'First steps into the working world': Montreal candle store helps young adults gain life skills

Light A Dream, a candle store in the West Island, runs a program that teaches important entrepreneurship skills to young adults with intellectual disabilities.

Students with intellectual disabilities learn important entrepreneurship skills

Brandon Riddoch is a student at Light A Dream candle store in Pointe-Claire. (Marina Miller/CBC)

With the holidays around the corner, Brandon Riddoch decorates brown paper bags that are used for gift wrapping.

The 22-year-old meticulously swipes his paintbrush, filling in his drawing of a bright green Christmas tree adorned with ornaments he drew by hand. 

Next to him sits another drawing of Santa Claus and his reindeer flying over London's Big Ben.

Riddoch is pretty proud of these drawings, and says he's loved art since he was a little kid, especially cartoon drawings.

"Not to be a bit of a bragger, but I am a very gifted artist," he said.

Brandon Riddoch is a student who works at Light A Dream candle shop. (Marina Miller/CBC)
Riddoch is one of more than a dozen young adults with an intellectual disability who works at Light A Dream, a candle store in Montreal's Pointe-Claire neighbourhood.

Light A Dream is brightly decorated with candles, ornaments and other trinkets. It might seem like any other charming shop in the West Island, but the store doubles as a non-profit organization that runs a program for young adults with a range of intellectual disabilities.

The students are from the Lester B. Pearson' School Board's co-operative education program, and the store is a space where they learn business skills and become better prepared for a job after graduation. 

They do everything from shop for materials, clean the store, help customers, and run the cash register.

Leah Fecteau, a student in the Light A Dream program, says her favourite activity at the store is making the candles. (Marina Miller/CBC)
Leah Fecteau, 19, is making beeswax candles, which will be for sale on the store's shelves.

She smiles widely when she talks about her experience at Light a Dream.

"I really like doing the candles because it's fun and you can make your own," Fecteau said, pointing to a display of sprinkled cupcake candles which are neatly displayed on a gold tray.

She's been working there for two years and said the store is a place where students can explore their creativity and learn valuable work skills.

Since 1999

Cupcake candles made at Light a Dream candle store. (Marina Miller/CBC)
 There are 15 students currently enrolled in the program this year. These students will be in the program for three years.

Another 32 alumni also work at the store on evenings and weekends. 

Light A Dream has been running this program since it opened in 1999. It operates solely on donations from the general public and from West Island Community Shares — an organization which helps support 40 charities in the West Island.

All the donations go toward keeping the store open and the program running.

Students flourish at Light A Dream

For many of the students, it's their first steps into the working world, said Heather Laframboise, a teacher at the co-operative education program.

All her students work at Light A Dream. 

"Light A Dream is a very comfortable place for them to come. Many of them are very leery of people they don't know," she said.  

Heather Laframboise, a teacher at the Lester B. Pearson School Board's co-operative education program, says Light A Dream helps students' confidence. (Marina Miller/CBC)
 Laframboise said her students not only gain skills for their future careers, but they also build self-confidence and social skills. 

She said over the years, she's seen many of her students flourish while working at the store. 

"It's lovely to see the confidence that they have and it's nice to be able to say that they started here," said Laframboise.

For Riddoch, he hopes practising his art at Light a Dream can lead to a career.

"My biggest dream is to basically use my skills and bring it to a movie company."


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