Jennifer Everard focuses on ability, not disability.
As work experience coordinator at SCE Lifeworks, Everard supports people with developmental or intellectual disabilities — helping them work, participate and succeed in the community.
“I supervise four to five job coaches that work out in the community with people with intellectual disabilities at different work sites,” Everard says. “I also help our employment consultants with employment development support, and I assist in the transition of high school students coming into the program.”
Everard is coming up on 15 years with SCE Lifeworks, having landed a job in the organization immediately after completing Red River College’s Disability and Community Support program (then called Developmental Services Worker) in 2002.
However, her desire to help others started much earlier than college, or even high school.
“As a child going to an elementary school that had a lot of students with disabilities, I was just drawn to helping,” Everard says. “Even in Grade 1, I remember volunteering in the special education rooms. It just felt natural and comfortable.”
The two-year Disability and Community Support program includes six work placements relating to the disability field (community residents, employment agencies, schools and adult day programs). Everard credits the hands-on component of the program for showing her how she could best help people.
“I came into the program with the intention of pursuing a career in the education system,” she explains.
“My final practicum was at Connect Employment Services, who happens to be SCE Lifeworks’ sister company. My experience at Connect completely shifted my career focus, and I would not be where I am today had it not been for my practical experiences.”
During her first eight years at SCE Lifeworks, Everard also worked at a group home, having been hired on after one of her RRC work placements. She said that experience and the DCS program’s wide scope empowered her to be better at her current position.
“At SCE Lifeworks, we do employment support but we also support the whole person,” Everard says. “We need to understand what goes on in a residential home. We need to work with the social workers, the whole team, and understand the family dynamic.”
Everard says one of SCE Lifeworks’ most exciting endeavours is a program called Project Search. The program sees high school students with intellectual disabilities participating in classroom setting and performing valued work rotations at Manitoba Hydro, the Civil Service Commission and Health Sciences Centre.
“It’s very inspiring because it’s usually their first time out in the community away from school,” Everard says.
“You get to see how excited the students are with what they’ve accomplished and their growth throughout the year. We’re helping the students to find employment upon graduation and to ease the transition from school to work in a seamless manner.”
Still, Everard’s job isn’t without its challenges.
“Getting the community on board with supportive employment and understanding it is a challenge,” she says. “It’s a constant, because the community in general isn’t fully aware of people with disabilities and what they do and can do.”
Of course, seeing her clients succeed is inspiring, but Everard said she’s also motivated by the passion and perseverance of her colleagues.
“I really enjoy the community, the people who work in the disability field. There are so many active advocates that are very inspiring,” she says.
— Profile by Jared Story (Creative Communications, 2005)