Self advocates teach CLBC staff about employment

The voices of self advocates (left to right) Shelley DeCoste, Sherwin Strong and Julya Hutton remind CLBC staff of the importance of inclusive employment.

Self advocate Sherwin Strong has some advice for CLBC staff: listen to those you serve. And CLBC is trying to engrain that principle into its workforce, by ensuring individuals like Sherwin are a core part of staff training.

When CLBC Employment Mentor Christina Baird was developing a new employment foundations training course for CLBC staff, she and her colleagues recognized how critical it was to include the voices of people CLBC serves.

The new course aims to give staff basic knowledge about why employment is important for the people CLBC serves, CLBC’s current strategies for employment, and the role of staff in helping support employment.

So they enlisted the help of three self advocates—Sherwin Strong, Shelley DeCoste and Julya Hutton: Each of them told their story about their employment experiences in videos they created with CLBC staff, which were included in the course content.

Sherwin is a self advocate liaison for the Comox Valley who has given countless inspirational presentations to community groups to build awareness of the value of inclusive employment.

“The video gave us an opportunity to tell our stories,” says Sherwin.

“My biggest message was the importance of listening to those you’re providing service to. And to take the time to not rush anything.”
– Sherwin Strong

Sherwin, 24, connected with CLBC when he was finishing high school and aging out of Ministry of Children and Family Development care. He worked with his CLBC facilitator and found it helpful that his facilitator listened to his needs and wants for employment. He landed a job as a self advocate liaison with Vancouver Island Community Connections (VICC), where he’s been working for the past four years.

Sherwin works for VICC in the community to promote self advocacy skills and voice issues that are important to people with diverse abilities, with a focus on promoting employment for people with disabilities. He gives community presentations, serves on a number of committees, develops a newsletter and develops employment events for self advocates. He is involved with CLBC’s Community Action Employment Plan initiative and sits on CLBC’s Indigenous Advisory Committee. In his presentations, he speaks about his First Nations history and heritage and how he has become who he is today as a self advocate and a community leader.

“My job has changed my life. I feel successful as a person who is making a difference in the communities I’m a part of, but also the wider community through my involvement with CLBC, Inclusion BC and the Indigenous Advisory Committee,” says Sherwin.

Christina believes the videos are inspiring and hopes they will encourage staff to be creative, to stay positive, and to listen.

“Self advocates and families have been involved since the inception of CLBC’s Community Action Employment Plan, so they’ve been telling us all along how important employment is for their quality of life,” says Christina. “It’s one thing for me to tell my co-workers about why employment is important but it’s truly engaging when the message comes directly from the people we serve. We need to support each other to be good listeners in order to provide services that work for people and have an impact.”

What Christina learned from the presenters while filming the video was the need to do a better job of helping people get real employment—not just a job, but a job that’s meaningful to them. And as the person gets more skills and more confidence, then they might want to try something else and keep taking it to the next level.

“What the presenters shared with us was their truth, so I don’t think you can be any more clear than that when you’re talking to people about employment,” says Christina. “Just because they have a job, there’s still more out there — that’s what they told us.”

The new course launched in January 2018 and is being offered online to all CLBC staff, and all regional staff will have completed it by March. CLBC has also involved individuals we serve to present their perspectives and insights to staff through the orientation course for all new employees and other training events.

Community Action Employment Plan

Launched in 2013, the Community Action Employment Plan reflects the input and efforts of hundreds of people across British Columbia who are working collaboratively to increase employment for the people CLBC serves.

Click here to read about key initiatives from the Plan that CLBC and its partners are focusing on for 2016 to 2019.

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