Choosing Inclusivity: Choices Fort McMurray offers a hand up to those in need
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo offers a wide range of services and activities for all residents. There are opportunities for education, for personal cultural enrichment from the multitudes of community faith and diversity groups; for physical and mental health outlets and almost every medicinal treatment both holistic and mainstream.
Many job opportunities await in the region which draws individuals and families to our community from all over the world. What these services and opportunities have in common is that they lessen personal hardship and improve experiences. These are imperative luxuries. Now imagine if you felt as though because of your age, medical condition or education level that you were unable to access these luxuries. This is the unfortunate reality for many members of the Wood Buffalo community. For a multitude of reasons, vulnerable individuals are prevented, because of mental, physical or learning deficiencies from entering the job market and maintaining employment. Choices Fort McMurray is a municipally and provincially funded organization that offers employment counselling to those looking to reenter the job force and those seeking to enter the job force for the first time. What makes Choices Fort McMurray unique is that the organization offers employment services exclusively to those who identify as having limiting attributes to gaining employment.
Choices offers a judgement free environment to help clients get one step closer to their goals. Early in her career, Allison Pardy, the Executive Director of Choices Fort McMurray, shared a story about a couple who came in every month for a bus pass. This couple made the lifestyle choice to live in a tent on the trapline throughout winter. Allison remembers saying to herself, “Why do they live this way?” And in a moment of epiphany, Allison thought, “Who am I to judge that their lifestyle is the wrong lifestyle because I live a different lifestyle that I presume is better. I don’t know that person’s story and I don’t know how they got to where they are. And who am I to say that their lifestyle isn’t right for them maybe that is all they know.” Allison believes that moment gave her an understanding of the individuals walking in our door. Every one of us has a different and unique story and it takes a community to raise each individual’s quality of life.
Whether that client is suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, from a speech or hearing impairment, someone who is 50+ or the individual that didn’t complete their high school education, Choices works one on one to develop an individual service plan suited to each individual’s needs. Choices offers clients the opportunity to volunteer in the community to create an employment history for a resume, assists with resume building and teaches clients skill development such as how to use a computer, offers first aid courses and helps to pay for certification courses that employers look for on a resume. The work of Choices does not stop once a client has been given an employment opportunity. For an additional six months, Choices staff follow up to ensure the client is meeting all job requirements, is mentally stable in the position and feels safe and content in their new position. “We want to make sure that we are there helping them and assisting them so that they do not lose that employment opportunity,” says Pardy. Choices offers to be as much or as little of a support as the client needs and requests through the entire process of finding a job they love.
Choices has a goal of being current and relevant in the community. Established in 1968, the organization has implemented several initiatives to ensure vulnerable members of the community are given a fighting chance. On October 20, 2015, pairing with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo on their 10 year plan to end homelessness (Beginning in 2010) Choices along with 28 local affiliate agencies 7 community businesses offered an informational trade show for the homeless, newly housed and those at risk of being homeless on health, safety and the outlets available to them.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo reports that in a 2014 survey conducted as part of the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, 294 Individuals identified themselves as being without permanent residence. Pardy says what shocks her most often is how many people “have no idea the organization exists”. She attributes this to the fact that many who do not face barriers or disabilities to employment are not aware of the services available in their communities, but assures that everyone benefits from the results.
Choices and their partnering organizations are always looking for volunteers and suggests anyone interested in making a difference for someone in need to contact them via their website choicesfortmcmurray.ca or give their office a call at 780-791-3009.