While people line up to order their coconut milk, ginger and turmeric smoothies and kale, quinoa and sweet potato salads, a young woman works quickly and quietly in the storeroom packing vitamin supplements for mail order clients.
It’s a healthy place to be this Wednesday lunch hour at Nature’s Fare Markets in Vernon, in an environment where Solana White thrives as a welcomed and vital employee.
Whether she’s on the floor stocking shelves brimming with organic produce, sweeping up, or greeting customers at the Apple Bistro, White has a way of brightening a mid-week workday, says her boss, Nature’s Fare store manager Tara Berger.
“She’s such a bright light. I get comments all the time from my staff and customers on how they love her being here,” says Berger.
Employed the past six months at Nature’s Fare, the 21-year-old Enderby resident is also a familiar face at Askews Foods in Armstrong, where she works part-time.
White earned both jobs through one-to-one employment support from the WorkBC Employment Services Centre and its partner agency Kindale Developmental Association.
Through partner agencies such as Kindale, Community Futures North Okanagan and WorkBC provide employment services for individuals with varying abilities.
“Solana came to us looking for work and together we figured out what she wanted to do and that was to work at a grocery store,” says Amie Alward, who works with clients who have diverse abilities as a Customized Employment Specialist at Kindale and Work BC.
“The tipping point was when Solana solidified what she wanted to do and gave the impetus in what she really wanted… Solana wants to be treated like everyone else.”
Playing to Her Strengths
Before she found paid work, White had a volunteer background but did not have a lot of customer service experience. She started building up her skills by taking workshops and working one-on-one with fellow Kindale-Work BC Customized Employment Specialist Celena Sandaker.
“Solana is quite quiet so we started working on her verbal skills. We came up with some incentives such as a reward system, where she earned stickers when she introduced herself to someone new or started up a conversation,” says Sandaker.
Alward also found White an unpaid work experience placement in Armstrong, where she greeted customers at the door and also worked on the till.
Work BC helps in providing job coaching, training, and general support while clients are learning on the job, so the burden is not all on the employers, says Sandaker.
“We also work on areas specific to their place of work such as confidence building and specific skills. In Solana’s case it was matching the UPC barcodes with products on the shelf,” adds Alward.
Employers Making a Difference
While White has adapted well to her new jobs, it has helped that her employers have gone above and beyond in helping her succeed in a multitude of tasks.
“An inclusive workplace is not just about creating a space, it’s also about having a mindset and saying ‘how do we get you there’ and going that extra mile. These employers are looking at Solana as a long-term hire and not just saying ‘try this’ and seeing how it works. They’re here for the long haul and want to see her succeed,” says Sandaker.
For White, working at Nature’s Fare and Askews has been a great experience. She enjoys working in a bustling environment with her fellow employees and says she has a particular fondness for those popular smoothies at Nature’s Fare.
White is also looking forward to getting more experience on the cash register and says her mom is very proud of her accomplishments.
“It’s cool,” she says, flashing that giant smile and giving the thumbs up.