Alex’s Story: Finding his happy place through work
The last few years have been exceptionally hard for people who experience homelessness, lack of access to food and mental illness. Alex, who lives with PTSD and anxiety is no exception.
But he has found his happy place, working on residential gardening contracts with Coast’s Transitional Employment Program (TEP). “I was just in my element.” he says of one recent job.
With a reliable income, he has also reconnected with his passion for food.
“That’s probably just the biggest thrill: being able to eat what I want, when I want, and to cook what I want.”
Coast’s Clubhouse: the first step to work
Alex’s counsellor at St. Paul’s Hospital connected him with Coast Mental Health’s Clubhouse, in Mount Pleasant. There, he completed the Coast Clubhouse Employment Training Program in the environmental unit.
When folks join the Clubhouse, they participate in one of three employment units: environmental unit, food service unit, and the communications and reception unit.
Through their involvement in the units, members gain life skills like timekeeping, accountability, communication, as well as practical work experience.
While some continue to work at the Clubhouse, others, like Alex, look for other employment and education opportunities.
Coast’s Transitional Employment Program (TEP) supports people with mental health challenges who are facing barriers to gain successful careers.
Members receive one-on-one support from employment counsellors, goal planning, resume and cover letter writing, teamwork skills and job readiness training. And they can get paid work experience, through Coast’s Social Enterprises including Landscaping With Heart, which provides landscaping, power washing and litter control services.
Although a hairdresser and electrologist by trade, Alex is also an experienced gardener. He’s worked on three farms: an organic vegetable farm, a blueberry farm and a private farm that had greenhouses, rose gardens with over 500 different varietals of roses and a Japanese garden.
So working for the Landscaping With Heart team was a great fit. “I just love this digging in the dirt. I had no idea the connection that I was going to make to Mother Earth,” reflects Alex.
Working with TEP, Alex not only gets to hone his gardening skills, he also gets to work on other TEP contracts, like power washing and landscaping.
Compassion in the workplace
Finding regular employment can be difficult for folks living with mental illness. Alex is not able to work full time and some days are not easy for him. He needs that extra support from his employer and colleagues. And TEP does just that.
Alex’s wellbeing is a priority over productivity.
They know that if Alex is mentally healthy, he can show up to work consistently and do a good job. And when something’s not going well, and they make the time to check-in.
“Recently, I left work on a Friday because I was not in good shape, mentally. During my shift, Conor tried to reach out to me. We went for a bit of walk, you know, to try and get me to talk and share what was going on.” said Alex.
“I know that I can talk to them, and I can say anything and they won’t judge me. They’re really wonderful. Like, if I’m having a bad day, they want to make it better”, continues Alex.
The joy of cooking
Working two days a week with the TEP has been life-changing for Alex. After experiencing the ill effects of isolation during the pandemic and losing his best friend and treasured dog, Alex was searching for something to give his life purpose and meaning.
And with the growing pressures of inflation and the rising cost of food, Alex also needed of a job.
“I was not food secure, and now I am because I have enough money for it. Whereas before, after you fed the dog, the cats… there’s only so much money left,” says Alex.
With the income he receives from working with TEP, Alex feels more financially secure and finds joy in being able to shop and cook for himself again.
“In the past, I used to make pizza from scratch. I hadn’t made pizza for three or four years when I was out of work, and its my favourite thing to make. It’s one of the first things I did after I started working with the Transitional Employment Program,” says Alex.
The Transitional Employment Program is growing: adding more individual and residential work, as well as year-round contracts.
They’ve already worked on a few residential gardening projects, where Alex’s experience in gardening was able to shine.
“I was just in my element. We had to completely recreate several gardens that were just overgrown in a big mess. It wasn’t just a maintenance job; it was almost like doing an installation. We had to design and decide where things were going. It was really hard, but I loved that a lot.”
Thanks to the generosity of donors, the TEP program is getting more exposure and diversifying the offering. In turn, this means more folks can gain valuable skills in more areas.
Some are happiest mowing and power washing. In contrast, others, like Alex, really enjoy garden installations, weeding and pruning. The more variety in the contracts also means more opportunities to develop the worker’s skill set.
The opportunity to grow and expand the TEPs offering and employ more Coast clients is only made possible because of the kindness and generosity of Coast Mental Health Foundation’s supporters and donors.
Thank you for helping people like Alex find their happy place.