by Marion Van Driel
For Stewart, going to work every day is a treat. There’s no place he’d rather be – the place where he’s supported and cared for by his “family” of coworkers and supervisors. Stewart, who deals with mental health issues, has never before worked in such an encouraging environment. He’s able to talk about his struggles, and know his boss understands. Coming from an abusive background and dealing with PTSD, Stewart receives the support he needs to move forward in a positive manner, instead of numbing his pain with alcohol. Today he works hard in a part-time position, sees himself in an honest light and is validated as an employee and a person. He gives credit to the caring culture he experiences through Communitas. People with disabilities derive great benefit from the workday structure, meaningful work and empathy on their journey.
Stewart graduated from Support Towards Employment Program (STEP) three years ago, and now works for ShredMasters in Abbotsford, both part of Communitas Social Enterprises (CSE) that seeks to provide employment and work support to people with mental health issues. Two more businesses run by CSE include Valley Recycling and a janitorial service.
Established in 1992, CSE has about 28 employees who work part-time hours and days, dependent on their state of health. There are often sick days involved. “It’s a challenge working with that, but it’s a rewarding challenge because you’re giving meaningful employment, …” explains CSE’s manager John Kremmer. Most employees cross over between the businesses, which provides them a variety of duties and skills training.
When he came on-board just over two years ago, Kremmer was presented with a goal of tripling business; so far, it has doubled. Some clients use the services because they respect and value CSE’s mission. “About 25 percent of our customers work with us because of what we’re doing,” Kremmer explains. “But we have to be professional and offer the service; 75 percent of our customers are probably with us because we are a good business and doing a good job.” ShredMasters is going head-to-head with much larger companies. Kremmer notes that some of the biggest names in the shredding industry have taken note of ShredMasters’ impact on their own business.
CSE’s territory extends from Langley to Chilliwack and Mission, filling contracts for private business and public sector organizations. “We have some major alliances, or partners, to help forward this organization as well,” Kremmer explains. Since cities and municipalities only pick up from houses, Valley Recycling has a contract for multi-family townhouses with Recycling BC, who oversees and regulates the province’s entire recycling program. Another contract involves the Abbotsford School district for pickup at the schools. Kremmer looks forward to further developing partnerships to expand the social enterprise.
Along with the blessing of growth come opportunities for the local community to exercise generosity, and for the directors and staff at CSE to flex their faith muscles. Today, CSE is outgrowing its space and equipment. Their fleet of four trucks needs expansion. “We’re in the process of looking for funding to get hopefully another shredding truck and another recycling truck,” says Kremmer. CSE hopes that someone will step up to help out; larger organizations such as VanCity have been strong supporters in the past as well. Kremmer notes that big-ticket items like a truck are hard to find funding for.
CSE impacts social, environmental and local entities. Besides supporting people for whom finding (and maintaining) employment could be difficult, the businesses run by Communitas are a great solution for the local community to support social enterprise while receiving excellent service. Environmentally, the businesses show significant measurements of saved water, energy, landfill space, and trees.
Justin Beals began working for Valley Recycling in 2007 one day a week. Eventually, as his gifts became evident, he took on more responsibility and hours. He no longer requires disability assistance, and hasn’t been hospitalized since he’s been with CSE.
Today Justin works half-time in the office and halftime on one of the trucks, mentoring other clients.
Today Justin faces the future in hope.
As the Communitas motto reveals, it’s really not all about disabilities. Rather, it’s about “Abundant life for all abilities.”