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Enhancing the business community

What happens when you discover that life after high school is a wasteland for young adults with intellectual disabilities? What happens if you love someone who has that type of disability? Worse, what happens if you know it’s unlikely that any employer will ever hire your loved one? If you are the friends and family of Anthony Barrett, a mostly non-verbal man with autism, you create a small business to keep him occupied and engaged with the community in which he lives. 

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That’s how the people who love Anthony got started. Out of desperation, Anthony’s mom, Deborah Barrett, and his support worker and friend, Mike Hamm, decided that a delivery service would use Anthony’s strengths and interests while filling a need for the people of Edmonton. Mike made a video to introduce Anthony, including his “autistic behaviours,” to the community. The video went viral and Anthony was in business the very next day! As people learned more about Anthony at Your Service, it became obvious that Anthony alone wasn’t going to be able to meet customers’ needs. Soon, an additional person with autism began working for Anthony at Your Service. Then, to meet the Christmas rush, we needed more and more people with autism and intellectual disabilities. Today, we have up to 25 people with autism and intellectual disabilities, and one person with cerebral palsy and no intellectual disability, working for Anthony at Your Service each month. We call these men and women service agents. They work in teams with drivers who know them well, get them where they need to go and assist, if necessary.

Anthony at Your Service isn’t only about creating jobs for people with autism and intellectual disabilities for the sake of creating jobs. It’s about creating good lives for these men and women and for the families and loved ones who support them. Jobs mean connection with the community. They mean making a contribution and being valued for the contribution each person makes. Jobs are what most adults do in our society. Our service agents see that their parents, their siblings and their friends work – not only to earn a living but to connect with others, to contribute to society, to grow personally and to derive self-esteem. There is nothing better than to see the pride in our service agents when they do a good job, when they get a pay cheque, or a compliment from a customer. It’s so important for individuals with intellectual challenges to work like others do, that one of our service agents didn’t cash his cheques for months. When asked about this, his mother volunteered that her son had taped the cheques to the fridge. When anyone came to the house, he would take them by the hand and lead them to the fridge. “See, I worked!” he would tell them. He definitely found self-esteem in having a job.

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Anthony at Your Service has an even larger vision: As customers and the public in general see service agents from Anthony at Your Service working in the community each day, we want citizens to become more aware of the gifts people with intellectual disabilities can bring to our daily lives. They contribute to work life by doing jobs like deliveries, envelope stuffing and assembling marketing kits, convention packets and the like - jobs that can be boring or too repetitive for many other workers. They also bring an eagerness and a vulnerability that reminds us all that life can be sweet, especially when we find pleasure in the simple things of life, like doing a good job for a customer. They teach us to find pride in ourselves, not because of what we have achieved, but because we simply want to use the gifts we have to make a contribution and be allowed to do that. Our ultimate goal is that ordinary citizens come to regard men and women with intellectual disabilities as a valuable part of the business community. 

Anthony at Your Service has taught us so many things, and will continue to do so. But learning to see the value in every individual (service agents and customers alike), connecting with them and helping them to have the best lives possible in whatever way we can never gets old. Helping others create better lives for themselves brings out the best in us. It builds community and connection. It’s a gift we can all use every day of our lives.