For The Morning Star
Until two-and-a-half years ago, what Annie Stanyer knew of life was setbacks. Hurdles. For every step forward, four back.
During Stanyer’s entry into the world 32 years ago, she didn’t get enough oxygen. And that left stilted the span of the brain that learns — that makes connections between what is seen and read with what is understood, remembered and repeated back. A learning disability, they told her.
Both her mother and father had had one too.
Stanyer and a sister were raised, mostly, by an aunt in Vancouver. The aunt was what brought her to Vernon five years ago. She was not well and now she needed care from the dark-haired, freckly-cheeked, all-smiles young woman she had raised as her own. Annie.
“That was hard,” says Stanyer. “She was more of a mom than an aunt.”
When her aunt died, Stanyer was left not just with the weight of grief, but also with a heavy, heavy question: What now?
Before, in Vancouver, she’d been able to get a job in a café/bakery through Capilano College’s life and job skills program for adults with disabilities. Her teacher’s wife owned the bakery. Stanyer worked there for three-and-a-half years, until she got the call about her aunt.
In Vernon, she was able to begin a job hunt with help from a support worker. She found work, in a breakfast shop, and then at a fast food restaurant, but neither was quite the right fit.
“They didn’t understand that I have a learning disability, and I need to be shown. If I’m shown, I can do it.”
Eventually, she landed at a chair across from Anita Labelle, an employment advisor at Community Futures North Okanagan.
“She’s so positive and she really wanted to work. She’s reliable, happy, and she was so eager to go for whatever we came up with together,” says Labelle, recalling her early work with Stanyer as they began to try and find an employer and a role that would be just the right fit. Labelle was able to access the Opportunities Fund, which provides financial support to business owners who employ people with diverse abilities.
“The program I work in at Community Futures is so flexible and creative in terms of how we find people’s strengths and limits, and the right match,” says Labelle.
“It can be hard for jobseekers like Annie to find work on their own — they’re not getting the interviews or they’re not getting the job, so I act like an advocate and a reference to say, ‘I’ve worked with this person.’”
As Labelle thought about how she could do that for Stanyer, she had an idea: Gumtree Catering. The bakery. A baker’s helper. Annie could be a baker’s helper there.
She called Gumtree Catering co-owner Kyla MacAulay, who was instantly open to the idea.
“We definitely needed a helper in the bakery, and we wanted someone who was happy being a helper, who could really take pride in the job that needed to be done,” says MacAulay.
And so the job was hers.
“It was exciting,” says Stanyer.
Labelle accompanied Stanyer, helping her devise coloured labeling systems and routines to make it easier for her to do her job: unpack and keep apart ingredients like baking soda and baking powder, quick oats and traditional oats, as well as wrap and prepare orders of baked goods.
“It’s easier for me now. I’ve had a lot of help. I’m on my own and I can do everything, but she (Labelle) says I can always ask for help if I need it.”
With her hair tucked under a purple bandana gifted to her by one of the other bakers, Stanyer said she feels like she is one of them, like she belongs.
“They really appreciate all my help. I keep everything stocked and organized.”
“She is a consistent, wonderful employee and we’re really happy to have her here.”
Nearly three years since she started at Gumtree, Stanyer’s life has changed in so many other ways. She now lives on her own, close to downtown and everything she needs, including a bus stop to get to work. She’s about to go on her first big trip by herself, all the way to Toronto, where she’ll take in a baseball game and visit a high school friend.
Her life now, her life ahead, it’s all big smiles, moving forward, and the word “exciting.”
She’s grateful for all the help, but also quite rightly proud of her accomplishments.
“I’m sure my aunt would be very happy that I’d done all this and I’m on my own.”
Are you or someone you know looking for employment opportunities for someone with different abilities? Reach out to the Community Futures North Okanagan employment services team.