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Dream Big

 

Danielle Kelliher

Derek Lith lives in Vancouver, B.C., where he was born and raised. His one-bedroom suite is comfortable and tidy, with pictures and mementos of his family placed throughout. Family is important to Derek and he talks to his parents every day.

Typically, every other weekend, he takes the bus and ferry to visit them on the Sunshine Coast. Derek is also close with his brother Jordon, who lives close by and supports him when he can. Apart from his family, the most important thing in Derek’s life is his job. Derek has worked for MacDonald’s as a lobby person for almost 21 years. “I like working hard,” he says. “And I like getting pay cheques.”

As a lobby person, Derek cleans tables and counters, stacks trays and napkins, takes out the garbage and re-stocks the straws, ketchup and cups. He knows his job well and steadily moves from one task to another without stopping.

“You have to take your time,” he says. “Clean it so it’s sparkly clean and don’t stack the napkins too high.”

Derek is social and has a good relationship with many of the regular customers. They know him by name and occasionally give him tips. “I say hi to everybody,” he says with a smile. “The customers are very nice.”

Derek’s parents, Paul and Rosemarie, have always supported Derek to dream big and lead the regular life of a child, teenager and adult. Since preschool Derek was included in regular classrooms and encouraged to lead an independent life.

But while Paul and Rosemarie thought about work for Derek, lingering doubts made it just a thought and not a reality. They weren’t sure if he would be able to work independently and follow instructions.

It wasn’t until Derek started doing work experience in high school that they realized that employment was not only a realistic goal, but would be an important part of Derek’s future. Derek’s first work experience position was in a local government office where he did office-related tasks.

Paul describes how this changed his and Rosemarie’s perspective: “Derek’s independence in his first work experience and the support that he got from his coworkers was quite encouraging. It increased our confidence that he would do well in a regular work situation. After that, work became a real option in our minds.”

There were a few work placements that didn’t work out for Derek. Some of them were too physical and the hours too long. But he and his family knew that he was capable and it didn’t take long before the perfect fit came along.

Derek received some initial support from a local employment agency to start work at McDonald’s. Once Derek could work independently with the support of his employer and coworkers, the agency backed off. Since then, Paul and Rosemarie have supported Derek when necessary.

“Even today, after Derek has worked at MacDonald’s for 20 years, as parents we’re still very proactive, acting as his advocate or agent. Organizations or employment agencies are there to help to a certain degree but they can only do so much, partly because there is only 24 hours in a day and they have many people to support. We shouldn’t leave it all to the agency. They just can’t do it all.”

Derek and Rosemarie help Derek make sure that his schedule accommodates his many other daily activities. Because Derek loves his job, he doesn’t like to say no. But Derek has a busy life and is involved in many activities that he’s passionate about, so a work/life balance is important.

“Work has made Derek’s life richer in so many ways,” says Paul. “He tremendously enjoys interacting with new people. He knows steady customers and they know him. Whenever Rosemarie and I go in there, invariably people will come up to us and say how hard a worker he is.”

Just as Derek values his job, his employer values Derek’s contribution to the workplace. Last December he was awarded a gold plated watch at the staff Christmas banquet and five years ago he was awarded a bag of golf clubs.