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A job for all: Employment collaboratives connect disabled workers with employers

Original article published here:

Jeanette White, 62, working at the the Blue Wall dining hall at UMass Amherst. The Western Massachusetts Employment Collaborative helped connect White with the employer. Caitlin Ashworth—


By CAITLIN ASHWORTH  @kate_ashworth

Sunday, May 21, 2017

AMHERST — Jeannette White whizzed through the Blue Wall dining hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, picking up empty cups and used napkins and wiping down the tables.

“I finally found a job that I like to do,” she said. “It keeps me busy…I love coming here,” White said.

But the finding a good job can be different for White. The 62-year-old has clinical depression.

She said a few years ago, times were tough with her mental illness. Other jobs didn’t work out well for her, she said. Most of her past jobs have been cleaning and housekeeping work at hotels and other facilities. She said she was fired from one hotel for not being fast enough.

But at the Blue Wall, she has no problem.

White’s supervisor, Tunde Gyorgy, said White is quick and a hard worker.

“She’s one of the best people here,” said Gyorgy, joking about finding a way to clone White.

White’s journey to her fulfilling job is the perfect example of the success of a so-called “employment collaborative.” Funded by the state government, these collaboratives serve as a bridge between the organizations that represent disabled workers and the companies throughout the region where they are placed in appropriate jobs.

About a year ago, White became a member of the Star Light Clubhouse in Florence, a program that offers services to adults with mental illness.

Elizabeth Kelly, a senior employment coordinator at Star Light, said the organization helped White find her direction and build up her confidence and self-esteem.

This new-found confidence prepared White for the job hunt. In stepped the Western Mass Employment Collaborative, a service that connects employers with disabled job candidates working with 24 agencies like Star Light and the Mass Commission for the Blind.

WMEC has a two main goals: to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and to create a single point of contact for employers in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties who want to hire, said employer liaison Jody Spitz.

The range of disabilities include mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and physical impairments. But Spitz said there is a large variety and everyone has different skills and abilities.

Since its inception two years ago, Spitz has created relationships with employers and hosts regular meetings with job developers.

Spitz said so far the collaborative has assisted with job placement for about 100 people.

Along with UMass Amherst, the service works with the Big Y supermarket chain, Enterprise Holdings, FedEx, TJX companies and Granite City Electrical Supply Co. The collaborative assists companies with staffing, diversity hiring, tax incentives and workforce development initiatives.

While WMEC represents three Western Massachusetts counties, there are similar organizations across the state as part of a larger initiative created by Riverside Community Care, a social service agency in Dedham. The collaboratives are funded by the state Department of Developmental Services and the Department of Mental Health.

Fear about hiring disabled

Spitz said people can be fearful and sometimes uneducated about hiring people with disabilities.

“The issue carries stigma and the job developers still hear comments about ‘those people’ and ‘they can’t do this kind of work’ and ‘my staff wouldn’t know how to deal with people like that,’” Spitz said in an email.

She said she’s considering an educational awareness campaign and possibly a public awareness campaign where local businesses can place a sticker in their front window to signify they are on-board with hiring people with disabilities.

She said across the disability spectrum, there are a variety of qualified job candidates. And it’s a large, untapped labor pool, she said.

Some have bachelor’s and master’s degrees, while others seek entry-level positions.

Kelly, of Star Light, said she communicates honestly with employers about barriers they may face with a potential job candidate hired from Star Light. But she also tries to educate them.

And when WMEC notifies her of a job opportunities, she looks into a person’s background, work history, age and skill set to find the best match from Star Light.

But Spitz said people like White are out there and eager to work — whether it be packaging at FedEx or cleaning cars for Enterprise.

“There are so many qualified people out there that can contribute so much to a work place,” Spitz said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at moc.tenettezagnull@htrowhsac.


Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition and Tradewinds Honor Friendly’s of Sturbridge at the Statehouse in Boston

Photo: Left to right; Tradewinds Program Manager Brittany Clark, Friendly’s of Sturbridge Manager Pam Sampson, Tradewinds Employment Coordinator Dawn Sanchez, Friendly’s Employee and Tradewinds Member Mike Proulx and State Representative Peter Durant.

On Tuesday, March 28, 2017, Friendly’s of Sturbridge was recognized and honored for their excellence in their diversity practices for providing gainful employment to individuals with mental illness with the support of Department of Mental Health (DMH) funded Clubhouse rehabilitation and recovery centers. Massachusetts State Representative Peter Durant presented an award, at the Statehouse in Boston, to Manager, Pamela Sampson, who received the award on behalf of Friendly’s of Sturbridge. The event, organized by the Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition (MCC), recognized twenty-seven companies.  The event was held to both honor the companies who have created a diverse and welcoming workforce while also working to lessen the stigma of mental illness, often experienced by those with psychiatric conditions when seeking employment.  Those employed by the companies honored at the statehouse are amongst 4,000 Massachusetts Clubhouse members who gained employment with support this past year.

