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Meet Terry: The Gay Lea Foundation helped create the opportunity, Terry chose to thrive

Disability and mental illness can strike at any point in a person’s life. It can be debilitating when it occurs, but it doesn’t have to be when a community steps in to provide employment and support. For Terry, working a job at The Raw Carrot helped him provide for himself and take the necessary steps toward recovery.

“I had a normal life – work, family, kids — until suddenly things changed. I started not feeling well, and I was tired all the time. I was unable to work. I reached out for help and went to see a psychiatrist. I was initially diagnosed with depression,” says Terry.

The Raw Carrot is a social franchise that believes that every person who WANTS to work should have the opportunity for a hand-up instead of just a handout in life. The organization partners with churches and nonprofits across Ontario to create meaningful employment for amazingly talented individuals living with disAbilities and mental illness.  They’re making a difference in local communities through their delicious, handcrafted, gourmet soup!

“Unfortunately, the anti-depressants I was prescribed started changing my thinking patterns,” says Terry.  “I started getting suicidal, I was sad all the time, and I lost interest in everything. I attempted to take my life and was unconscious for 3 days on a respirator, thank God it didn’t work out. I was in a psychiatric hospital for 8 months and my family fell apart. When I was released, and unable to work, I was able to get onto ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) so that I could afford to live.”

Across The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OEDC) countries, people with disabilities and mental illness experience employment rates that are 40 percent lower than the overall average and double the average unemployment rate.  Research consistently finds that people with disabilities work less, earn less, and earn lower wages when they do work. Their employment disadvantages include (among others) fewer hours and lower wages. People with disabilities and mental illness are far more likely to experience poverty and have lower levels of household income, and most of this vulnerability is due to low employment rates.

The Gay Lea Foundation is committed to supporting Canadian charities that work toward the relief of poverty, advancement of education and purposes beneficial to communities in Canada and around the world. With the support of a $9,000 grant from the Gay Lea Foundation last fall, The Raw Carrot has been looking into more ways to help people like Terry earn more income. They’re developing new products with more profit margin and pursuing the testing and development of shelf-stable products, product packaging, a go-to-market plan, and a campaign strategy to increase visibility and product sales that will result in increased hours and job creation for individuals living with disAbilities and mental illness in local communities in Ontario.

“The Gay Lea Foundation’s generosity has helped create new products that will continue to provide supported employment and launch the organization into a new stage of growth,” says Executive Director Rebecca Sherbino. “It’s because of our generous community donors that people like Terry earn an income to provide for themselves in a supportive workplace that understands there are times in life when we need a little extra support from our families, friends and community.”

Terry says that living on ODSP is very tight. With the money he earns from The Raw Carrot, “I can buy better groceries. I can get fresh fruits and vegetables. I couldn’t do this with just my ODSP cheque.”

According to reports on social determinants of health, the number of emergency department visits for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities is 90% lower when people participated in community life and 63% lower when people had meaningful work and activity choices.

“On the road to recovery, properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and on the correct medication, I started to think about my next step. However, I knew I wouldn’t be able to excel in a traditional work environment. Then I found The Raw Carrot, and I was back to work,” says Terry.

Since 2014, The Raw Carrot has created supportive jobs for individuals living with disAbilities and mental illness that struggle with barriers to traditional employment. With donor support, they can provide the hours their staff needs to supplement their ODSP benefit and help give them a sense of hope to thrive again.

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