Valerie takes great pride in all she has accomplished over the past three years in her job as a laundry attendant at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel.
Earlier this month, Valerie had an opportunity to share that sense of pride with St. James MLA Scott Johnston as part of Take Your MLA to Work Day.
It was the second straight year for the event, which provides MLAs an opportunity to see first-hand how Manitobans with disabilities can work and earn competitive wages and benefits. It’s organized by the Manitoba Supported Employment Network (MSEN) and aims to celebrate the contributions that Manitobans with disabilities make as members of the workforce.
As part of this year’s event, Valerie toured Johnston around the laundry facilities at the Four Points hotel at Richardson International Airport and provided him with an overview of her job, from folding sheets to sorting various other laundry items.
While acknowledging she was a little nervous initially about participating in the event, Valerie quickly overcame any sense of uneasiness after meeting Johnston.
“He was a nice guy…and was very friendly,” she says. “He seemed really interested in my work. I think he has a better understanding of my job now.”
Valerie says one of the reasons she decided to take part in Take Your MLA to Work Day was to demonstrate what people with disabilities have to offer and encourage more employers to give them an opportunity.
Valerie was one of two people supported by Epic Opportunities to participate in this year’s Take Your MLA to Work Day. Chris, a member of the Pangea’s Kitchen staff at the University of Winnipeg, provided Wolseley MLA Rob Altemeyer with a tour of the Diversity Foods managed facility.
Altemeyer says he appreciated having an opportunity to take part in the event.
“It was great to see Chris in action at Diversity Foods, which is run by an amazing group of people. It was a very positive experience,” he says. “It’s nice to see something tangible like this in the workforce where you see good people are making…a difference in the real world.”
Oly Backstrom, a member of MSEN who helped organize Take Your MLA To Work Day, says he’s pleased with how interest in the event has grown.
A total of 31 MLAs, including representatives from all three major political parties, from Winnipeg and surrounding communities took part in this year’s Take Your MLA to Work Day compared to 17 when it was launched a year ago. The number of participating businesses also grew to more than two dozen.
“I think the thing that has changed as a result of this is that inclusive and supported employment is now on the radar of our provincial representatives in a way it never has been before,” says Backstrom, president and CEO of SCE LifeWorks, one of nearly a dozen community living agencies including Epic Opportunities that took part in this year’s event.
“We’re not a very visible sector…so to have all-party support and real political engagement on something that’s focused on inclusive employment – I’m really pleased with that,” Backstrom adds. “We plan to do it again next year and keep the engagement going. The more we can engage our elected officials the more nuanced the conversation will be about inclusive employment.”
Take Your MLA to Work Day is based on a similar initiative launched by the Association of People Supporting Employment in the U.S. several years ago. Take Your Legislator to Work Day was designed to create awareness about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and promote real wages for real jobs.