“What would I do without you?” – My supported employment journey

Posted on December 8, 2017

- by Vivian, Fountain House member since 2015

When I joined Fountain House, I came in with two goals in mind: weight loss and gaining employment. So far one of those goals is successfully being achieved.

My job history has not been the best, and not something I have wanted to discuss until recently. Enduring a five year ‘dry spell’ of unemployment fostered a depression I felt was unspeakable. I desperately wanted to be of use in an environment that was going to challenge me. After very few callbacks or responses, I felt like I was unneeded and unwanted. It was quite literally the worst five years of my life not knowing if I could be of use somewhere outside of my home.

I became a member of Fountain House in 2015, and three weeks in I started my first Transitional Employment position at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. For those of you who don’t know about Transitional Employment, it is Fountain House’s part-time work program that sets members up to work in companies around New York City. A unique attribute of the Fountain House employment program is its absentee coverage policy, where if a member is unable to work on a given day, a Fountain House staff worker fills in, providing vital stability and support.

My personal experience of Transitional Employment positions is that they often offer a slow-paced, tranquil environment which is a great starting off point for people like me who are entering or re-entering the workforce. Being welcomed and opened up to that type of environment helped me learn what the world of work would be like for me. The experience taught me that I was more reliable in a work setting than I thought. I always felt I was a hard worker, but I learned I was adaptable and good at thinking on my feet.

After completing a few Transitional Employment positions, I realized I was ready for something more challenging. In October of 2015, Fountain House staff helped me find a Supported Employment positon at Carmichael Psychology. Supported Employment is different than Transitional Employment in that it is a competitive process in which members contend for jobs at New York City organizations against others who do not face the same challenges. Fountain House staff help members navigate this process by building relationships with employers and providing member training and support.

My Supported Employment position at Carmichael was not easy at first. During my first month I did not think I could last and was close to quitting, but I remembered my goal of gaining employment and chose to stick with it. I’m so glad I did because after almost three years at Carmichael, I still learn something new every day and embrace the challenges and changes that come with the position.

My official title is Housekeeping Office Assistant. I am responsible for cleaning three offices for five female psychologists. The other half of my job consists of collecting important documents, daily email recording of what documents came in and ordering office supplies. In this job I have also become “the package lady” checking to see what packages have come in for the day. Contributing to keeping a company organized also came with an unexpected perk – it helped me better organize my own life!

My boss at Carmichael often says “What would I do without you?”, but lately I have also been thinking about what I would do without her. I feel so grateful every day that she continues to give me this opportunity to learn and grow, but above all, I’m grateful to have a place where I feel needed.

If you believe that people living with serious mental illness deserve the opportunity to work on their path to recovery, give to Fountain House today. Click here to donate.

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