Employment: More than Just a Paycheck

Rod Williams and Jessica Richards are ShelterCare's Supported Employment Team

To many of us employment is a means to an end. We work to keep the fridge full, a roof over our heads, the bills paid. Have you ever stopped to think about the other positives of employment, beyond the paycheck? Employment can also provide daily structure, a sense of purpose, and a chance to be social and engage in the community. These less-tangible benefits of steady employment can form the building blocks of stable, independent lives for people struggling with housing and mental health issues.

According to a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 87 percent of Oregonians who are receiving some kind of mental health support are unemployed. One reason is that people living with mental illness may have additional roadblocks to finding and securing employment. ShelterCare’s Supported Employment Program (SEP) provides clients with the guidance necessary to navigate the process and overcome any roadblocks

In this program clients work with an employment specialist to articulate and achieve their personal employment goals. SEP employment specialists start a dialog with interested clients to see if employment would be a good part of their recovery plan. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Like all of our work, it is client-centered. Jessica Richards, employment specialist, explains, “Success is helping clients meet their goals. This ranges from having the confidence to successfully complete and turn in an application to working full time in the job of their dreams.” The client decides what he or she is looking for and the staff provides the necessary support to achieve those goals.

The first step in the process is working on creating a foundation. The SEP team works with clients to identify areas of growth, that might include help in getting an ID, learning how to fill out an application, practice interviewing, filling a gap in training or education, or identifying what might be a good employment fit. This first step is often the most challenging. Employment Specialist Rod Williams explains “There are dozens of lesson to be learned and sub-goals to be reached during this process, and these little victories along the way can be just as important as the end goal of getting a job.” SEP offers a ShelterCare Job Club that meets once a month, where clients can share their victories or challenges and support each other on the path to employment.

The next step is putting these foundational skills into action. Finding a good employment match begins with outreach to businesses in the community. The SEP team works to engage businesses, in a variety of fields, that are open to working with our clients. This process is also client-centered as it starts with the needs and wants of the client in mind. A client might have a desire to work in retail, or they might be open to any type of work but only be available to work for a specific number of hours, or they might need a job that can accommodate other disabilities.

Once a match is made and a client has applied and been accepted for a position, there is one more final piece of support: maintenance. SEP helps clients get the proper clothes and equipment for the job, helps clients figure out transportation and for those who may never have held a job  SEP helps with adjusting to life with a job. Having a job might bring up changes to doctor appointments, simple tasks like laundry day, or larger adjustments like childcare. In addition SEP staff continue to have check-ins with employers to ensure positive relationships or to help mediate issues that arise.

Getting and maintaining a job is not always straightforward or simple process, but with each little victory client confidence is improved and limitations are removed. SEP is a powerful tool that helps ShelterCare clients achieve their financial, personal and mental health goals.

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