Posted on May 26, 2015
Grill Chef Antoine Simon is ‘in the zone,’ happily cooking for a long line of customers at the Elements Café on the sixth floor of the Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul. “I love sending guests off satisfied after a good meal,” he said proudly.
Growing up cooking with his mother and grandmother, Antoine has always enjoyed feeding others and was considered the “designated cook and grill master” in the family. After being out of school for almost 30 years, he was proud to earn an associate of applied science degree in culinary arts from the International Culinary School at the Art Institutes International Minnesota in September 2014. He hoped his training would help him land a great job in the Twin Cities.
Instead, being an ex-offender, Antoine experienced repeated disappointments which resulted in his overwhelming frustration, hurt, and depression.
When Antoine’s mental health therapist at Hennepin County Mental Health Center (HCMHC) asked him if he would like to participate in Rise’s Individual Placement and Support (IPS) program to help him find a job in his career field, he jumped at the opportunity.
Based on years of its experience and positive results, Rise was selected by the Minnesota Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED) to offer six of the fifteen IPS employment programs funded in the state. Rise’s IPS programs are offered in Hennepin and Anoka Counties, and Central Minnesota.
Lis Borucki Vukelich, a Rise IPS employment consultant, began working with Antoine on his career plan and job search.
“The beauty of the IPS program is that it caters individually to the individual and I was able to customize Antoine’s job search to meet his goals and aspirations,” said Lis.
IPS programs are closely integrated with participants’ mental health treatment teams. Using a multidisciplinary team approach, Rise staff work in collaboration with state vocational rehabilitation counselors, mental health therapists, and other support team members to help ensure the individual finds a suitable job and is successful.
During this process, Lis worked closely with Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Deanna Langton and Brian Morseth, Antoine’s therapist. The three of them communicated on a regular basis about Antoine’s progress regarding his employment search and discussed ways they could best support him.
“If it hadn’t been for their support, I would have given up a long time ago after having so many doors slammed in my face,” said Antoine. “Six different restaurants offered me a job, only to rescind their offers once my background check came back my first day on the job. I had paid my debt to society, but no one would believe that I could change, that I would make a great chef in their kitchen.”
“Rise staff have long recognized that work promotes recovery and wellness for people who have a mental illness,” said Robert Reedy, director of vocational services for Rise’s Twin Cities area programs. “Over the years, Rise has developed a wide array of services to address their specific needs in attaining meaningful employment.”
“DEED and DHS (Department of Human Services) staff monitor the IPS programs closely with quarterly ‘fidelity reviews’ to gauge our compliance with 125 standards,” said Rise Mental Health Coordinator Anne Mornes. “Rise’s IPS programs have consistently scored high because we have been using the same kinds of evidence-based practices here for many years and believe wholeheartedly in their value.”
“Once the person is referred to a Rise IPS program by their mental health therapist, our staff uses a rapid job search approach,” said Rise Mental Health Coordinator Becky Rother. “IPS staff also assist people obtain personalized, understandable, and accurate information about their Social Security, Medicaid, and other government benefits to help alleviate any concern they have about losing benefits because they are earning income.”
Ultimately, Antoine was offered three great jobs in one week! He and Lis discussed the pros and cons of each before Antoine decided to take the position with Elements Café.
“This job has changed my life around,” said Antoine. “Through all of my setbacks, I have appreciated the support I received to keep pursuing my dream. I also learned lessons in perseverance and endurance. I plan to pay all this forward.”
“Antoine is a talented man of integrity and has a great work ethic,” said Lis. “I know he will continue to do well.”
Sandy Shingobe had some big goals – at the top of the list were getting a new job, finding a new place to live, and buying a new car. “If you want it badly enough, you can do it – be determined,” she said with conviction.
After several years working successfully as a certified medical assistant in a Fairview clinic, Sandy’s career was curtailed after two surgeries. When her husband died in 1998, Sandy went into a major depression. She began receiving SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) in 2004 and worked temp jobs in medical assistance and customer service to get by.
Sandy’s therapist recommended that she attend social and mental health support activities at Bridgeview, a drop-in center in Fridley for adults living with serious and persistent mental illness. Julie Smith, a mental health therapist from Bridgeview, referred her to Rise Employment Consultant NaTasha Olson who works with the IPS projects.
Highly motivated, Sandy applied for and took assessment tests on her own to work at Target; she was hired in June 2014. With a steady paycheck now, Sandy was able to move into a larger apartment with assistance from Anoka County Community Action Program (ACCAP) last October. She was thrilled to purchase a new car.
“I really enjoy my cashiering job at Target and sometimes get to work in their Minute Clinic giving shots and taking blood pressures,” said Sandy. “Everyone I work with is very nice and it feels really good to be productive again. Time will tell if I go back to work in the medical field. I tell my friends at Bridgeview that working has really helped me in so many ways. People can do anything they set their minds to and if you don’t succeed at first, just try and try again.”
LaNay Koralesky from Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services and NaTasha worked to help Sandra maintain her current benefits.
“Paperwork from the government can be confusing,” said Sandy. “It really helps me to have NaTasha give me advice and guidance, especially about my benefits.”
For now, both Antoine and Sandy will continue to meet with Lis and NaTasha on a weekly basis to help ensure they continue to be successful on the job. Gradually, Rise staff will reduce their support.
All of Rise’s IPS programs have people on a waiting list for services. “We’re hoping the state will increase funding for these services which will enable us to assist those who really want to get back into the work world,” said Anne. “We are convinced that using this approach will greatly enhance the employment services Rise offers people with mental health disabilities and ultimately, lead to prolonged success.”