Agency showcasing employment program at UN conference

Community Living’s Bob Vansickle and Laura Stokley will travel to Vienna, Austria later this month to present the agency’s successful Summer Employment Transitions Program at a United Nations conference. Submitted Photo

Tara Jeffrey

Laura Stokley is heading to the world stage to share a successful homegrown program that provides job opportunities for youth with disabilities.

“We know how amazing our program is, so when we saw an opportunity to go bigger we decided to make an application to present at the Zero Project Conference,” said Stokley, coordinator of Employment Transitions at Community Living Sarnia-Lambton.

Stokley and employment options supervisor Bob Vansickle will represent the agency at the offices of the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, later this month.

The three-day event will showcase models from around the world that improve the lives and legal rights of those living with disabilities.

Community Living and its Summer Employment Transitions program were selected from among 260 applicants as an example of innovative practices.

“We’re excited and honoured that we were picked, and if we can get other countries to start implementing our program it would be amazing,” she said.

The agency’s program is a free service that helps students with disabilities make a smooth transition into the workplace. With a focus on early intervention, it gives them a chance to gain skills and learn workplace habits at an early age by providing job coaches and orientation. It also provides ongoing support to both the employee and employer.

Last year, Community Living placed 72 students with jobs in Sarnia-Lambton.

And it has developed a toolkit to help other communities adopt a similar model.

“Sarnia is really seen as a leader in the province,” said Stokley. “We’ve been implementing this all over Ontario over the past couple of years, and we’ve had interest from the U.S. recently.”

To date, 19 Ontario agencies have participated in the toolkit training.

Sarnia has earned a reputation for its commitment to accessibility. Mayor Mike Bradley and the city have received numerous honours including the Ontario Disability Employment Network’s first ever Champions League Award for promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace.

“We truly believe that early intervention is key,” said Stokley. “We’re thrilled that the work we’ve been doing may be able to help young people across the world to make an easier transition to employment.”