"When I was in my early thirties, I was diagnosed with having schizophrenia. I lost my business, I lost a good and dear friend and ultimately, I lost my wife."
St. Catharines entrepreneur Dave Allen says that initially, he was devastated by his diagnosis. He went through each day barely functioning, and found himself experiencing such depression that even leaving the house seemed too big a challenge.
But then Dave discovered the Ontario Disability Support Program's (ODSP) Employment Supports.
"I was invited down to a meeting with ODSP," he says. "They explained to me some of the services they offered — one of which was an employment service where you could try and have a regular employment scheme, or the route that I chose was to be an entrepreneur."
From there, Dave was connected with ODSP Employment Supports Service Provider Start Me Up Niagara, which specializes in helping people with disabilities find employment or start their own business.
"Dave came to us with an interest in self-employment," says Jennifer Gorman, Employment Counsellor with Start Me Up Niagara. "We talked about his previous experience, talked about how he could apply that to his business idea, and evaluated how he was going to make it really successful."
Start Me Up Niagara helped Dave to get his web design business — David Allen Computer Consultancy — off the ground, and has been offering their constant support ever since.
"We've discussed what he needs to do to grow his business," says Jennifer. "But a big part of our support is just maintaining contact, offering motivational support, offering problem-solving and helping him move forward in his business."
Today, Dave is busy putting his technical abilities to good use by developing websites and increasing online marketing for other businesses.
"It's been more successful than I thought, than I originally imagined it could be," says Dave. "I've had quite a few clients, and each month, I've been getting more and more. And each one of them is really happy with the work I've done for them."
Dave's not only elated that he's been able to build his own business, but also that he's been able to build a better life for himself and gain financial independence in the process.
"If I wasn't on the program, if I wasn't doing this through ODSP," explains Dave, "then my life would've remained the way it was. But this gave me an opportunity to work and earn more money … and it opened a door to get back to a normal life."