Friendly’s Manager, Pamela Sampson spoke at the event at the Statehouse. Here is a brief snapshot of what she spoke of on Tuesday. “Let me begin by saying my experience with Tradewinds has been wonderful. I was a little bit skeptical when first approached but knew that I would be doing a good thing to help someone learn a job skill and become a productive working in the job force.  Tradewinds Member, Mike P started with Sturbridge Friendly’s just about 9 months ago in a Transitional employment position and in that time I watched him change. Change for the better! He was a shy, unsure, introverted young man. But over these 9 months he learned several skills within our restaurant.  He is a changed young man!! He is no longer a shy person. He comes in with a big smile and a skip in his step and eager to get the job done!!! He is appreciated by all coworkers.  Our experience has been so rewarding that we have just hired two more transitional employees, Jeremy and Terri! Jeremy is learning the day shift service assistant position and Terri is learning the day shift Greeter position.”

Massachusetts Clubhouse centers serve over 7,000 Massachusetts residents, as they work to re-gain their footing, gain employment, complete their education, build relationships, and develop leadership skills towards living successfully in the community with support. “Countering the myths about people with psychiatric conditions, there are hundreds of companies in Massachusetts who are choosing to look past disability and see ability and opportunity as they employ members of Massachusetts Clubhouses,” said Reva Stein, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition (MCC). “Having a job not only brings in a much needed pay check, but serves to inspire and encourage people, recovering from often challenging conditions, that they too can achieve their dreams and goals.” Clubhouse rehabilitation centers across the state, that have achieved quality accreditation, honored the companies during the Celebration Event.  Legislators presented awards to the local companies with the help of the DMH Commissioner Joan Mikula. Each honoree had been identified by their local Clubhouse as a company that has built a welcoming and inclusive workforce.


HRU’s Odyssey House program hosts Legislative Breakfast on Monday, May 1, 2017.

HRU’s Odyssey House program located in Holyoke, MA hosted a Legislative Breakfast event on Monday, May 1st.  The event was co-sponsored by State Representative Aaron Vega, State Senator Donald Humason, State Representative John Velis and State Representative Jose Tosado.  The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the vital services HRU clubhouse programs provide throughout our communities.  A clubhouse is a program that is accredited by Clubhouse International and is an employment and recovery center that offers people with mental health conditions hope and opportunities to achieve their full potential. Much more than simply a program or social service, a clubhouse provides its members with the opportunity to be a part of a successful working community that is restorative and builds dignity and self-esteem. During the course of participation in a clubhouse, members gain access to opportunities to connect with community, employment, education and friendships, and are enabled to take ownership

of their own recovery.  Human Resources Unlimited operates six accredited clubhouses in Springfield, Westfield, Holyoke, Northampton, Pittsfield and Southbridge, enabling hundreds of individuals to become productive members of their communities annually.

The event was attended by members of the community, program members, staff, volunteers families and friends of the organization.  Special guest speakers included

John Gullotti from Lighthouse and Terri Wight from Forum House who shared their personal success stories in working with HRU’s clubhouse programs.

To learn more about HRU programs and services or to find out about ways you can get involved, please contact Margaret Jordan, Director of Program Services, at 413-781-5359.


Tradewinds Volunteers for Beautify Southbridge Day!

Beautify Southbridge Day April 22nd 2017

Samantha Aikey and the crew from Tradewinds just finishing up in the Central Parking Lot area.

Clearing the path in mental health

Forum outlines obstacles to treatments and community support

By Jenn Smith, moc.elgaeerihskrebnull@htimsj

Posted Saturday, April 22, 2017 5:27 pm

PITTSFIELD — Parity law, wage and workforce gaps, and wait times were among the problems participants presented to state delegates during the recent annual Berkshire County Mental Health Legislative Forum.

Attended by some 60 mental health care professionals and human services recipients, it featured a listening panel of state officials, including Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, Rep. Paul Mark, Sen. Adam Hinds and state Department of Mental Health Commissioner Joan Mikula.

After hearing about a dozen specific challenges in the field, Pignatelli asked the audience for some solutions, and they were able to respond with those ideas too: single-payer health care, group and online therapy options, more workforce training programs and loan forgiveness incentives for potential social workers and clinicians.

But when it comes to the bottom line, Joanne Rosier said that both legislators and service providers need to remember to put people’s needs first.

Rosier is a member of the Clubhouse program of Berkshire Pathways, which hosted the April 10 forum. The agency’s model of support is focused on helping people impacted by a mental illness prepare for, find and retain employment.

