‘I always wanted to be on my own’

Inclusion NB programs and Ready, Willing and Able support Olivia on her path to independence

Today, the 22-year-old is living a dream realized, with a full-time job, a car, and her own boutique apartment in a brand-new building in the heart of Fredericton, where she moved this spring from her hometown of Sussex.

“I always wanted to be on my own someday,” Olivia says. “I really love where I am now.”

Inclusion NB, which creates opportunities for people with an intellectual or developmental disability to live fully in all aspects of society, helped her get there.

It all started when she was in Grade 10 at Sussex Regional High School and enrolled in the Transition to Work, a program that helps high school students with an intellectual or developmental disability prepare for the workforce and adulthood. The program’s job readiness classes supported Olivia in writing her resume and practice interviews. She also gained critical soft skills, like teamwork.

Olivia also worked one-on-one with her Transition Facilitator, Alicia Wilson, to develop a personalized transition plan based on her goals and needs and find her first job placement. Her successful co-op at Lisa’s Playhouse, a daycare located in Sussex, led to a job at the local Sobeys. Along with supporting Olivia, Alicia was there to address any questions or concerns her employer might have, helping to create a positive experience for everyone.

“It was really good,” Olivia says. “It helped me move myself forward from high school until now.”

Olivia remembers the thrill of getting her first pay cheque.

“I was excited for it,” she says. “It got me more motivated.”

Setting goals, finding her voice

After Olivia graduated from high school, she went to work at the Sussex Sobeys as a stocker, and from there, she moved on to the Superstore. In her off-hours, she was a regular at the gym and an avid runner, completing multiple five-kilometer and one ten-kilometer race.

This spring, in search of a change, Olivia moved to Fredericton. When she arrived, she didn’t have a job, apartment or social network. But when she reconnected with Inclusion NB, she had the team supporting her once again to accomplish her new goals.

The team helped her update and redesign her resume, supported her with getting her apartment and connected her with the Fredericton Superstore, where Olivia now works full-time.

What helps to make success like Olivia’s possible is Inclusion NB’s relationship with the Ready, Willing and Able (RWA) initiative. Funded by the Government of Canada, RWA is a partnership between Inclusion Canada and Autism Alliance of Canada that provides opportunities for individuals with an intellectual disability or on the autism spectrum to have increased participation in the labour force. RWA works to promote the value and benefits inclusive businesses can experience.

Lynn Akmens, an Employment Specialist, emphasises that, while Inclusion NB is there to offer support, Olivia deserves full credit for her success, praising the young woman’s strong work ethic.

“She’s dependable and hardworking and has the initiative to do what needs to get done,” Lynn says.

Lynn says that in the time she’s worked with Olivia, one of the notable changes she noticed is how Olivia is advocating for herself, an essential part of her independence.

“She is learning to have her own voice and be heard, being able to tell her employer when she has a concern or tell us, ‘No, that’s not what I want. I want this,’” she says. “I’ve seen huge growth.”

With the momentum of her recent successes fueling her future, Olivia is busy setting more new goals.

“I am trying to save money for a dog someday,” she says, with a preference for a black or yellow Labrador retriever. She also wants to save for a house. And she is interested in tapping into Inclusion NB’s Social Inclusion Program to find opportunities to meet new people, find leisure activities and get involved in her new community.

If it wasn’t for Inclusion NB, she suspects she would still be living at home in Sussex.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now,” she says. “I wouldn’t be pushing myself as hard. I’m happy that I pushed myself, and I have Inclusion New Brunswick to help me. I just love how we all work together as a team.”