SURREY — With an infectious smile, a pair of work boots and a work ethic that rivals even the most dedicated of us, 25-year-old West Bosma shows up to work for Surrey’s cemetery services at 6:30 a.m. Sometimes, 6:15.
No matter that he doesn’t start until 7 a.m., he’s ready and raring to go.
Anna Christian hired Bosma for work in Surrey’s cemetery services department about seven months ago, after meeting him through her husband’s work at Semiahmoo House, an organization that works with those who have developmental disabilities.
“The program (at Semiahmoo House) is to train people and teach them, and then find permanent work for them. So I knew he had the skills – and definitely the personality.”
Christian approached the city to see if she was able to hire him, and got the green light.
“His dedication to the team is unbelievable. When he works, he sweats. The guys have to tell him to take his break. As soon as the break’s over, he’s telling them, ‘Guys, break’s over. Let’s go,’” she said, laughing.
Bosma is a jokester, keeping a smile on the whole team, not just himself, she added.
Christian stressed the team treats Bosma as they would any other employee. He works regularly with a horticulturalist, aids the burial crew and even helps with cremations.
“Today he was out weed-whacking at the cemetery. There’s really nothing he doesn’t do, other than heavy equipment, and we have people to do that anyways. He does maintenance, he’s great at weeding. The guys have great patience with him and they recognized that his disabilities are not necessarily a negative thing.”
She said Bosma is one of the best hires she’s ever made. While he currently works two days a week, she hopes she can eventually have him on full-time.
“We hope people are going to be passionate about being here, passionate about what we do for our community. And sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t. With West? He’s dedicated, he’s so proud of the work he does. It’s a win-win.”
Surrey Cemetery Services recently won a Labour Solutions Award that recognizes local employers who have gone above and beyond to create welcoming, inclusive workplaces.
Christian plans to talk to the city’s senior management team about its successes and West’s success.
She said Surrey is already doing work to support teens through mentorship programs, but she’d like to see a city-wide push to hire more people with disabilities.
“I don’t even like to use the word disability,” she said. “When you look at all of us, we all in some form are limited. We all have things we’re good at. So I really wish I didn’t have to use that word – disability – because he’s no different.
“I hope one day we don’t have to have events like the Labour Solutions award. That it’s just so mainstream.”
She challenges businesses and individuals to think outside the box when they’re hiring. Perhaps you need a cleaner? A caterer? There are organizations, like Semiahmoo House, that train people with disabilities to work in these fields.
“There are a lot of ways we can support these groups and organizations. We just need to know – and share.”
Crew supervisor Craig Alexander echoed Christian’s praise for Bosma.
“He’s been great. He’s such a good guy, he’s just like part of the family,” he said.
Alexander admitted he didn’t expect much from Bosma at first.
“But as we’ve been working together, he’s picked up a lot. He’s just like anyone else.”
While the employers are undoubtedly happy with what Bosma brings to the table, he’s benefiting as well.
For the first time, he’s applied to live independently, a move his family credits to the confidence he’s gained through the work.
“As much as West has given to you, you don’t realize what you’ve given to West,” they told Christian.
Bosma excitedly spoke of his upcoming move to South Surrey, leaving his parents’ Fleetwood home for the first time.
That excitement didn’t waiver when he spoke of his many duties with cemetery services.
But what’s his favourite part of the job?
“Just working with the team and making sure everything is done properly. No mistakes,” he said with a smile.