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Boissevain business helping people with disabilities

The Brandon Sun - 11/27/2018

A Boissevain coffee shop that employs people living with disabilities was recently recognized internationally for their work.

Sawmill Tea & Coffee Co. received the Dr. Lucija Cikes award for providing support, employment and learning opportunities in the small community.

They work to give employees a much-needed sense of independence, manager Stacy MacDonald said.

"We want to give them real-life skills -- you know, how do you operate a cash register, how do you make coffee, how do you put together a menu how do you create a recipe?" MacDonald said. "You know, general things that most people in the restaurant industry take for granted."

Sawmill opened back in 2010, and is owned by Prairie Partners, a not-for-profit organization that supports people living with intellectual disabilities. Their coffee shop currently employs 27 people living with disabilities.

To be recognized for all the work that they do is great, MacDonald said.

"We put a lot of work into making the Sawmill a place not only for the people that we support, but for the community in general," she said. "So, for somebody outside the community to come in and recognize that is just amazing, and it just reinforces all of the things that we hope that we do and that we strive to add value to as part of a small town."

There are three other workers -- a front counter coach, a kitchen job coach and MacDonald -- who work alongside the employees with disabilities but the majority of work at Sawmill is performed by workers with an intellectual disability.

"If you buy any of our baking, if you order lunch, if you come in for a coffee, that coffee was ground by somebody with an intellectual disability," she said. "Your food was made by somebody with an intellectual disability, and all of our baking is made by our head baker, who has an intellectual disability."

Working at Sawmill means a lot of the employees no longer have to rely on government cheques to pay for their financial needs, she said, which is rewarding to see. And, it gives them more freedom and independence in their everyday life.

"They're able to go out and go to concerts, and go on vacations with their families and do the things that everybody else kind of takes for granted, that's sometimes a struggle for people who are on government assistance," she said.

Working at Sawmill also gives the workers more confidence, she said. Recently, MacDonald and two of her workers went to a workshop with different agencies from across Canada that do different kinds of programming for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

"They were really confident and they answered questions and they did a little presentation, (and) it was just nice to see that they're proud of the work that they're doing, as proud as we are," MacDonald said.

The goal is for the people they employ to eventually go on and find work outside of their organization, she said, and to have the skills to be able to do that.

"We want to give them the confidence and the skills to show the world that they can do everything," she said.

"There's nothing that they can't do without the right training and the right tools."

» mverge@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @Melverge5


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