community Living ]

Middlesex Community Living is a not-for-profit charity that was started in 1965. We champion and advocate for the inclusion and citizenship of over 80 people right here in the Strathroy-Caradoc area.