A local janitorial company is being recognized for 25 years of hiring and supporting people with disabilities and other barriers to employment.

The company, the West Kootenay Social Enterprise Society, started in the 1980s, was given a certificate of appreciation last week by the Kootenay Career Development Services branch of WorkBC.

“It’s not that you’ve carved out one position, you’ve carved out an entire business, which is the fantastic part for me,” said Candace Banush, a job development and placement co-ordinator at Kootenay Career Development Services, who helped give out the award. “I’m just in awe of what you’ve done and I am so happy to give you guys this award.”

Started in the mid-’80s, WKSES re-dedicated itself in the 1990s to supporting people who may face challenges in finding and keeping jobs. The company now has 38 people on payroll, doing janitorial and other work at BC Hydro sites, car dealerships, doctors and other professional offices. From Nelson it’s since expanded into Castlegar, Trail and Rossland, and will soon have an office on Vancouver Island.

Trained, professional employment counselors and job coaches from the Kootenay Career Development Society work with WKSES to create a viable paid-work situation for people who otherwise would not have gainful employment.

The company is non-profit, but otherwise is run like a business, and receives no operating grants from the government (though the Vancouver Foundation provides help for the job coach). Workers are paid just above minimum wage, and the society provides job support customized to each person’s needs.

Kelly Alexander is one of the newer employees at WKSES.

“I’ve had a hard time finding jobs in the past,” she says. “And I’ve come home in tears because of the way my bosses have treated me.

“This job, it’s meant I’ve finally got my car on the road, and I have a bit of extra money to manage my life easier. Thank you.”

It’s not just people with intellectual or physical disabilities who are hired by WKSES. They see any barrier to employment as one to overcome — including mental health issues, addiction issues, criminal records, and even aging and language barriers. WKSES has provided early-employment opportunities for new immigrants just learning English.

“I thank you and praise you for being the people you are, and for making people so comfortable and welcomed and supported,” said Sharon Van Doesburg, a customized employment counsellor at KCDS.

“You are amazing employers and I know you are there to work alongside people until they are ready to be independent and free to do their thing.”

WKSES operations manager Kathy Stasyn was presented with the certificate of appreciation by career development communications coordinator Jessica Lunn for their contributions to inclusive employment in the region.

“You’ve been nominated for showing the leadership, creating the space and meaningful employment for so many people in the region,” said Lunn. “It’s such important work, there are so many people who have so much to contribute, and all it takes is the will of employers and employees to come together to work with everybody’s abilities to get them meaningful work.”

Stasyn was touched by the presentation.

“I am just doing my job, we couldn’t do it without our staff,” she said. “We have the best staff.”

Kathy Stasyn of WKSES gives Jessica Lunn a hug while (l-r) Cindy Henderson, Jordyn, Candace Banush and Kelly Alexander look on. Photo: John Boivin

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