Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Every day at work 'awesome' for Mary Jane

Learning on job at Sally Ann program

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Mary Jane and her 'diva' friend, Megan Pedden. They're reaping the benefits of a Salvation Army program that expands horizons for people with Down syndrome.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Mary Jane and her 'diva' friend, Megan Pedden. They're reaping the benefits of a Salvation Army program that expands horizons for people with Down syndrome. Photo Store

Mary Jane Seargeant is learning American Sign Language, taking a food-handler's course and working at a hospital, a nursing home and a thrift store five days a week.

The 32-year-old isn't run ragged -- she's living the dream.

"She comes home on the bus and I say, 'How was your day?' and it's always 'Awesome! Great! Terrific!,' " said her mom, Marietta Seargeant.

Mary Jane has Down syndrome and makes the most of every day she spends at the Salvation Army's Community Venture Developmental Services in Winnipeg.

"She never says, 'I don't want to go to work,' " Marietta said.

Instead of staying home, watching TV and putting in time, she's active, learning new skills and making friends, said her mom. She remembers a darker time when they lived in Ontario and services for adults with intellectual disabilities were not available to Mary Jane, and her daughter languished.

In Winnipeg, the Sally Ann, with 125 staff, provides developmental day programming, residential outreach and respite services to 250 adults.

At the Community Venture program near the Grace Hospital, Mary Jane has learned to cook, communicate with the deaf and expanded her social skills by venturing into the community.

"I love it," said Mary Jane, who has been going there five days a week since 2008.

She and her colleagues visit the nearby Golden West Centennial Lodge Care Home. There, a group of 10 residents with no family to visit them have formed a special bond with Mary Jane and her co-workers.

"They talk about their lives, play board games and read the newspaper with them," said Community Venture services' executive director Kim Park, whom Mary Jane calls "boss."

Mary Jane and her coworkers recently put on a Christmas program for their elderly friends at the care home.

At work, she is learning American Sign Language to help her communicate with deaf colleagues. At Grace Hospital, they deliver water to patients. Mary Jane said she also works in the hospital thrift store.

"We don't call it a day program -- we're working," Park said.

Mary Jane said when she's at the thrift store, she'll spend the day sorting and organizing clothes. "My feet are killing me," she joked.

"They're learning to be product merchandisers," said Park. They're also reinforcing skills, such as knowing colours, sizes and how to hang clothes a certain way.

It's not all work. "She has two friends here -- they call themselves the divas," said Marietta. "They have sleepovers and birthday parties." On Thursday, diva Megan Pedden gave her friend Mary Jane a much-appreciated Christmas card and received a hug in thanks.

Then it was back to work. Mary Jane and her colleagues were heading over to a nearby church, where they were catering the lunch. They've been taking a food-handling course and know what they're doing, Park said. The one-day certification program has been developed into a two-year course to accommodate the people they work with, said Park.

"People grow at their own speed," she said. "We're not trying to rush anyone along."

Neither is Marietta, who feels that by the time she and Mary Jane's dad reach their golden years, their daughter will be living independently.

"For us, this is very comforting," Marietta said. "Church, family and this program are what's been strong in her life."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2013 A7

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