Living Every Day to The Fullest: Grad Turns Life Lessons into Consulting Business, Advocacy Efforts

Story by Rob O’Flanagan

   
  
   
  
    
  
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    His dog , Sawyer, in the lead, Drew Cumpson motors down the back  roads near his home, with personal support worker Matt Crosgrove alongside.

His dog , Sawyer, in the lead, Drew Cumpson motors down the back  roads near his home, with personal support worker Matt Crosgrove alongside.

Drew Cumpson books it on the back roads of Loyalist Township in his power wheelchair, an Invacare TDX SP model loaded with features. He steers, brakes and guns it with subtle movements of his head and neck. His T-shirt reads “Eat. Sleep. Travel” – the slogan of his former school at the University of Guelph.

Cumpson’s dog, Sawyer, takes the lead as Cumpson motors down the blacktop, alongside hayfields north of Amherstview, in the rolling landscape upcountry from Lake Ontario’s northeastern shore.

The young man’s personal support workers have trouble keeping up. One lags well behind, preserving her energy, while another quicksteps alongside. The chair goes just fast enough to give Sawyer a workout and Cumpson a breeze.

A graduate of the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management, Cumpson, 26, is a determined, stubborn and resilient person who is on a mission to live life to the fullest. As a quadriplegic, he wants to help others with disabilities do the same.

His life over the last six years, he says, has been one big learning curve – a difficult process of learning to live well after suddenly losing the use of his arms and legs. He has lots of experiential learning to share.

Earlier this year, Cumpson launched his website www.drewcumpson.com, the centrepiece of his H & D (Hospitality and Disability) Consulting business. He advises restaurants, hotels and airlines on improving accessibility, while coaching people with disabilities in everything from travel planning to obtaining post-secondary education to maintaining a healthy attitude.

He also advocates for better health services for people with disabilities, and for changes to the Ontario Disability Support Program so it provides more support for those wanting to get o the program, earn a living or start a business.

“Yes, my life has changed,” he says, sitting in the open-space living room of the rural home built specially for him by his family, close to the medical services he needs in nearby Kingston.

“I cannot do all the same things that I used to do, but I try to do as many of those things as possible, in order to continue living a life that is comparable to what I would be doing if I did not have my accident. I have to go forward in life, no matter what. I am not giving up.”

A few days before the 2011 swimming accident that altered his life, Cumpson was looking out over Peru’s Andes Mountains from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, among the seven wonders of the world. He vowed then to visit the remaining six. It was one of his last experiences on foot.

Unaccustomed to world travel as a person with a disability, he nevertheless visited Mexico’s Chichen Itza in early 2016, another of the world’s wonders. He did it because he promised himself he would.

He encountered many obstacles and inaccessible places. It inspired him to work to make travel easier for those with a disability.

“I’ve always been someone who, once something is in my mind, I am going to focus on completing that task, no matter what.”

In May 2011, Cumpson was part of a University of Guelph humanitarian trip to Peru, helping to improve the lives of local people living in poverty.

On the last day of the volunteer trip, he was swimming in the Pacific Ocean. One especially powerful wave drove him headfirst into the rocky ocean floor. The impact fractured the fourth cervical vertebra in his spine.

“I don’t really recall the first two or three weeks after the accident,” he says.

Paralyzed from the armpits down, he spent 16 months in intensive care at Kingston General Hospital. There were many complications. He was transferred to the former St. Mary’s of the Lake facility for complex continuing care, where he spent three years.

Now, Cumpson lives at home in a decidedly non-clinical setting. He requires round-the-clock care. Medical specialists monitor his health. He needs a ventilator to breathe and a pacemaker to ensure his heart rate remains above 60 beats per minute.

It was at St. Mary’s that he decided to resume his studies at U of G. He had been away for ve semes- ters. The option of transferring to Queen’s University in Kingston was suggested, but he said no. He would stick with what he called U of G’s “best in the nation” hospitality program.

“I wanted to show that even though you have a disability, you can still do everything from an educational perspective,” says Cumpson, whose tattoo of a leaping Moby Dick on his left bicep is a symbol of his own story of strength and survival.

After starting back at the University in January 2013, he learned that his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She fought a strong battle, he says, but died on July 17 that year.

Cumpson persevered. He took all the distance education classes he could. Skype allowed him to attend further courses remotely. Other students took notes for him. Faculty and sta did whatever was necessary to make it happen. “They were just amazing,” Cumpson says.

Mike von Massow, now a professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, was teaching in the College of Business and Economics when Cumpson made his return to his studies.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it,” says von Massow. “His commitment to finishing the program – and the support he got from other students – was admirable. It really was amazing. It was inspira- tional when he came across the stage to graduate.”

Cumpson’s body is confined, but his mind is unconstrained. It darts and dashes, keeping him awake at night.

“My brain never shuts off,” he says. “It does not shut off at all.”

He is bombarded by thoughts about his future, his consulting business, the challenges he faces and how best to overcome them. There is a connecting thread of optimism running through it all.

