Donovan Thiessen owns a car, goes to work and lives in an apartment by himself.

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Donovan Thiessen owns a car, goes to work and lives in an apartment by himself.

What the 30-year-old Thiessen does find difficult is budgeting, planning meals and buying groceries.

Donovan Thiessen (left) and his mother Jeanette chat with Epic Opportunities executive director Ruby Reimer. Epic helps people including Donovan live independently.


Donovan Thiessen (left) and his mother Jeanette chat with Epic Opportunities executive director Ruby Reimer. Epic helps people including Donovan live independently.

That's because while Thiessen has many strengths, he is still an adult living with some cognitive and physical disabilities caused by an undiagnosed genetic condition.

And that's why Thiessen considers essential the support he receives from Epic Opportunities as part of its supported independent-living program.

"Most of the support happens at my place," he said.

"The supports help me. (My support worker) helps me with my groceries. He helps me with my finances and with my budget. We go grocery shopping together.

"I'd have challenges if not for Epic."

Epic Opportunities began as Hope Centre Inc. in 1972, when it was created by a group of people from the Christian Reformed Churches of Winnipeg.

But by 1983, the organization had grown to the point it was restructured and split into three separate entities called the Hope Centre, Hope Centre Health Care and Hope Centre Ministries, with the Hope Centre changing its name to Epic Opportunities in 2010.

'We help people find a meaningful job for fair pay. And we also support people in a home environment'‐ Ruby Reimer, executive director, Epic Opportunities

While Epic is now a non-profit charitable organization with a volunteer board of directors, its values are still rooted in Christian tradition.

Epic's mission is to "provide holistic, person centred supports to people with intellectual disabilities and to promote inclusive communities".

Its vision is "for all people to be valued members of the community, have significant personal networks, equal access to opportunities and contribute to a better society."

Epic opened its first residential home for four adults living with special needs in 1987. There are now 43 homes and apartment suites sprinkled throughout the city with 73 people living in them.

Ruby Reimer, Epic's executive director, said the organization also serves 80 people supported at four different day service locations.

"Our day supports are focused on assisting people to work, learn and contribute in their communities," Reimer said.

"We help people find a meaningful job for fair pay. And we also support people in a home environment."

Reimer says they're also proud the next home they'll have is currently being built in Sage Creek and is being constructed to be accessible for residents with physical disabilities.

Besides the independent living program Thiessen is in, and its residential program, Epic also has other programs including:

-- a program where people can learn, work and enjoy life in the community with support. At both community and Epic's offices, it helps people access educational and learning opportunities. It also assists with career exploration with a goal to get paid employment.

-- self-development workshops to help people explore who they are and what matters to them. These include self-esteem, interests and roles, contributing to my community, networking, and communicating assertively.

-- job development workshops to help develop employment skills including development of resumes, effective job search techniques, and interview preparation.

"We spend quite a lot of time exploring what their interest is, determine goals and dreams, and find out where am I now and how do I enhance my skill," Reimer said.

And Reimer said they are always looking for employers and businesses willing to hire a person living with special needs who comes with a support agency behind them.

"We can support the company and any accommodations needed," she said.

Epic also has a fundraising arm, the Epic Opportunities Foundation, created in 2011. Its job is to raise funds to buy houses for residents with special needs and to provide funding for special projects for their clients.

Mark Mercier, the foundation's president and a former president of Epic, said he has been involved with the organization for almost a decade, his interest sparked because of a family member who lived with disabilities.

Mercier said the foundation's goal is to "raise capital so we can purchase more houses to provide better housing.

He said until now, many of the residences where Epic's clients live have been rental properties so when the landlord decided to sell, Epic would have to find a new place and would have to pay for more renovations.

"By buying a house if we widen the hallways, put ramps at the houses, and widen doorways, it is our house so there's no one who would suddenly sell it," he said.

"We know our clients wouldn't be forced to move at any time. And these are people who become long term residents in their neighbourhoods.

"We want to provide a home for them not just a temporary residence."

Mercier said while the government helps pay the mortgage of the houses they purchase, through the social assistance paid to the people living with disabilities to pay for their accommodations, they still have to raise the cash to buy the houses.

"The government doesn't give us the capital to buy houses or for vehicles," he said.

"The foundation provides the down payment for the house."

As for Epic overall, Mercier said he is pleased with its goals.

"It allows people to get out into the community and out of institutions like St. Amant (Centre) to live on their own with some assistance," he said.

"They can volunteer, they can work and they can meet people and socialize. It gives me a great feeling of satisfaction to be part of it."

Thiessen's mother, Jeannette, said Epic's support program is perfect for her son who can do many things independently, including work as a custodian at Perimeter Aviation as well as helping passengers to and from a plane with their luggage, but still needs help for some things.

"It becomes a challenge because you think he can do everything, but he can't," she said.

"That's where Epic comes in and we're so grateful."

As for Thiessen himself, he said Epic not only helps him, but also motivates him.

"Hopefully I can make a difference."

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.