What A Concept!

o”There were no teachers walking around drilling students on typing speed or standing over their shoulders…”

November 3, 2014

One of the many things that  the pages of West Central Streets provided for our inner-city Winnipeg community was to help us all symbolically ‘go behind the doors’ of businesses, community places and homes in the community that we would not be able to enter otherwise or have no reason to enter. We got to know each other in a community in which many people lived in fear because of its reputation of being a place where criminals lurked. They are there. I believe this area had (and maybe still has) the highest murder rates in Canada. West Central Streets helped to showcase the wonderful people and places in the community.

Here is one story, I wrote:

West Central Streets

May/June 1998

What A Concept!

by Tanya Lester

Have you ever wondered what Concept/VIP, at 561 Ellice, is all about?

A former trainee named Tracy did.

“I was so scared to go in that I paced back and forth down the sidewalk for about 10 minutes” she wrote in a recent Concept newsletter.  “When I finally got the courage to walk in the door, what I found was nothing like what I had expected.   There were no teachers  walking around drilling students on typing speed or standing over their shoulders passing out instructions…Once I started coming to Concept daily I noticed an enormous change in myself. Suddenly I wanted to leave the comfort of my apartment. I began  to think of what it would be like to work again not with fear and anxiety, but with a sense of confidence and excitement.”

Concept trains people with physical disabilities and with mental health issues, in office and accounting skills. Most trainees have been out of the workforce for ten years.

According to Brian Stewart, the Executive Director, who co-founded Concept in 1978, it started as four small businesses sponsored by the Manitoba League for the Physically Handicapped. Until that time disabled people received skills training only in sheltered workshops, which seldom led to employment in mainstream society. “We needed to have a more public image” said Stewart.

Concept was so good at getting jobs for its trainees that the constant turnover meant the business could not succeed. So the focus changed solely to ‘training in  a safe environment’.

The first training step is to assess the needs of the person seeking skills development. This may include re-designing and modifying the job to fit the requirements of the disabled person. Stewart states that training takes a “holistic approach… with a view to improve the individual lifestyle, learning and work habits to better prepare for employment.”

Training also includes doing customer contract work. The V.I.P. part of the company offers mail or telephone services for the public as well as photocopying, sending faxes and doing resumes — all at reasonable rates.

In the program’s fourth step, participants are sent into the community to receive work experience. This is followed by a job search with assistance from Concept. On the average, training last nine months and 80 percent find employment.

What a concept!

— END-



To read the first posts on this blog, go to writingsmall.wordpress.com

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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader  by Tanya Lester can be purchased from the author or by going to the author and title name (to read first few pages and buy) at amazon.com

Tanya Lester’s other books are Friends I Never Knew,  Dreams & Tricksters, and Women Rights/Writes. They are available in some library systems and at the Provincial Archives of Manitoba


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