Loading ice into a freezer on a day when the windchill outside has hit -33C, David Fodchuk is not the kind of employee to shirk his duty.
If there is something to be done, he does it with a smile. If there is nothing to do, he finds something.
A graduate of the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College, he now works at Sobeys on the southside of Red Deer.
Fodchuk has a developmental disability but it hasn’t slowed him down. He has gone from being a courtesy clerk at Sobeys, helping customers with their groceries, shovelling snow and collecting carts, to stocking the freezer shelves with ice cream, gluten-free products and ice. When things are slow there, he’ll help stock grocery shelves.
It’s a level of independence that likely wouldn’t have happened without a special program for people with developmental disabilities at Red Deer College. The Transitional Vocational Program has been operating at the college since 1981 and it gives students not only the skills they need to work, but also the opportunities to live a full life.
The 20 students who attend the program each year have everything from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to autism, cerebral palsy or other unidentified conditions that have meant regular classes have been a challenge for them.
Students who are chosen for the program have their tuition, books and supplies paid for by the Skills Investment Strategy through Alberta Employment and Immigration. Those not collecting AISH also receive money for lodgings and other living costs.
For Fodchuk, the program meant moving from his family’s home in Beaumont to Red Deer and living at a townhouse near RDC. He learned what it was like to have roommates and got to explore all that Red Deer has to offer, going to hockey games, swimming at the Collicutt Centre and seeing plays.
“We really work with our students as whole people,” said Janice Findlay, program chairperson. “So as whole people, I mean we work on a number of areas beyond the employability skills.”
Now at age 22 and a couple of years out of the program, Fodchuk lives in a fourplex in Eastview, where his speciality dish is spaghetti and his team of choice is the Edmonton Oilers. He plays on a Special Olympics baseball team and curls.
The owner/operator of Sobeys south, Trevor Aslin only has good things to say about Fodchuk and the RDC program.
“I think the nicest thing about having David (Fodchuk) on staff is that he just takes ownership in what he is doing,” Aslin said.
One recent morning, Fodchuk was busily working in one of the grocery aisles. Aslin asked why he was in grocery and not the freezer department and Fodchuk said, “My ice cream order hasn’t shown up.”
Aslin was impressed that Fodchuk didn’t say his boss’s ice cream order or the store’s, but took ownership in what he was doing. “It’s nice to have people who are that motivated. They own the position so that is refreshing at any level, whether it’s the owner, the second-in-command or the general employee,” Aslin said.
He said the Transitional Vocational Program has been a good experience for the store with management learning as much about themselves and their management skills as the students have learned in the work experience positions they have done.
Findlay said the program helps students gain independence and interpersonal skills. Guest speakers come in to tell students about safety in the home and at work and talk about employment standards. Students learn about managing their finances and about cheap entertainment in town.
Each week during the 10-month program, participants spend two days in class and three days doing work experience, helping prep food at restaurants, stock shelves at stores, pre-trades, cinemas and clothing stores. The goal is for them to find paid employment by the end of the program in May.
The program also offers a wide range of night school courses for others not in the main program, looking at math and money, healthy relationships and other topics.
For Fodchuk, the program has made all the difference in him having an independent life with his many friends in the community and having a job he enjoys.
“Most of it is pretty easy now,” he said. “It’s fun. I like it.”