WorkBC, FASD Okanagan help man overcome challenges

J.J., 42, continues to prove people wrong as he celebrates two years at new job in North Okanagan

J.J., 42, who lives with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, has been proving people wrong his entire life. (Contributed)

J.J., 42, who lives with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, has been proving people wrong his entire life. (Contributed)

J.J. settles into a wooden chair and folds his hands at his waist. As he looks about the small meeting room, a sense of calm washes over him. He’s comfortable here.

“I’ve been proving people wrong my entire life,” J.J. says from the FASD Okanagan meeting room.

Born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the 42-year-old was told he could never hold down a job because of his brain injury. Only he’s now almost two years into a job he loves.

“I was so tired of sitting around,” says J.J. “Through FASD Okanagan, I got in touch with WorkBC. As soon as I walked into employment advisor Jerry Ward’s office, I said, ‘Hey, how’s it going buddy?’ We immediately recognized each other from Kindale.”

With the help of Ward and case manager Celena Sandaker, J.J. went through WorkBC’s Employment Services programming. The trio worked together to build a job profile for J.J. that took his previous work experience, skills, and career goals into account. And, on Aug. 31, 2020, he started his new position at McDonald’s in receiving and stocking.

“When we reached the end of training with WorkBC, the program split into two different paths. On one path, you go straight into work, and the other path leads to more programming and training. I went straight to work. When they asked me what position I’d like, I immediately said, ‘stocking,’” J.J. says.

“McDonald’s was the second place we tried. It’s technically the same position as what I asked for with more work on the receiving side than the stocking side. But McDonald’s was the first place to call me for a job interview and hired me on the spot.

It’s getting warm in the small room at the People Place. J.J. pauses from his story to take off his jacket as the smell of fresh waffles wafts through the open door. In the common room that lies beyond, FASD Okanagan group facilitator and Indigenous director Kim O’Neill is preparing for the Monday evening group session. J.J. never misses a meeting.

“At work, I’m always looking forward to the pay, the food, and the hours. I only work a 12-hour work week,” J.J. laughs as his gaze shifts back to the small interview room. “It’s great. The truck driver drops the pallet at my feet. The person in the freezer unloads his pallet and I unload my two pallets of meat and potatoes. When we’re all done, we do the dry product.

For J.J., the job is perfect. He says he didn’t want anything fast-paced like when the dishes would pile up at his first job as a dishwasher and doesn’t want to start frying patties or taking orders. He’s comfortable exactly where he is.

Before connecting with WorkBC and finding the position at McDonald’s, J.J. would wake up early three days per week to deliver the newspaper. And, one other day per week, he would mow the lawn at a commercial lot in Vernon. But he knew it was time for something different.

Outside the small conference room, the group meeting is about to begin. O’Neill overhears J.J. telling his story and enters the room.

“We’re really proud of J.J. here. He’s worked hard, stuck with it, and had the same job for over a year. It’s something they talk a lot about that people with FASD not being able to accomplish. And it’s not that they can’t. They just have to be given the right thing to do and the right supports along the way,” FASD Okanagan group facilitator and Indigenous director Kim O’Neill said.

As the only organization that supports adults with FASD in BC, O’Neill has worked with J.J. for years and is one of his biggest advocates alongside his mother.

“J.J. has done nothing but grown and flourish. He’s more social, mostly because I give him a hard time.” O’Neill pauses as J.J. looks at her and laughs.

“That’s what we do here. We build a community that’s safe. Whenever they go into a situation that might feel awkward or scary, they call us, and I go running.”

J.J. says it’s because of people like O’Neill, FASD Okanagan, and WorkBC that he is where he is today.

“People often said to me, ‘No, you don’t need any support. You’re a hard worker.’ But some people do need the support, whether if it’s because of a brain injury acquired at birth like yours truly or another reason,” says J.J. “With WorkBC, you can overcome your challenges. And once you get over those obstacles, you can find a job you actually enjoy.”

As J.J. and O’Neill talk, other members pass through the doors of the People Place and connect with their friends at FASD Okanagan, J.J. leans back into his chair and smiles.

“I’ve been proving people wrong my entire life. They said I won’t live past the age of two months. Only that’s when I was adopted. They said I won’t live past the age of six years, won’t live past the age of 12 years, won’t live past the age of 21.”

J.J. pauses with an ear-to-ear smile.

“I’m now 42 years old. What’s next?”

If you or someone you know is looking for meaningful employment opportunities and support, WorkBC is there to help, call 250-545-2215 or visit workbccentre-vernon.ca.

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