Poised and sincere in her address, she captured the room with her bright smile and the palette of cheerful spring colors in her attire. But by looking at her alone, it’s impossible to know that she’s also prone to bouts of depression and anxiety, which can sometimes make it difficult for her to focus or complete a task. These behaviors, however unintentional, have drawn her criticism from employers, teachers and even a former therapist. In her teens, when she first entered the workforce, one manager called her a “sorry excuse for a waitress” while another, a college math professor, once commented that, if she wasn’t understanding the work, “there’s something wrong” and a therapist told her, when she hit age 30, not to have any more kids than her two, and that she wouldn’t have a career.

“I grew up feeling insecure, inept and stupid,” said the woman, whose conditioned worsened to the point of being hospitalized.

“At one point, I was afraid to get another job, and I resigned myself to being too sick to work,” said Rosier.

“But things and people are not what they seem,” she said.

After finding support through Berkshire Pathways and learning new strategies, Rosier eventually returned to Berkshire Community College and became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She later partnered with a trainer who helped her find her current role and continues to support her work at The Colonial Theatre, just a few blocks away from the 199 South St. agency.

“I love, love, love my job,” she said, noting that she hasn’t been in a hospital for two years.

She said the program helps her “more than any doctor or prescription ever has … It’s helping me to live.”

Rosier is now doing her part to help others, including running a free clothing program for Clubhouse members who need a professional look for work or an interview. But she said she hopes to see others do their part, too, be it employers showing more tolerance and offering support for people with have mental health challenges, to good policies supported by state officials who were in the audience.

Other speakers included Dr. Eric Plakun, director of biopsychosocial advocacy for the Stockbridge-based Austen Riggs Center, who addressed the parity law as it provides for equitable mental health care coverage; Brien Center CEO Christine Macbeth discussing MassHealth reimbursement and workforce challenges in the region, and emcee Brenda Carpenter, executive director for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Berkshire County.

“Your issues are our issues,” said DMH Commissioner Joan Mikula during her remarks. “We have a lot on our plate.”


Forum House to hold April Mayor’s Coffee hour

April Mayor’s Coffee Hour

Promoted by the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce

Monday, April 3, 2017. 8-9 am

Forum House
55 Broad Street
Westfield 01085


**Parking behind Forum House building in parking lot off of Yale Street. Please use double door entrance on the right and proceed to Hospitality Room downstairs.

Coffee Hours are free and open to the public.

Please call Pam at the Chamber to register at 413.568.1618!


  **Coffee Hours are subject to change at the discretion of the Mayor.

All employees are Chamber members! Please forward this to a co-worker!


Workforce Alternatives of CT’s Jackie Santiago organizes Thanksgiving Food Drive

Hartford Native Jackie Santiago draws on childhood struggles in organizing Thanksgiving food drive. Read the full story here

Thank You to everyone who helped to make this year’s Employer Recognition & Awards Breakfast a great success

We would like to thank everyone who helped to make this year’s event a great success.

Congratulations to all of our award winners:

2016 Employer of the Year: Specialty Bolt & Screw, Inc.

2016 Rookie Employer Award: Friendly’s of the Westfield Shops

2016 Armand Tourangeau Volunteer of the Year: Cheryl Rumley

HRU’s event sponsorship committee members:  Amy Royal, Royal P.C., Daniel Flynn, United Bank, Kate Campiti, BusinessWest, Chet Wojcik, Alliance Medical Gas and Taryn Siciliano, HUB International. We’d also like to thank our event sponsors:

Gold Sponsors:

Media Sponsors:

Silver Sponsors:

Table Sponsors:

  • All States Materials Group
  • Commonwealth Packaging Corporation
  • Ernst Financial Group
  • Hanover Insurance Group
  • MassMutual Financial Group
  • Tommy Car Auto Group

Contributing Sponsors:

  • Alliance Medical Gas
  • Associated Building Wreckers
  • BNY Mellon Wealth Management
  • Comcast
  • CRA Telecom
  • Freedom Credit Union
  • Parker Ceiling
  • PSI 91
  • Steve Erickson
  • TJD Consulting, Inc.
  • W. B. Mason
  • Whittlesey & Hadley, P.C.
  • Williams Distributing

Special thanks goes out to HRU’s event sponsorship committee members:  Amy Royal, Royal P.C., Daniel Flynn, United Bank, Kate Campiti, BusinessWest, Chet Wojcik, Alliance Medical Gas and Taryn Siciliano, HUB International and to all of our employer partners, friends, volunteers, members and staff for all of your support!

Lighthouse holds Community fair

A good turnout of members enjoyed refreshments and received information from  MRC, NAMI, CHD, Catholic Charities, and Safelink on the services that they provide.


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