   
  
   
  
    
  
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    Cumpson’s optimism, and his smile, shines through.

Cumpson’s optimism, and his smile, shines through.

 “I’ve honestly never seen him have a negative day,” says Madison Simmons, a best friend. “He’s always positive. He’s just so driven. When he sets his mind to something, he has to see it through.”

Before his accident, Cumpson had no idea of the challenges facing people with disabilities. “As someone who went from being able-bodied to disabled in an instant, I realized very quickly how inaccessible it is, and how many barriers there are in this world for people living with disabilities of any kind.”

Yet Cumpson doesn’t think of himself as disabled. “In terms of my disability, I look at it more as not really a disability, but something along the lines of just having different abilities now than what I had before. My abilities in life have changed, but I still have these other abilities to push forever and work through in life.”

This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in The University of Guelph’s Portico Magazine. 

H & D Consulting, Cumpson’s consulting practice offers practical guidance for people with disabilities on

  • the dos and don’ts of world travel
  • the pursuit of higher education
  • the art of self advocacy
  • sex and relationships

 

Painting the Town Red: Carly’s Work Story

By Abigayle Walker, WorkStory Ambassador at University of Ottawa

We last saw Carly Silberstein in her first WorkStory back in 2012, when the Western University grad was working as a corporate event coordinator at KCI Management. Now, Carly comes back to share her journey on becoming a successful entrepreneur. She is the CEO and cofounder of a startup company, based in Toronto, called Redstone Agency . Being active members of industry associations, Carly and her business partner noticed that there was a gap in the market – younger generations were just not being represented or engaged by these types of organizations.

Redstone–  the youngest-run association management company in Canada– was created to fill this void.  

The agency provides its clientele with a well-rounded assortment of services that include event and association management, digital and technology solutions, and consultations. The business works with organizations such as TalentEgg, the Women’s Business Network, Women in Nuclear Canada and the Planning Standards Board to name a few.

Carly is truly passionate about her career and company! She especially loves the team that she works with and interacting with clients. Since Redstone represents a wide array of companies in different fields, Carly has the opportunity to wear many different hats and is required to perform a wide variety of tasks. She enjoys that every day is new and exciting.

The team at Redstone is constantly hard at work. Some days, they work on client events while other days are spent in the office, brainstorming and strategizing. Being a startup company, the Redstone team works vigorously to increase professional development and acquiring networking opportunities. The priority, however, is always to serve the client.

The success of Carly’s business is dependent not only on the hard work the team does, but also their ability to build and foster relationships. They always make a conscious effort to stay up-to-date on the constant pulse of the trade. The team also contributes to the field by volunteering, writing in industry publications, and participating in industry and non-industry events.

For aspiring event planners and entrepreneurs, Carly strongly recommends joining professional associations to create professional ties. She also stresses the importance of volunteering and internships/co-op, which she says are crucial because the experience gained is invaluable. Volunteering one’s time is a great opportunity to learn from others in the business. Carly’s closing remark was to always say “yes”…you won’t know what you’re going to love until you try it!

Drive Keeps Young Alumna on Right Track

By Madison Scaini

As Chantal Rapport looks out of her office window, the Distillery District in Toronto looks back at her. “Everything I have worked hard for has paid off,” she said.

Rapport is not an average 23 year old. A 2014 graduate of Ivey Business School [at Western University], she is now an analyst at Satov Consultants, as well as the corporate relations manager for Dancers for Cancer, a charity dedicated to raising money for SickKids Hospital in Toronto.

In addition, she is an accomplished entrepreneur. During her time at Western, she co-founded Tokynn, a food and beverage gifting app, and Covers4Change, an organization that sells laptop cases to fund the building of a house in South Sudan. She also represented Canada in the Global Vision Junior Team, a business trade mission in South East Asia.

“Growing up, I never thought that everything that has happened, would happen,” she said.

Coming from a poor neighbourhood in Ottawa, where she lived with her mom, Rapport was motivated to provide more for her future. Although both her parents were academics, she wanted to find her own path – her own journey – in the business world.

She applied to Ivey directly from high school, but needed a scholarship from Western in order to fund it. The need to maintain a certain average motivated her to work harder in her final year of high school, as well as every year after at Western. Slipping below it was not an option, she said.

Once at Ivey, she never looked back.

“Chantal was very dedicated and focused on the things she did,” said Krista Harris, one of her first friends at Western. “She put everything she had into it.”

Although Ivey tends to be known for its difficulty, Rapport thought it was more fun than anything. Her business education remains valuable, but she also emphasizes the importance of life lessons she took away from her experience. Those continue to guide her as she develops personally and professionally. Ivey taught her a lot about her strengths and weaknesses, how to interact with others and how to manage her stress levels.

“It was like tough love,” she said.

As Rapport reminisced about her time in university, she admitted she is still incredibly impatient, and always looking at what is next on her to-do list.

