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Lee’s Shop

By Judy Van Amerongen

The proud owner of Lee’s Shop is Lee Van Amerongen. Lee is a young man who loves to go to church, likes to paint, eat fast food, and go for drives in the car. Lee is proud to be called "Uncle Lee" and treasures the time he spends with family and friends.

Lee is also a man with autism and significant seizure disorder. He is non-verbal, communicates with an alphabet board and needs support for most aspects of his life. Lee is definitely not your typical entrepreneur.

Lee’s Shop is a located on the main street of Canning, Nova Scotia. As the name suggests, there is nothing ordinary about this small shop. Inside you can find silk scarves from India, jewellery from Sri Lanka, fossil shell jewellery from Madagascar, necklaces made out of cow bone by the Maasi tribe in Kenya, carvings from Malawi, and baskets from Uganda all in support of worthy charities in those countries. You can also find locally hand carved birdhouses, dolls, candles, books by local authors, and Lee’s own Cookie Painting Kits.

Lee began working in the community at the age of 16 through CAPRE, a parent-run organization then called Canning Area Parents for Real Employment.

At that time, the parents children with an intellectual disability were looking for options in their communities that would provide their sons and daughters with opportunities to learn new skills, be visible in the community and do something that would contribute to their community in a meaningful way.

When CAPRE became a not-for-profit society in 1999, the group had already shifted focus to entrepreneurship and changed the name to Community Association of People for REAL Enterprise.

The concept of entrepreneurship proved to be a nice fit for those individuals who have significant support needs. Being self-employed can be tailored to the individual. Flexibility in times and days of work and type of work that would be suited to the individual's skills, needs and wants.

After completing high school, Lee joined CAPRE to begin the process of having his own business. A support circle, consisting of Lee, his support worker at that time, Lee’s mother and Executive Director of CAPRE, was put together to begin this process.

CAPRE'S person-centered service delivery as outlined in their Logic Model would provide Lee with goals that would give him the quality of life we were looking for. Those goals would include learning, participation, interaction, empowerment, community engagement, and public awareness (demonstrate the contribution of persons with disabilities to the community).

An opportunity identification process began to identify a product that Lee would enjoy making. The idea of a Cookie Painting Kit grew out of Lee's love of cookies and his fondness for children.

Lee and his support worker began building Cookie Painting Kits out of the community hall generously provided at no cost.

Lee's support time was purchased from CAPRE with respite dollars that family’s receive from Community Services. It was spending those dollars in a productive way for Lee.

A couple of years later, it was time to move to a more suitable location. Lee was given the opportunity to use a storefront (at little cost) on the main street that had been vacant for several years. With a little paint, minor renovations, and a new sign hanging proudly outside, Lee's Shop was open for business.

Business grew to include handcrafts from local artisans. Networking made it possible to connect with local and international charities adding another dimension to the business.

A small consignment fee would help cover expenses of having a store.  Then a new sign was added to better reflect what was inside, "Lee’s Shop, Ethnic and Local Emporium". And Lee, along with Sharon’s assistance, drafted a slogan, mission and vision for the business.

Slogan: The little business with a big heart.
Mission: Creating memories that last a lifetime.
Vision: To make the world a happier place.

In Lee's 13 years of business, much has been learned, business has grown, connections made and the number of Lee supporters increased.

Lee participates in all aspects of his business. When customers come in, Sharon introduces Lee, tells them about Lee and that this is Lee's business. Open hours for the shop have increased and expenses covered by sales (including rent and hydro). 

Lee's favorite part of the business is doing the bookkeeping and banking and most of all he loves people to know that he can communicate. He has made tremendous gains in his confidence, communication, and skill level. Lee is well-known in the community, supported and acknowledged as part of the Canning business mix. He has met people from all over the world. Lee is also making a meaningful contribution to his community, making a difference in the lives of other people around the world and doing work that he enjoys.

To quote Lee, "Nothing else has helped me to meet my challenges as much as this shop and I’ve grown so much," he says. "If I can do it, so can others with autism."