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Working Well

By Angela Hood
Network, Fall 2007

“Other programs work like a treadmill,” says Mike. “You just end up spinning your wheels over again and again. Here it’s different. Here you have supports that allow you to determine your own speed and movement. Here they encourage you to determine your own needs and wants. Without this program I can’t always cover basic expenses. With it, because I’m involved in a regular schedule and know what money I have coming in, I can cover those expenses.”

Mike lives with schizophrenia. He also has anxiety and, at 61, a heart condition. And the program Mike describes is New Horizons, an innovative, award-winning vocational rehabilitation program offered through the CMHA, Durham Region Branch. Since New Horizons opened in Oshawa in 1987, it has worked with about 850 people who are unemployed and dealing with a serious mental illness.

Fern is one of the program’s clients. She lives with schizoaffective disorder, and before joining New Horizons the 47-year-old couldn’t always afford to buy groceries and found many situations “scary.” Now, she says, “[the program has] helped me to be able to buy food in the middle of the month, which I couldn’t always do before. I can even buy myself a treat once in a while. I feel important because I am working and it’s my money.”

Money isn’t the only thing Fern earns from her work placement through New Horizons. She also gains access to community resources; opportunities for education, leadership and personal growth; and help with planning her goals. The staff members who provide this support “are cool and usually understand what we’re going through,” Fern says. Margaret, another client, adds, “There are good people here who are helpful and kind.”

The staff members go a long way toward creating a safe, nurturing environment where clients can hone their skills for employment, which in turn helps the clients to integrate into the community.

For years it has been a daunting task for any rehabilitation program to show a person’s progress. I could tell you that a person has come a long way but now I can actually show you.”
— Leesa Venning, Program Coordinator, New Horizons

Integration, team leader Kelly Weeks believes, comes partly from the “little things we do” to help participants function both financially and socially in the community. These “little things” make a big difference in helping participants become less vulnerable, and include helping them “to know the value of their money.”

“We give them confidence to go out and feel more comfortable having a bank account or saving a little bit of money or even just getting past the stigma of fearing that if they report their income that they’re going to get kicked off their support. They’re able to do basic budgeting [and] go to the store to do their grocery shopping without someone there to support them all the time.”

Participants can further develop their confidence and financial know-how through Small Business Initiatives, a non-profit employment services component of New Horizons. It supports an individual’s return to work with a broad range of paid work options, including transitional, part-time, full-time and independent placements. As Ilija, a Small Business Initiatives participant, says, “Jobs like catering help build self-esteem and help you earn some money.”

The types of work, which range from entry-level to advanced, include catering, moving, lawn care, cleaning, maintenance and cafeteria services. Clients perform each type of work for two to three hours at a time, and they are assessed before beginning the next available task. Program coordinator Leesa Venning says she doesn’t “know of any other program that has this many options for clients that are based on what the individual can do and how long they are able to work.”

If participants aren’t ready to take on the responsibility of a paid work placement, they can volunteer in the communications unit, where they may contribute to a newsletter, record statistical data, catalogue a library of community resources or maintain program information. They can also volunteer in the kitchen unit, which Venning calls “the hub.” By training in the bustling industrial kitchen, participants learn meal and menu planning, shopping and budgeting, nutrition, safe food handling and team building.

In both units, staff members and participants team up to complete the daily tasks. In fact, virtually every action taken at New Horizons is a collaborative effort. Joanne, who lives with both a mood disorder and epilepsy, says, “We help each other here with so many things. This program works because together we make it work.”

Fast Facts

Percentage of people with long-term physical or mental health problems living in poverty in 1996-1997

Percentage of Canadians without disabilities living in poverty in 1996-1997

(Source: Citizens for Mental Health, CMHA, National)

In 2006, CMHA, Durham Region Branch earned a three-year accreditation by the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation (CCHSA), the highest ranking given to health care facilities in Canada. The evaluators singled out the Rehabilitation and Employment Team that coordinates New Horizons. One of the program’s services, the Hubbell Manufacturing Company cafeteria, garnered a Leading Practice award, and evaluators called Hubbell Café a “unique partnership” and a “model for private sector involvement.”

The accreditation process takes about two years but Venning believes it’s worth it. “It’s a lot of work,” she says, “but it improves the organization every time we do it.”

The staff also won a Best Practice award for developing IT TELLS (Individual Tracking for Transferable Employment and Life Learning Skills), which includes monthly goal reviews and progress reports, as well as daily measurement. Venning says, “For years it has been a daunting task for any rehabilitation program to show a person’s progress. I could tell you that a person has come a long way but now I can actually show you.”

Team leaders use IT TELLS to track clients’ social skills, task skills and task consistency. Tracking these areas, Weeks explains, “shows really positive movement [and] for people who want to work on independent goals, we can make a goal plan around what tools you can use or what systems you can put in place so you can do the thing you want to do.”

“Some people come in and say, ‘My goal is to buy a house. How do I do that?’ It might not be achievable for many years, but they can determine what’s going to get them to their goals.”

And many are reaching their goals. One former participant now holds art shows and sells his own paintings. Another participant has held a retail position for over seven years. And others have met personal objectives. Susan says, “I have friends now and my own place and I am an independent woman. My self-esteem is high and I am confident in my choices. I can help others.”

And Mike? Currently, he says, “I’m involved in an [employment] opportunity five days a week. My self-esteem and self-confidence have dramatically increased. I have participated in providing peer support and I have even led an intensive group on assertiveness. Not having the opportunity to come [to New Horizons] would be a shame for anyone in a similar situation.”

Angela Hood is a recent Centennial College Communications/Public Relations graduate living in Toronto.

Employment Support Programs

New Horizons is just one of Ontario’s many employment support programs for people with mental illness.

For more CMHA branch programs like New Horizons that support vocational rehabilitation and employment,

Non-CMHA programs

STRIDE (Supported Training and Rehabilitation in Diverse Environments) is a non-profit, community-based vocational rehabilitation program. The program was founded in 1983 in Halton, and has offices in Milton, Acton and Oakville. STRIDE accepts referrals, including self-referrals.

BUILT (Building Up Individuals through Learning and Teamwork)Network was founded in North Bay in 2002. The program has expanded to six sites across Canada and also features an online bilingual program. In June 2007, the BUILT Network was honoured by the Canadian Council on Learning.

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