Characters

Main Characters and Family

Avril Juzwishin

Born with Sotos syndrome, Avril has refused to be held back by her disability. She has two jobs, the first with the Gateway Association for Community Living and the second at the City of Edmonton. Her co-workers and supervisors in both locations have nothing but glowing praise for her work ethic and contributions. With the support of a loving and close-knit family, Avril has enjoyed great success and continues to have new dreams for the future.

“I always wanted to work at the City and it came true. I enjoy it, it’s really amazing. I can’t explain it, it’s amazing” — Avril Juzwishin

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Patricia Moore-Juzwishin & Don Juzwishin

Avril’s Parents

Already the parents of two young children when Avril was born, Patricia and Don realized early on that there were differences in their youngest daughter. Together they worked to raise Avril to believe in herself, helping her grow into a strong and capable woman, confident in her own abilities.

“We’re talking about meaningful integration into productive areas of society where these individuals make a contribution, just like everybody else.” — Don Juzwishin

 

Petra Juzwishin-Warnock

Avril’s Sister

Petra is Avril’s older sister and they share a very close bond and love of animals. Recognizing Avril’s strong administrative skills, she hopes to one day open a veterinary clinic of which Avril will become an important member of the team.

“In terms of Avril’s future, I think she will be the boss of that and I think that Avril makes that pretty clear that she will take the reins and go forward in whatever she wants to do.” — Petra Juzwishin-Warnock

 

Photo: Alejandra Pavez

 

Cody Strass

Cody has made himself a valued part of the team at ATB Financial. A helpful and funny young man, he is known at work for his work ethic not his Down syndrome. He loves his job and hopes to continue to work there for the foreseeable future.

“I have a job. It’s a good experience and a good opportunity. I get to meet new friends here. I love it.” — Cody Strass

 

Ruth Ann Chaffe

Cody’s Mother

Having raised Cody as a single mother since he was four years old, Ruth Ann is very proud of his accomplishments at ATB. She encourages him to continue to plan for the future and become more independent.

“With the help of organizations such as Alberta Association for Community Living, they were able to help put plans together for Cody.” — Ruth Ann Chaffe

 

Michael Thompson

Michael has enjoyed great success with his employment at Pacific Rim Cabinets. Despite a learning disability that causes him to struggle with anxiety and depression, Michael has demonstrated the ability to take on new challenges and to become a valuable staff member at his workplace.

“I always thought if you want to become successful in achieving your goals you’ve got to keep trying and work hard towards it.” — Michael Thompson

 

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Ruben & Amelia Calimbas

Michael’s Caregivers

Having welcomed Michael into their home 16 years ago, Ruben & Amelia say that he has become an important part of their family. They are huge supporters of him achieving his dreams and goals.

“He’s enjoying working there. The opportunity alone is great, but the company is even greater because he belongs and also of course, moneywise, he makes good money and he can save.” — Ruben Calimbas
 “We just want to see these people improve and get better and hopefully in the future be on their own.” — Amelia Calimbas

 

Brandon Gibb

Brandon has an infectious spirit that touches all of those he meets. Born with Down syndrome, he loves his job at Swiss Chalet where he gets to interact with customers and co-workers. He is excited for his future and has plans to travel and pursue a music career.

“When I’m working, it doesn’t feel like I’m different. It makes me feel like I’m a part of them and they are a team and a family.” — Brandon Gibb

 

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Mike & Carrie Gibb

Brandon’s Parents

Mike and Carrie didn’t know what to expect when Brandon was born with Down syndrome but they learned quickly. They love their son and are grateful for all that he has brought into their lives and to those he meets.

“You can’t fight a war for everyone, you have to fight it for yourself and hope that people see what you’re doing is for everyone’s benefit not just your own son’s.” — Mike Gibb
“We always treated Brandon like he was just any typical child. We expected the same things, good manners, we expected him to behave in appropriate ways, that was our job to guide him in those directions and he was an absolute joy from the time he was born.” — Carrie Gibb

 

Photo: Alejandra Pavez

 

Brodie Hamilton

Born with cerebral palsy, Brodie has worked hard to overcome whatever challenges have some his way. He is a valued employee at Stantec, where his employers recognize the insight that he brings to the workplace.

