News & Press
Community Wellness: Everyone has the right to work
By Emily Betz
Director of Program and Services, Ionia County Community Mental Health
Posted May. 30, 2015 at 12:48 AM
There used to be a perception in our culture that people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses couldn't work, or didn't want to work. We don't believe that at Ionia County Community Mental Health; in fact, research shows that quite the opposite is true. For many of us, work gives us a sense of value and purpose. This is also the case with individuals with differing abilities.
The old model of employment for these individuals used to one particular factory in a community, with workers being paid by the piece. The Supported Employment program at ICCMH enables adult participants (18 and older) to compete in the labor market by helping them prepare for, find and maintain meaningful jobs. These are jobs that are not specifically tailored for people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses, but would be open to anyone in the community who applies.
All the individual has to do to participate in the program is express a desire to work. Our Supported Employment staff member assesses the strengths, abilities and needs of the employee -- including transferable skills, such as if someone is good at organizing their home. Staff then meets face to face with the employer to determine their needs in the workplace. We look for the perfect match: the right person for the right job.
Our staff helps the program participant create a resume, do a job search, learn how to dress for an interview and even practice answering questions in a mock interview. Once the employee gets a job, we help them prepare for the job and to understand what they need to do to keep the job. For example, if the employee sleeps through one alarm clock, get a second clock; what kind of shoes are the most comfortable for a job in a fast food restaurant. The employee also receives a call to check in a day or two before the job starts.\
Our staff also stays in touch with the employer to find out how it's going, to answer questions and troubleshoot when there is an issue. This is a feature employers have said they appreciate. We've been able to handle anything they've needed.
To be counted as a "successful" placement, the job must pay at least minimum wage and not be a volunteer position. Since February, when the program was revamped, 16 individuals have been referred to the program, and six have been successfully placed in a variety of positions from restaurant work to maintenance. All are still employed. More than 70 potential employers have had face-to-face meetings with Supported Employment staff.
At the moment, one staff member handles the workload, but my hope is that we can reach capacity and will need to add another staff position. I would like to see 40 people participating in the program, with a 75 percent success rate. Everyone has the right to work, so my goal is if someone wants a job, they'll have one.
Employing individuals with developmental and mental health challenges enables them to contribute to society just like the rest of us. The community benefits from a more diverse workforce, because we miss a skill set by assuming people can't work.
A benefit to the workers themselves is, like all of us, people do better when they have what they want: a job. We see better recovery outcomes when they have a reason to get up in the morning, to take their medication, to move forward in their lives. It's better for everyone. If we've helped them, we've helped the entire community.
If an employer is interested in learning more about this program, contact Emily Betz at 616-527-1790.
The vision of Ionia County Community Mental Health is to be an integral and valued partner in a community committed to the wellness and full participation of all its citizens. For more information on ICCMH, its services and programs, visit www.ioniacmhs.org.