Naomi Boatswain has never been averse to tackling new challenges. In fact, she thrives on them.
One need only look at where her travels have taken her for proof. Born in Guyana in the capital city of Georgetown, she grew up in Canje, a village in the country’s Berbice region. She and her family eventually moved to the United Kingdom where Naomi spent several years before deciding three years ago to come to Canada to further her education here in Winnipeg. Even tales of the city’s bitterly cold winters couldn’t dissuade her.
“I like the cold,” she says, laughing. “When I lived in England it was cold there all the time.”
Naomi’s ability to adapt to new environments has served her well since she joined Epic Opportunities as a casual disability support worker last year.
Her job often entails providing support to people she hasn’t worked with before and quickly getting to know their wants and needs. It’s a position that requires flexibility, open-mindedness and a willingness to learn, qualities Naomi’s supervisor says she possesses in abundance.
“She’s really flexible and she really makes the effort to get to know people,” says coordinator Kristen Woloszyn-Chin. “She’s always open to new experiences and new people. She’s always willing to go above and beyond. Those are awesome traits to have as a casual staff.”
Naomi arrived in Winnipeg in 2012 and immediately threw herself into her studies at the University of Winnipeg. Soon after she began looking for work and decided to attend a workshop presented by Opportunities for Employment, a faith-based, not-for-profit corporation that provides employment assistance services.
A representative for Epic Opportunities spoke about the services the organization provides to people with intellectual disabilities living in the community and Naomi was quickly intrigued. She had worked with vulnerable people in England and was interested in applying the skills she learned there on this side of the pond.
“One of the things I enjoy is being able to support people to reach their full potential,” she says. “A lot of times people with intellectual disabilities are gifted but may not be supported in a way they are able to accomplish their dreams. I want to give them an opportunity to accomplish them.”
Naomi acknowledges that it can sometimes be a challenge determining how best to support a person she has not worked with before and may only spend a few shifts with before being assigned elsewhere. The key, she says, is making every effort to get to know that person and what their needs are including reading the staff communication log.
“One of the first things I do is go in and talk to the person [about their needs]. If you do that they are able to overcome a lot of barriers in their path,” she says. “I believe communication is the key.”
One of the factors that drew Naomi to casual support work is that it was a good fit with her schedule at school. She is majoring in human rights and conflict resolution studies at the University of Winnipeg and is hoping to do advocacy work on behalf of immigrants and refugees or vulnerable people when she graduates.
“I believe someone like me can make a difference in the fight for people’s rights. One person can make a difference,” she says.
Naomi laughs when asked what she does in her free time. She’s so busy with school and work, she says, that it leaves her little time for anything outside of attending weekly services at her church or watching videos on YouTube.
“When most people are sleeping I’m reading a book or work,” she says, laughing.