One year ago, MHDNA created a partnership with ValueOptions to begin to develop employment opportunities for adults with serious mental illnesses (SMI). Utilizing a major grant from St. Lukeís Health Initiatives, the idea was to build on successful work already underway in places like New Hampshire and Colorado to transition day service programs to employment-based programs, and to start consumer-run businesses when possible and advisable.

     One year later, the project is moving ahead full steam. With the generous help of officials at Arizona Rehabilitation Services Administration, the project was able to leverage matching federal funds for the employment of people with disabilities. Under the capable oversight of John Holmes at ValueOptions, eight projects are underway: two projects focusing on the conversion of day services for SMI persons to work placement and support programs, and six projects that are planning to develop consumer-run businesses.

     An example of the former is Terros, which plans to convert its "Ladder" program to an individualized work support model program. An example of the latter is META Services, which plans to establish a consumer-operated van transportation system that will provide services through New Directions, a crisis network. Grant funds provide the training to help staff and consumers get the projects going, as well as providing seed support for costs associated with the start-ups.

     "Work Works" for all of us, and that includes persons with mental illnesses and other disabilities. Consumers themselves supply much of the initial training and support. They demonstrate time and time again that mental illness often need not be a permanent barrier against obtaining employment and a measure of self support.

     Thatís a message that deserves a wider audience, especially among employers.

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