A partnership in bloom

Cloverdale Country Farms Garden Centre manager Monika Reinhold, left, chats with employees Roger Buck and Julya Hutton, while employment specialist Veronica Cowan looks on proudly.  - Jennifer Lang photo
Cloverdale Country Farms Garden Centre manager Monika Reinhold, left, chats with employees Roger Buck and Julya Hutton, while employment specialist Veronica Cowan looks on proudly.
— image credit: Jennifer Lang photo

It’s a sunny morning at a garden centre in Cloverdale, and the day’s first customers have yet to arrive as Roger Buck quietly sweeps the floors, pushing from view the petals and dead leaves that have fallen overnight.

Depending on what needs to be done next, he’ll start pricing plants – or maybe stack flats and containers.

Watering the thirsty merchandise is another chore that can’t be ignored; there’s no shortage of jobs that need attention at a bustling garden centre in early summer.

At 34, this is his very first paid position. “I like it,” he nods.

And, since he started working at the garden centre at Cloverdale Country Farms, it seems the plants aren’t the only ones in bloom.

“He’s come a long way,” says Veronica Cowan, an employment specialist with Mileu Family Services, an agency that supports people with disabilities, helping them find and keep a job by working closely with current and potential employers.

Buck is one of about 20 people the agency currently has matched in  part time, full time, and flex time positions with partner businesses in Surrey and Langley.

Buck, a quiet fellow of few words who puts in two, two-hour shifts each week, likes working with plants. It turns out he has a garden at home.

“He’s a perfect employee because he never complains,” Cowan smiles.

His Milieu colleague Julya Hutton, 24, also enjoys working with plants, demonstrating an obvious enthusiasm for learning the names of the different varieties and using a deft touch when it comes to deadheading flowers and removing browning leaves.

Like Buck, Hutton, has a developmental disability, but through the support of Milieu and partners, she volunteers at the food bank, and works at a gift store in addition to her shifts at the garden centre at Cloverdale Country Farms.

“This is one of my favourite jobs,” she grins. “What I like about it is learning everything,” she says, pointing to a favorite new variety of tree she’s discovered.

Candidates like Buck and Hutton don’t undergo a formal job interview, says Cowan, whose role includes scouring the internet and pounding the pavement to drum up potential leads that have turned into successful partnerships with employers such as Starbucks and Extra Foods.

Instead, there’s a six-week working interview on site, at no cost to the employer. Ongoing support is provided for the new employee and staff.

“We support them until we get into a fading agreement with the employer,” Cowan says, referring to a plan where the worker becomes totally independent, taking the bus or making their own way to work.

She says hiring someone with a developmental disability is good business. Employers can hire someone to meet their specific requirements, ev if it’s only for a couple of hours a week. Each partnership is individualized to meet the needs of both employer and worker.

Veronica Cowan, left.

“We want to raise awareness that there’s a service available to employers,” she says, stressing, “We are not a volunteer organization. We don’t provide volunteers. We do a working interview to show the employer what they can do. After the six weeks, the outcome is to have a paid position for this individual, whether it’s two hours or full time.”

To Cowan, Monika Reinhold is a champion employer. When she took over as manager of the garden centre last December, it was a time of transition for the business – not exactly an optimum time to take on additional challenges. She credits her son Marcus – who had worked with Buck and understood how much work he performed and what he was capable of –  with convincing her of the plan.

Cowan says by advocating a diverse workforce, Reinhold is not only enhancing the garden centre’s image by reflecting the diversity of the community and the consumer, she’s also spreading awareness to other companies.

“People with disabilities are hard working, committed, reliable and are able to do anything.”

To Reinhold, it’s important to spread the message to other employers to “do their part to help people engage in society and feel that they have a purpose,” she says. “Everybody needs that. It doesn’t matter where you are at, in your life.”

Cowan, meanwhile, is thrilled with the transformation she’s seen in Buck and Hutton, who recently moved out and into a home share.

“She’s paying rent and becoming more independent. That’s the purpose,” says Cowan, “They’re coming out of their shell.”

For Buck, the next step will be taking transit to work, on his own. He’s also interested in branching out to the food industry. It seems his aspirations are expanding along with his confidence and wants to work in a restaurant, in the kitchen.

“He loves prepping food,” she said. “He doesn’t want to be a dishwasher. He wants to stand next to the chef.”

If you’d like more information, call 778-438-3045.

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