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Milieu Family Services’ job program is all about developing abilities

After finishing her shift at the Langley Chapters Starbucks, Becky Lelik (left) sits down for a cup of tea with Milieu Family Services job developer Veronica Cowan. Cowan is hoping other employers will consider hiring a person with a developmental disability. - Brenda ANDERSON/Langley Times
After finishing her shift at the Langley Chapters Starbucks, Becky Lelik (left) sits down for a cup of tea with Milieu Family Services job developer Veronica Cowan. Cowan is hoping other employers will consider hiring a person with a developmental disability.
— image credit: Brenda ANDERSON/Langley Times

It’s 2 p.m. on a Friday, and Becky Lelik has just finished her shift at Starbucks in the Langley Chapters bookstore.

Over the past two hours, she has swept floors, emptied garbages and cleaned tables — along with anything else that needed a wipe down.

Now, as she sits down clutching a steaming cup of tea, the smile of satisfaction in a job well done is written all over the young Surrey woman’s face.

Becky is 22 years old, and this is her first job.

She was hired with help from Veronica Cowan, job developer with Milieu Family Services.

Based out of North Delta, Milieu provides services to adults with developmental disabilities. For Cowan, that means helping to connect them with potential employers and supporting them by acting as a job coach throughout their first several weeks of work.

Since Becky’s first day on the job, nine weeks earlier, Cowan has driven the young woman to and from the store and stayed within easy distance throughout Becky’s shifts.

During that time, Cowan has also been slowly removing herself from the picture, while remaining close enough to step in and help if she is needed.

The enjoyment Becky gets from making sure her surroundings are spotless and that everything is in its place, makes the Starbucks job an ideal situation for her.

“I like to clean,” she said, matter of factly, when asked what she enjoys most about her job.

“I learned how to sweep and how to change the garbage can.

“And how to tie my apron,” she added, after a small prompt from Cowan.

“(Becky) is very friendly and outgoing,” offered Cowan.

“She works well with the public. That’s what I want the employer to see.

“She doesn’t need to be in the back room, folding cardboard.”

Ideally, Becky will gain experience and confidence and eventually be taken on as a regular Starbucks employee.

And if all goes as planned, during that time she will become increasingly independent, until Cowan can step out of the picture completely.

For Cowan, it’s not simply a matter of finding paid employment for people with developmental disabilities — it’s about finding the right fit.

“Some clients love to work in a kitchen, so I’m not going to put them in a grocery store,” she said.

“I’m going to target employers who offer the opportunity to peel vegetables or to wash and prepare food.

“I target employers who meet the needs of the individual.”

But finding employers to take part in the program at all, can be a challenge, Cowan admitted.

That’s why she spends a portion of her work day visiting area businesses to talk to owners and managers about taking on an employee with special needs.

Asked whether she had ever considered hiring someone with a developmental disability  before meeting  Becky, store manager Michelle Pytlik said she knew it was an option, but had never been approached.

It’s a decision she’s happy to have made.

“We’re really excited to have (Becky). She’s so lovely.

“She comes in every day with product knowledge and company history that she learns on her own time.

“She studies, so that when a customer asks a question, she knows the answer.

“Becky has brought such warmth to our store family,” said Pytlik.

“We’re really lucky to have her.”

It’s not just large corporations like Starbucks that Cowan has her eye on.

She’d also like to see mom and pop stores, which may only need help for a few hours a week, consider hiring one of her people.

What Cowan is looking for from potential employers is a commitment to a six-week trial period, ideally, with a minimum of two hours of work per week.

Enough time, she said, “to prove we can do the job just as well, if not better than others.”

Employers who are interested in learning more about Milieu Family Services’ employment program are invited to contact Cowan at 778-438-3045 or to visit the website at milieu.ca.

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