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Learning to be independent with an intellectual disability

October 25, 2019


A United Way Winnipeg donor-supported program helped Jessica build confidence and independence

Winnipeg Jets Head Coach Scott Arniel, United Way Winnipeg Board Chair Donna Miller, and United Way Winnipeg President & CEO Michael Richardson visit Main Street Project with Executive Director Jamil Mahmood.

Help change lives like Jessica’s in Winnipeg now.

There’s a new show at Celebrations, and no one loves going to the dinner theatre more than Jessica. She checks the bus schedule on her phone, determines what time she needs to leave her house, and she’s off!

Dinner theatre is just one of many social activities offered by Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD) as part of their Adult Leisure and Recreation Program for individuals living with physical and neurological disabilities. SMD is also a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency partner.

Some of the other activities in the program include Art Group, swimming, and Supper Club, where participants learn how to prep and cook food, preparing culinary favourites like Jessica’s specialty, mac and cheese.

“I’m so happy my mom found out about this program,” said Jessica. “I’m always learning new things, and I’ve made a lot of new friends.”

Four years ago, Jessica’s mother, Janice, learned about the program when she accessed SMD’s website to support a colleague participating in Easters Seals™ Drop Zone, an annual SMD fundraiser where brave souls rappel down the exterior of a downtown high-rise.

“I called and asked if Jessica could join the program, and the rest is history,” said Janice.

Jessica was very young when Janice first noticed her daughter’s speech was delayed. Jessica was later assessed in elementary school as having an intellectual disability and not at the same learning level as other kids her age.

Jessica understands this. “I need to get help sometimes,” she said. “I can read some words and try to sound them out, but it’s hard. And I practice a lot, so I get a bit better.”

Every day, Jessica tries to learn more and do more.

“I’m proud of myself when I get something done,” she said. “I try to push myself to do things that I don’t want to do, but know I should.”


Jessica received assistance in school until she was in grade 8 and then she enrolled in a program at St. John’s High School, which taught various life skills, such as how to go shopping, how to read a bus schedule and take the bus, etc.

Following high school, an employment agency for people living with an intellectual disability helped Jessica find employment at a local confectionery manufacturer, where she assembled boxes, stocked shelves, and assisted with packaging. She worked at the company for 11 years, but when they brought in automation, Jessica’s role became redundant, and she was laid off.

“I didn’t want to stop working,” she said. “I had so much fun, and I made a lot of friends there.”

Fortunately, she had the Adult Leisure and Recreation Program to keep her very busy and provide regular social interaction and opportunities to learn new things. Jessica already has a full calendar of SMD activities planned for this year, and she also hopes to get back to work soon. And one day, she would like to live on her own.

“I like staying with my mom. But when I’m ready to move out, I want to see what it’s like. I also wish I could drive, but then when I see people on the road, I think, maybe not yet,” Jessica joked. “And I don’t mind catching the bus.”

“She’s got a better sense of direction than I do,” Janice said. “And she takes the bus everywhere. This year, I don’t remember coming to pick her up from anything.”

Janice credits the SMD program for much of Jessica’s independence and confidence.

“I see the change in her,” Janice said. “SMD has given her the confidence that she wouldn’t have had before. She’s so much more comfortable with strangers and new situations. School and work are great, but they can only take you so far; you need that social interaction with others to grow, and thanks to SMD, Jessica’s certainly doing that.”

Help change lives like Jessica’s in Winnipeg now.


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