Stories @CSI: Good Foot Delivery gives people with developmental disabilities a leg up
By Lisa Ferguson, CSI Reporter
Just seconds into my conversation with Jon Gauthier, the co-founder of Good Foot Delivery, his smart phone makes the familiar piano trill sound that signals an incoming text. “An order just came in,” he tells me, and excuses himself to pop back into his office at the Centre for Social Innovation to dispatch a courier.
Good Foot delivers packages throughout Toronto on foot and via public transit. When businesses use Good Foot Delivery, they’re making an environmentally friendly choice. But they’re also making a choice that can change a life, because what sets Good Foot apart from the myriad delivery services in the city is that its couriers have developmental disabilities.
The enthusiastic and friendly “face” of Good Foot, Jon tells me how his own life has changed. With ADD and other learning disabilities, he’d been struggling, doing freelance tech work here and there, living contract to contract. His sister Kirsten was worried about his financial stability. Both already inclined to entrepreneurship, the siblings opened Good Foot Delivery as a not-for-profit in February 2010, getting up and running from space in the back of Kirsten’s The Production Kitchen office. They moved to the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) Annex in 2011. And Jon has moved into a management position, in charge of office/courier operations, social media and web development.
Good Foot has not only given Jon stable employment, but a passion: passing on the opportunity that his sister gave him. For the first several months, Jon was the only courier, but as Kirsten generated clients and media coverage, “people just started coming in saying, ‘Hey, I want to work for you,’” Jon explains. “We didn’t pay anybody for a good three to six months, and they didn’t complain at all—they were just happy to be a part of something.”
Landing a job can be tough for any of us. But people with developmental disabilities have an unemployment rate (12.6%) double that of those without (6.8%) and the lowest labour force participation rate (32.7%) of all the disability types.
Hiring takes time and effort, and if you pick the wrong person, it’s costly. Many employers are reluctant to hire someone with a disability—even more so when it is a disability they are unfamiliar with. Good Foot’s hiring policy is simple and straightforward, Jon says: “You come in, we interview you. Everybody volunteers at first, one or two days a week. If you’re willing to put in the time, after two or three months if you love the job and you’re doing it well, we’ll put you on the payroll. We’ll give you a chance.”
The organization currently has five volunteer couriers, and employs six couriers and two office staff, all with developmental disabilities. Jon likes to tell “the Mike story” to show how employment can improve someone’s mental health. Mike has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Before he came to Good Foot, he couldn’t leave his house, and his parents couldn’t leave him alone much. “A couple of months in,” Jon says, “and he could live on his own. He’s very confident now. He can make dinner. He can spend a whole weekend by himself. His parents’ lives are transformed as well as his.”
Besides boosting their employees’ confidence and independence by offering them valuable work experience and a community, Good Foot is challenging stigma about people with developmental disabilities. “We have such a good buzz because the idea is just good,” Jon says. “But we’re also fast, we’re efficient—so clients think, ‘Cool, they are quick, they are reliable. They can do it.’”
Good Foot’s hard work and social business model has impressed many. The November 2012 SociaLIGHT conference invited Jon to share his story in front of 1,000 other entrepreneurs and leaders. The Charities Directorate recently approved its charitable status.
Businesses are supporting Good Foot as it finds new ways to promote itself and compete with other Toronto delivery services—UPS has just partnered with them to offer a 30% discount to Good Foot clients, and local audio production company Silent Joe bought and distributed 500 prepaid delivery certificates to its own clients.
Other local businesses offer the couriers perks including free yoga classes, haircuts, and finance and literacy classes. The CSI Annex Coffee Pub is among several restaurants now providing free lunches to couriers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
“I always wanted to give back or to be known for something,” Jon says. “You know — who am I in the grand scheme of things, what do I do?” By changing lives and combatting stigma by giving people with developmental disabilities a chance, he’s doing quite a lot of good.
If you’d like to
help others follow in Jon’s footsteps to independence (through donations,
sponsorship of a courier, volunteering, interning, etc.), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Like them on Facebook.