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Summerside mental health program helps members learn skills and find work

James Gaudet (left) was hired by Jenny and Ken Meister (right), owners of Holman's Ice Cream, in 2018 through the At Work project from Notre Dame Place.
James Gaudet, left, was hired by Jenny and Ken Meister, owners of Holman's Ice Cream, in 2018 through the At Work project at Notre Dame Place in Summerside. - Brae Shea

Notre Dame Place initiative has been approved for funding for another three years


The At Work project has been helping clients of Notre Dame Place in Summerside establish new skills and finding new workplaces since 2016. 

“It’s been very successful over the province. We’ve reached our milestones, and the best thing is seeing our members getting employment and keeping the employment,” said Lila McIsaac-Bouchanan, the program director at Notre Dame Place. 

The initiative was recently approved for funding for another three years. 

Notre Dame Place is a division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) P.E.I. branch, along with the Fitzroy Centre in Charlottetown and the Hope Centre in Alberton. The CMHA P.E.I. was granted the funding for all three locations to continue the project.   

“We assist our folks with mental health issues to get employment. It’s up to 13 weeks, and we can assist up to 100 per cent of the wages in that time. What’s nice about the project is if a person can only manage three hours a week, we can start at three hours a week.”  

McIsaac-Bouchanan said the goal is for all members who participate to gain employment, but at the level they are at and something they’d like. 

“We talk with the individual, ask them what they’re interested in or where they’d like to be. We look at their skillset, and what jobs are available in the job bank. Then we meet with the employer, discuss wages, go on a site visit.” 

One aspect of the program is the member can work at their comfort level, said McIsaac-Bouchanan.  

“The dream is full-time, and a lot of places want 20-30 hours a week. But some folks can’t. Whether it be self-confidence, time management, or whether they’re well enough to do it. If someone can only work 10 hours or if an employer can only take someone on for 10 hours a week, that’s okay. We have more flexibility around it, especially for the needs of the client.” 

There are different aspects of the projects that help people find other routes to employment. 

“Whether it’s seasonal, full-time, one of the biggest things about this is work is normal. People need to make money. And it gives self-confidence and the feeling of being a part of something.” 

James Gaudet works in the garden at Holman's Ice Cream shop in Summerside. - Brae Shea
James Gaudet works in the garden at Holman's Ice Cream shop in Summerside. - Brae Shea



One member who has had success in the program is James Gaudet.  

Gaudet has worked as a garden caretaker at Holman’s Ice Cream shop in Summerside for the past two seasons. 

He works every Monday from nine until noon, doing various yard-related duties. 

Gaudet is a man of few words, but said he liked working at Holman’s, particularly mowing the lawn.  

“I mow from this side of the fence, all the way down to end of the yard,” said Gaudet, pointing at the left side of the property. 

Owners Ken and Jenny Meister were approached by the Notre Dame Place about placing James there last year and have had nothing but good things to say about their experience.  

“It’s a pleasure to work with James. He’s very prompt, always shows up every Monday morning at nine o’clock, ready to work,” said Jenny. 

Jenny said she has worked closely with James the past year he’s been with Holman’s, as she takes care of the exterior of the location. 

“He’s very hard working. James will work until the job is done, and he listens very well to instructions and advice. He’s a little quiet, but he’s very good at what he does.”  

Ken praised James for his willingness to work the tasks he is given with enthusiasm and commitment.   

“I don’t think we could’ve found anybody that is more dedicated to their work than James. He wants to be here and is proud of his work. It doesn’t matter how much you pay an employee, it’s hard to get that level of dedication.” 

The At Work project was beneficial for the wage subsidy it provides and gives the employers time to help their newly hired employees, said Ken. 

The Meisters plan to extend James’ employment at Holman’s for next season. 

“Our intention is once this year’s wage subsidy ends, we’ll keep James on. As long as there is grass to cut in the season, he has work,” said Ken. 

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