 “It’s probably made me a little more stronger and I’ve overcome that kind of stuff in my everyday life and I’ve accepted it but also haven’t dwelled on it.” — Brodie Hamilton

 

Karen Hamilton

Brodie’s Mother

Karen is very proud of Brodie and all that he has overcome. A loving and concerned parent, she hopes to continue to support him as he continues to develop his skills and become increasingly independent.

 “Once a mother, always a mother. And I think that as your kids get older, you still have the same concerns and you want the best for them but you do learn to let them kind of start down that road of life on their own.” — Karen Hamilton

 

Employers and Agency Representatives

Cindy de Bruijn

Executive Director, Gateway Association (Avril)

Cindy recognizes and honours the value that employment brings into our lives. She works for the Gateway Association for Inclusive Living offering assistance to those with all kinds of disabilities to find meaningful work opportunities.

“You are what you do. It’s the first question people ask when they meet you. What do you do for a living? Or whereabouts do you work? Well, imagine if you didn’t have an answer to give.” — Cindy de Bruijn

 

Mark Farr

Disability Outreach Coordinator, The City of Edmonton (Avril)

Working with the Abilities@Work program with the City of Edmonton, Mark’s work aids people with a wide variety of intellectual and physical disabilities find appropriate positions with the City.

“Abilities@Work is a recruitment program at the City of Edmonton designed to employ people with intellectual disabilities.” — Mark Farr

 

Ida Smaili

Staff Support Consultant, The City of Edmonton (Avril)

Ida works with Avril in her position at the City of Edmonton. She speaks highly of Avril and all of the contributions she has made to her department at work.

“We’re always on the go, things are happening in our area. There’s a lot of work that we need to get through on a daily basis but when we have Avril, we find that we actually sit and take the time to communicate with to other now.” — Ida Smaili

 

PHOTO: Alejandra Pavez

Dave Mowat

President & CEO, ATB Financial (Cody)

As Cody’s boss and supervisor, Dave recognizes him as a devoted and engaged employee who is committed to the company. He values Cody’s humour and work ethic and sees his job at ATB as integral to his evolving independence.

“I think if you work at it, whether it’s physical disabilities or mental disabilities, if you invest a little front end effort, there’s an opportunity to actually make your business more successful, have lower turn over, lower training.)” — Dave Mowat

 

Evelyn Haynes

Employment Coordinator, Surrey Association for Community Living (Michael)

Evelyn has worked closely with Michael to help him find the right employment opportunity at Pacific Rim Cabinets. She continues to encourage him to believe in himself and find new strategies for the challenges that come his way.

“It’s so ridiculous right now how low the employment rate is for people with disabilities. They don’t want to be sitting around watching TV. They want to be a part of society.” — Evelyn Haynes

 

Kent Mayo

Plant Manager, Pacific Rim Cabinets (Michael)

Working with Michael has been nothing but positive for Kent. He has aided him in developing marketable skills in his trade and in return, has learned to be more open-minded and accepting.

 “I think that everybody needs a purpose in life, and a goal, and a job, and a reason to wake up everyday.” — Kent Mayo

 

Photo: Alejandra Pavez

 

Keith Shillington

Senior Vice President, Stantec (Brodie)

Keith values the perspective that Brodie has brought to Stantec, an infrastructure design firm. He sees multiple benefits to the company from the hard work Brodie performs everyday, to the inspiration he brings to the designers at the firm

“The hire has to be real and the work tasks have to be real because if it is about just hiring somebody just so you have a statistic that says we’ve hired some mental disabilities, staff see right through it, we as leadership see right through it, and the person who has been hired will see right through it.” — Keith Shillington

 

Bryan Bell

Manager, Swiss Chalet, Chilliwack, BC (Brandon)

As an employer, Bryan has made an effort to really know Brandon and understands where he can make the most meaningful contribution to his place of employment. He is grateful for all that Brandon has brought to the restaurant as well as to his own personal beliefs about people with disabilities.

“Brandon’s taught me a world of appreciation for individuals. Brandon doesn’t look at himself as somebody with a disability. He just sees what he wants to do and what he wants to be and I think we should all be like that.” — Bryan Bell