CREW program offers mental health clients an innovative work opportunity

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From fixing corrals, to painting fences, to burning brush and cutting trees, Derrick Seabrook, 39, says he’s found his calling. As a client of a new community-based vocational program launched by Capital Health, Seabrook spent part of his summer on the ranch Ð working hard, earning some money and setting the groundwork for competitive employment down the road.

The Community Rehabilitation Enclave Workers (CREW) program, unveiled this summer, has provided clients with severe and persistent mental illness the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and gain valuable work experience in the process.

More than 10 inpatients, as well as outpatients of Capital Health’s Regional Mental Program have taken part since April. Clients, including Seabrook, work together as a group under the coaching and supervision of a job coach. The end result: “it’s helped me to build my self-esteem, self-confidence and it’s given me a little more education,” says Seabrook. “I know I accomplished something in the day so it feels really good.”

“Many local employers have work that needs to be done and many of our clients have the ability to work,” explains Komala Pepin, Assistant Manager of Capital Health’s Regional Social and Vocational Programs.

“While some of our clients have difficulties in the competitive workforce due to the nature of their illness, the presence of a strong and supportive framework combined with receptive and accommodating employers offers an excellent environment for supportive, non-competitive employment.”

At present, research states that 70-90 per cent of people with psychiatric disabilities are unemployed. The majority of people with mental illness identify work as a priority in their lives and 60 per cent or more can be successful if they receive support with employment.

“The chance at employment for many of our clients enhances their self-worth, increases their economic independence and offers them a sense of belonging and connection within the community leading to an enhanced quality of life,” says Pepin.

With the participation of three local area ranches and stables in and around the Capital Region, clients of the CREW program have taken part in work ranging from maintaining stables and kennels, to landscaping and general painting. “Capital Health negotiates each contract with the business and payment is based on fair remuneration for clients who then receive graduated incentive pay based on job performance,” states Jill Kelland, Manager of Regional Social and Vocational Programs.

Pat Galloway, owner and operator of the Rocking Bar Ranch, one of the participating business partners, says she’s been impressed with the work ethic and dedication of CREW program clients. “I am pleased to offer work opportunities to clients in this unique vocational program,” Galloway says.

Capital Health strives to provide a continuum of service from hospital-based programs to community-based programs for mental health clients. Through initiatives such as the CREW program, Capital Health is implementing innovative approaches to vocational rehabilitation in order to provide real work experiences in community settings.

For Seabrook, he hopes his new job skills and added savings will help him achieve his goal of one day playing baseball in the Special Olympics. But until then, he has other career aspirations. “In the near future I want to work on a ranch,” Seabrook says with confidence.

For more information about the CREW Program, please call: Regional Mental Health Program Job Coach at (780) 472-5206.