INCLUSION: ‘We look at each person as a person’

SURREY — Pop music? Check. Perma-smile? Check. Enthusiastic dance moves? Check.

It’s Justin’s checklist for work at Ming Sing Chinese in Surrey. It’s what makes him impossible to miss to those in the neighbourhood and those whizzing down the highway.

"I know what you like about your job, you like to dance," Ron Doust says to Justin.

"Yes," he responds instantly, grinning from ear to ear as he nods and giggles, holding up his headphones.

Doust is with Milieu Family Services, the agency that helped find Justin his job.

Since June 2014, Justin has worked for the restaurant by advertising for them, standing on the corner of Highway 10 and 152nd Street during the lunch rush.

The goal, of course, is to muster up business. But with his happy-go-lucky demeanour and sprightly dance moves, Justin is mustering up a heck of a lot of smiles, too.

"I asked him once when he was at it in the pouring rain, why he was so happy, and he said, ‘Because I like to dance and get paid for it,’" said Laila Yuile, a local blogger and columnist.

"I see him often. He dances like this, rain or shine, and everyone who is a regular around here lights up."

Justin is just one of 158 people Milieu currently serves.

Established in 1989 to provide supports for those with developmental disabilities, the company began around the time psychiatric hospital Woodlands closed, said employment manager Terri Destobel.

Today, the agency focuses on connecting its clients with jobs that fit their strengths, among other things. It’s all about building independence and confidence, Destobel explained.

"You feel like part of – and people see them as part of – contributing members of society."

The program’s intake has grown by more than 80 per cent in the last year, she noted. In 2012, the Delta branch helped roughly 25 people, and the Fleetwood branch 35. Now, they serve roughly 160.

"In the last 10 years… residential homes aren’t really opening anymore. People are able to live in more inclusive places and it’s a movement – this employment is a movement," she said. "People are catching on and businesses want to be part of it."

Milieu works with a variety of companies – everything from construction sites to retail – and are always on the look out for more. Some current partners include Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, the Honeybee Centre and teen clothing store Triple Flip.

Asked what Justin’s disability is, Doust and Distobel said they don’t focus on the diagnosis.

"A lot of people are tagged as autistic or developmentally this or that, but each person is so very different," Destobel said. "It’s kind of meaningless. I couldn’t tell you what everybody’s disability is… we really look at each person as a person."

Destobel said many people the agency has served talk about how much they were bullied in high school.

"They kind of carry that with them," she said. "Coming here, they come in with that kind of self esteem. A job and the independence, then you create friends, and you’re seen as part of something. It’s life changing."

And Justin? Catch him Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. He’ll be there, smiling and dancing.

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