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article imageConquering ‘unemployable’ stereotypes, one delivery at a time

By Khalid Magram     Nov 7, 2008 in Health
Toronto's A-WAY Express courier service located at 2168 Danforth Ave, just east of Woodbine Avenue is not an ordinary courier service company. Since its inception 21-years-ago, A-WAY’s modus operandi has been both socially and environmentally friendly.
The company also has a mascot name Sadie - a friendly four-legged pooch.
But the uniqueness of A-WAY, a transit based courier service does not end there.
Besides delivering documents and small packages using only public transit system and on foot - A-WAY couriers and staff are also conquering ‘unemployable’ stereotypes, discrimination and social stigma, often associated with people in the mental health community - One delivery at a time.
Laurie Hall, now the executive director of A-WAY, began working as a part time courier back in 1991.
“What makes A-WAY unique is that we’re all people, who went through mental health system,” Hall said. “My self, the boards of directors and all the employees have dealt with mental health challenges.”
A-Way’s lively employees’ self-expressed motto is ‘Show up on time, and do the best job you can that day.’
For more than two decades now, A-Way’s couriers, numbering 70-strong have been diligently serving small business in East York and beyond. Their customers include local lawyer firms in East York, United Steelworker national office, and constituency office of Toronto-Danforth MP, Jack Layton among others.
Alex Weinberger is office assistant with Jack Layton’s constituency office at Broadview Avenue.
“Our office has been using A-WAY for our local deliveries for years and we are quite pleased with their service,” Weinberger said.
Weinberger also thinks the courier service is an important vehicle for providing with income so people with mental health challenges can help themselves and their families.
Nevertheless, A-Way’s business model not only improves employees’ material conditions but also drives to redefine their day-to-day lives.
“What A-WAY does is allow them to get back a sense of their own self worth,” Hall said. “Often that gets taken away from them when they are in mental health system.”
According to A-Way’s annual report, the unemployment rate of people with mental health challenges is about 85 per cent. Many of them want to work however are unable to secure employment due to existing barriers in traditional workplace.
A-WAY Express usually has about a six-month waiting list of people waiting for opportunity to work at the courier service Hall said, that shows there is a huge demand from the mental health community waiting for the opportunity to work at places like A-WAY; she wishes the courier service could offer more.
A-WAY couriers are paid on commission basis. Latest rates being 70 per cent of every delivery they make.
A-WAY is also, what is called a social purpose enterprise and is funded by Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care as a consumer survivor organization - a non-profit business that employees people on the margins.
The courier company has also been instrumental in development of Danforth Mosaic BIA, a new Business Improvement Area in Danforth and it is an active member of Green Enterprise Toronto (GET), a collection of businesses committed to ‘Local Living Economy’, healthy environment and fair trade.
According to the Area report from A-WAY, dispatch the only complaint about A-WAY service comes from Sadie, who would like to see dispatch provide dog treats on a more consistent basis.
More about Mental health, Stigma, East york, Community
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