Work force initiative to help mentally ill Marylanders

Agencies to use funding to provide jobs, benefits

January 06, 2010|By By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun

A new job training and services initiative funded with public and private money is expected to help more than 500 mentally ill Marylanders a year find and retain employment.

On a visit Tuesday to Mosaic Community Services Career Center in Timonium, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski announced a $725,000 federal grant, which is the final piece in a nearly $8.5 million investment in a work force initiative. The state is providing $6.7 million and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation $1.7 million.

Mosaic, which serves about 6,000 mentally ill clients, is one of eight vocational rehabilitation sites across the state that will rely on the program, which will run for three years.

Jeff Richardson, Mosaic's executive director, said the funding will allow agencies such as his to provide jobs and benefits, including counseling. With those jobs come immeasurable self-esteem and motivation for those with persistent mental illness, he said.

"Their identity is not someone with a mental illness, but someone who has an answer to the classic 'What do you do?' " he said. "A job helps the person live beyond the effects of mental illness and create a meaningful life."

Way Station in Frederick is in the first phase of the three-year program as well, and its executive director has high hopes for a major increase in the number of clients he can help.

"We are expecting dramatic increases," Scott Rose said. "This program gives structure and purpose and brings normalcy to our clients," he said. "It will actually save taxpayer dollars.

"This intervention will reduce hospitalizations, visits to emergency rooms and other services the state provides the mentally ill," he said.

Participating employers have found those trained in the program to be dedicated, diligent and eager employees, Rose said. "This is not about charity," he said. "It's a win-win for our clients, taxpayers and employers."

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said the funding will help create a statewide development initiative for low-income residents with severe mental illness and provide invaluable opportunities to learn practical job skills.

"There is no challenge in our communities with as broad a reach as mental health," Smith said. "It affects our families, it affects our businesses and it can affect the vitality of our neighborhoods."

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