Finding Hope at Our WorkPlace
In October 2022, Our WorkPlace celebrated five years of nourishing change and breaking down barriers for those living with challenges who want to re-enter the workforce. Our WorkPlace manager Ashley MacDonald (above) holds up a “selfie” sign to celebrate this milestone. In 2022, 170 clients gained invaluable employment skills training at Our WorkPlace, and 80 clients successfully found work.
When Mike was a teenager, things began to change. He was feeling and acting differently than everyone else, and couldn’t explain why. He started to skip school and eventually he dropped out. “I had a good childhood [growing up in Ontario], but I was in and out of hospitals most of my life,” says Mike.
“I also lived in group homes for 15 years. It was kind of like being in an institution.”
It wasn’t until the age of 23 that he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a serious mental health condition that’s marked by a combination of schizophrenia symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, depression and mania. But with the right mix of medication and mental health supports, Mike was ready, and able, to make a change.
“I was getting better for quite a long time, and I was in recovery,” says Mike. “But I really wanted to get out of the group home scene. I was about to turn 40, and I realized I just needed a place to get started in life.” So, two years ago he worked with his Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team in Ontario to make the move out to BC to be closer to his mother, who was going through cancer treatments.
Once here, the Victoria-based ACT team helped Mike get settled in the community, find support and coverage for health care (for example, just one of his needed medications costs $2,000 a month), and a secure place to live. They also referred Mike to Our WorkPlace, Our Place’s employment and skills training service.
“Here I am, 40 years old and just starting to work, basically for the first time,” he says. “It was really hard, because there’s a lot of stigma around mental illness. I didn’t think anyone would give me a chance until I got here [to Our WorkPlace].”
Mike began by enrolling in the “People in Progress” (PIP) program. The program uses a mix of group training and one-on-one coaching to help participants develop skills to find and keep meaningful work. Participants receive six weeks of training, four weeks of on-the-job work experience, and two weeks of follow-up support to help in their job search. There are four intakes per year and courses include stress management, conflict resolution, resume writing, keyboarding, budgeting, and much more.
“I got into PIP and my life just changed,” Mike says. “I’ve been so blessed to be a part of this program. I learned so much stuff. It’s been a great boost to my self-esteem, and it really brought me back on my feet.”
Through PIP, Mike has been able to nourish his love of computers, and even helped to teach part of the course. “At first, I wasn’t sure I could do it but I thought I’d give it a try. And I discovered it’s easy for me! Everyone thinks I’m doing a great job. It’s given me something to put on my resume and I have references now.”
Seeing someone succeed in getting work and watching their confidence grow is inspiring. “Employment and education are essential elements of recovery for people with mental illness,” says Ashley MacDonald, manager of Our WorkPlace. “We were there to meet Mike exactly where he was at, and that has made all the difference. To see him grow and change in such a positive way since coming through the doors of Our WorkPlace has been a real privilege.”
Mike’s mental health is now stable, and he’s living independently in a new apartment where he’s “feeling quite at home.” He is currently working on putting his portfolio together, which will feature all the work he’s accomplished through Our WorkPlace. His next goal is to apply to the University of Victoria to further his education.
Adds Mike, “It’s been great, and I can’t say enough about everyone here. I feel like part of a team for the first time in my life.” Through Our WorkPlace, Mike discovered how friendship, acceptance and opportunity can transform everything.
Programs like Our WorkPlace help Mike, and others like him, find new ways to manage their mental illness and nourish the change they so desperately need to make a fresh start. Please help us nourish positive change and growth in lives with your gift today.