The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Program helps those with mental illness find work

  • Even though they’re ready to go to work, people who’ve been battling mental illness may be burdened by a stigma.

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  • Even though they’re ready to go to work, people who’ve been battling mental illness may be burdened by a stigma.
    “A lot of people are hesitant,” Vicky Kaaz said of hiring people who’ve been treated for mental illness.
    Kaaz is the community relations director the for The Guidance Center. The local community mental health center offers a Supported Employment program that helps people find jobs.
    The program is operated with state grant money.
    Kaaz said several people who’ve gone through the program have seen success in managing their mental illness and maintaining employment. The program even has a wall of fame.
    One of the program’s success stories is Caroline Lee. Next month will mark four years that she’s been employed through Goodwill Industries, working as a janitor at Fort Leavenworth.
    “The job means a lot to me,” she said.
    She said the job helps with keeping her mind stable and staying on the right track.
    Lee said the Supported Employment program helped her with things such as improving interview skills.
    Kaaz said Goodwill Industries probably is one of the biggest supporters when it comes to helping people get back to work.
    Another success story from the Supported Employment program at The Guidance Center is Leather Karpierz, who’s worked at the Goodwill Industries thrift store in Leavenworth since 2005.
    Elaine Atkins, employment specialist for the Supported Employment program, said Karpierz came to the job without any work experience. But she had a reference letter from her experience as a volunteer. And she was hired over someone who had work experience.
    Atkins said she now tries to get people going through the program to obtain one to three reference letters.
    Karpierz recently received a certificate through her employer honoring her work performance.
    In addition to helping people looking for jobs, Atkins works with employers.
    Kaaz said the employment specialist makes sure the employee and employer are a good match.
    Atkins said she can act as a mediator if there are work issues.
    And Atkins said part of her job involves helping to educate employers about mental illness.
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