She was always involved in extra-curricular activities, including planning the Ivey graduation trip, being an Ivey mentor and an executive for Ivey Orientation Week, travelling to South East Asia to represent Canada and co-founding multiple businesses.

Tokynn and Covers4Change were started as passion projects, but became defining experiences that ignited her interest in entrepreneurship and philanthropy, she said.

Even after graduating, Rapport continues to channel her energy beyond her job.

Rapport beamed as she talked about her current involvement with Dancers for Cancer, a charity that she has been volunteering for since she graduated from university. The committee is working to raise $1 million by the end of the year to fund the development of a dance stage at SickKids hospital in Toronto.

Dance has always been something close to her heart. Although she does not dance as often now, it was a major part of her childhood. In Ottawa, she participated in a free dance class that also welcomed at-risk youth. She eventually became the teacher of that class, and was surprised with a party when she left for university, since she was the first person in that class to do so.

Rapport is not only a dancer, but also a traveler. She has travelled to more than 12 countries across four continents – Vietnam being her favourite.

“I’m naturally incredibly curious, and so I want to understand how the world and humanity works, especially in other cultures,” she explained. “I don’t want to live in a little bubble.”

With her parents being environmental scientists, Rapport grew up appreciating the world around her and views it as a learning opportunity.

Then again, she looks at everything in life as a learning opportunity.

“Take every possibility you can to learn from the people and world around you,” Rapport advised current students.

In 10 years, she hopes to have a family, travel more and own a business she truly believes in. Most importantly, she wants to know her purpose.

Despite all of the challenges she had growing up, she has managed to learn from her difficult childhood to build a future she has always wanted.

Rapport looks through her office window once more and smiles. “My two big things when I look at where I’m going next are, one, I’m doing something that matters to the world, and two, I’m having fun doing it.

“Life is way too short to not enjoy what you’re doing.”

Posted with permission, Western News /  Photo Credit: Justin Scaini

The People Side of Voices.com: Kaitlyn’s Story

By Michelle Doyle, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

Do you ever watch a trailer or hear an ad on the radio and think to yourself “Who is that voice? Where do they get these people from?”  Wouldn’t it be nifty to have a platform for voices and businesses to connect?  Kaitlyn Apfelbeck is the Human Resources Manager for Voices.com in London, Ontario–  a global voice talent company that does exactly that!

In her role, Kaitlyn deals with all the people-related matters of the company – “the hiring, the firing, benefits, payroll, compensation, training and development, health & safety, and many other day to day responsibilities that come up.” She finds the best part of her job is the people with whom she gets to work. Even when her work piles up and gets to be a bit overwhelming, she still loves it simply because she’s working in such a fun and supportive environment.

Kaitlyn began her journey at Western University in 2007, where she entered the Bachelor Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) Finance Program. After just one year, she knew she didn’t love accounting. This wasn’t a matter of her not doing well in the program; in fact, she was actually doing very well. Rather, it was that the human resources (HR) courses that she was taking really intrigued her. In her third year, Kaitlyn decided to follow her interest and transitioned into the HR stream of BMOS.

Although she graduated in April, 2011, Kaitlyn didn’t land her first job until November of that year. This job took quite a bit of networking to land and she was pleased in at St. Joseph’s Health Care London as an HR Assistant on a 6-month contract.   After that, Kaitlyn moved to auto parts manufacturer Takumi Stamping Canada Inc and eased her way up the manufacturing stream – from HR Assistant to HR Specialist in a short 3 years. She explains that it was during this period of time that she learned the bulk of her HR knowledge.  As she puts it (pro tip alert!) “if you ever want to learn HR inside and out, work in manufacturing. It's a very strict environment, and it helped that my manager was chock-full of HR knowledge and experiences. Some of the biggest pieces of HR info I learned was from conversations with my manager.  I was always interested in the previous situations he had found himself in and what he did about them.”

Kaitlyn knew she wanted to move further up and so she continued on her career hunt. It was then that she connected with Voices.com, and as it seems, she got extremely lucky.  “The stars were aligned for me at that time, because I landed the best job I've had in my entire life!” Kaitlyn explains her love and passion for her job as being a result of truly believing in the industry. She found it much easier to stand behind the company, as well as exert her passion and motivation simply from believing in the company.

Kaitlyn’s advice for those searching for their dream job is to realize that this won’t just happen within the first few years of graduating. “You'll make less money than you thought you would, you'll struggle, and you'll question if you're in the right industry or if you should've taken a different academic path. Trust me–  it's all worth it.”  She also discussed the importance of always trying the best you can, to ensure that previous employers have nothing but good things to say about you.

 “The world is small, and you'll likely run into those previous employers at Costco on more than one occasion – so be pleasant and humble!”

Beer. Do we have your attention?

Ever considered being a brewmaster?   

"The recent opening of a new Halifax brew pub has given Karen Allen the chance to come home, be near her family and friends, and also make beer for a living.  It sounds like a sweet gig and she admits it.”It’s pretty awesome, yeah,”…

More on Karen’s brewmaster story…