Editor’s note: Following is the third in a series from Community Futures celebrating Disability Employment Month.
As a child Brian Walsh suffered from rheumatic fever and consequently had his first open-heart surgery at the age of 27. Ten years later, Brian endured another open-heart surgery and 10 years after that a third open-heart surgery. Subsequently, he suffered a stroke, followed by a heart attack, and another surgery was performed to implant a pacemaker.
Brian’s work history included owning his own commercial fish smokehouse for seven to eight years. This was a successful endeavor, however a shortage of salmon brought an end to the business. Brian then participated in a professional cook training program which led him in to a 20-year career working as a head chef in camps across B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It was during this period of his life that Brian experienced the health complications chronicled above.
Directly after his heart attack Brian took a few years off to recover. At the age of 62 his doctor recommended that he apply for disability. This suggestion was promptly rejected by Brian.
“I need a purpose. I’m old school, and sitting around is not an option,” he said.
He then got clearance from his physician to go back to work, and he returned to camp for another two years before receiving notice of a lay-off.
The question, “What to do now?” presented itself. Brian felt he had some barriers to employment which included his age as well as his medical history. After 20 years of working long hours in remote areas, extensive travel and the complexity of his health, Brian felt it was time for a change. Wanting to continue to work, he then entertained the idea of self-employment. This created curiosity and he eventually found himself being referred to Community Futures and the WorkBC Program. Brian came equipped with a solid business concept and an enormous amount of motivation. After a brief intake appointment he was assigned a case manager who referred him to the Self-Employment Program.
Now four months into the program, Brian has opened up shop. The name of his business is Sharp Knives, a mobile knife- and tool-sharpening operation which targets restaurants, tradespeople as well as the general public.
“Being self-employed provides me with the opportunity to live and work at home, and have a life that includes purpose,” said Brian, adding that the process of participating in the Self-Employment Program was a positive thing. “It got me what I wanted and what I was looking for — the start of another life, a new opportunity.”
Kazia Mullin is business services advisor with Community Futures and said everyone has obstacles to overcome when they start a business.
“Brian was no different,” she said. “Brian came into the Self-Employment Program ready to take on new challenges; he created a business built on his passion for cooking, his eye for precision, and it provided him the flexibility he needed.”
Self-Employment is one of many programs that are available to clients with diverse abilities. The Community Futures/Work BC Program offers guidance and support through workshops and one-to-one counselling to eligible applicants who want to start a business or purchase an existing business. When asked, “Would you recommend this program?” Brian said, “The support of staff was great. I would definitely recommend this program, but you have to be willing to go through the process in order to be successful.”
Brian then reminded us, “Disabilities are not the end of your life.”