For most of his adult life, Tim Siebrasse* has been a part of community participation programs and employment training programs. About two years ago, nearing his 40th birthday, he identified an interest in paid employment and asked LiveWorkPlay for help. With the support of his family members, he also expressed some clear expectations about the type of job and workplace atmosphere that would be best, and Tim was prepared to wait for the right opportunity.
That opportunity? Shopify!
Shopify is about making commerce better for everyone, so businesses can focus on what they do best: building and selling their products. Home to the majority of “Shopifolk” the Ottawa office is just a few blocks away from Parliament Hill, Rideau Canal, and the Byward Market where Shopify first started. The head office focuses on product, platform, support, and operations. Each of its six floors has a theme, and it spans over 100,000 square feet!
After getting to know the environment and the type of employment opportunities available at Shopify, LiveWorkPlay’s Manager of Employer Partnerships Jen Bosworth suggested that Tim might be a great fit for a position with the facilities crew. The job includes everything from internal mail delivery to helping organize and maintain the very busy meeting and gathering spaces.
“Being such a leading-edge local employer, Shopify has been on the LiveWorkPlay radar for some time and it was great working with them to fill this position with the right candidate. We’ve known Tim for more than a decade, and to be honest the employment team here at LiveWorkPlay has been raring to go to help him find a job. He’s a very hard worker who has earned this opportunity, and we all believe in him.”
In Tim’s former training program he received a small stipend for his efforts. He is now enjoying earning a real wage and it is clear that he is energized by the new environment.
“There is a lot going on here at Shopify and Tim has certainly become comfortable quite quickly,” says Jacob Pollack from the LiveWorkPlay Employment Supports team. “He not only does his job very well he’s also a great ambassador. Within a few days after being hired he was helping newcomers find their way around the building.”
The LiveWorkPlay employment team has worked alongside Tim’s colleagues to establish him in the position. This is often the only workplace accommodation required for hiring a person with an intellectual disability. Including Tim certainly did not require a shift in Shopify culture: he’s now a contributor to their evolving and dynamic workplace environment.
“Diversity is one of the core values within Shopify as we believe that a diverse team creates a unique culture,” said Maryn Adlard, Office Coordinator at Shopify. “Tim is an awesome addition to our team. His laugh is infectious. We have a large volume of Christmas mail, and he’s been sorting and organizing more than sixty items of mail a day. We really couldn’t have done it without him.”
Are you an employer interested in diversifying your workplace with candidates who bring great attitudes and are dedicated to their jobs? Contact Jen Bosworth at 613-702-0327.
*A little more about Tim Siebrasse and his relationship with LiveWorkPlay:
a note from co-founder and co-leader Keenan Wellar
When I authored The Courage to Fail, the Will to Succeed: Twenty Years of the LiveWorkPlay Experience 1995-2015 earlier this year, I thought often of individuals who have helped shape the thinking of our organization, and also reflected upon those who have impacted on my own personal and professional development. Tim Siebrasse is one of those individuals who has had such an influence.
With his parents Kent and Wendy so capably representing his interests while also striving to give him space to grow and change, Tim’s achievements may sound rather routine: an apartment of his own, a good job, and friends. However, this is not the norm for people with intellectual disabilities and/or with autism spectrum labels. They more often live in staff-operated group housing environments, spend their time in agency day programs or sheltered workshops, and have a small social network that is limited to those who are situated alongside them in their programmatic lifestyle.
Back in 2008, Tim took part in the On Our Own Together Too housing initiative. It sounds fancy, but in reality it was just this: my wife Julie and I had an in-law suite attached to our home of that time, and through LiveWorkPlay we partnered with the Community Foundation of Ottawa to host individuals with intellectual disabilities to live in the apartment for 3-4 months to give apartment living a try. We provided support but did our best to take on a role of benevolent landlord, rather than that of supervisor or trainer. There was some burnt toast along the way, but Tim flourished in the situation. Although he returned to his family home afterwards, his parents remarked upon several changes in his personal scheduling and interests that Tim had developed as a result of just a few short months of managing his own space and time.
Not much more than a year later, and to the delight of his many supporters, Tim moved into his own condominium apartment. It was not perfect. With the help of our Living Supports staff as well as natural support from friends and family, Tim came up with several important adaptations, particularly with cooking and cleaning. Tim was part of a shift in thinking that changed our organization from top to bottom: the expectations on people with intellectual disabilities to “be totally ready” for every life challenge is unrealistic and unfair. Sometimes you just have to work with them to establish a reasonable bar for getting started, and support them as they live the situation and find their way. People with intellectual disabilities tend to have a heightened fear of failure, as would any of us if making mistakes threatened to result in significant restrictions on our freedoms. We are trying hard to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem, and it feels great to see plenty of evidence that we have improved.
There was certainly a lot of patience required to give Tim the space he needed to move forward with employment. I will be the first to admit that for a long time now I have wanted Tim to move beyond being in training for a job, and to move into authentic paid employment. Respecting that he needed to move at his own pace, we have all eagerly waited for Tim to raise the subject so we could be there to help when the time was right. When Tim started up a regular employment dialogue early in 2015, the excitement around the office was palpable. Now that he is indeed working, we are determined to build from his example as well as many others that have come before (we are now in support of more than 60 employed individuals and about 50 employer partners, with Shopify as the exciting newcomer). The unemployment rate for this segment of the workforce is still upwards of 70%. As unacceptable as this is, it is also an opportunity for meaningful change in the Ottawa community and beyond. We look forward to adding many more employers to our partner list. Maybe YOU can put us in touch with the next one!