Before he entered Buckelew’s janitorial training program, Josh was unemployed and living in a halfway house. He could hardly find the motivation to do the dishes or leave his room, his social life was nonexistent, and his interests were few. “I felt I wasn’t going anywhere,” he says. “I hadn’t had a job for a year and I wasn’t a part of anything. I decided I needed to get out and be more active.” He turned to Buckelew Programs, a nonprofit organization that for 40 years has provided homes, jobs, and hope to people with mental illness.
Buckelew operates on the premise that, like most people, those with mental illness feel better about themselves when they are engaged in meaningful occupation. At Buckelew, Josh learned all aspects of janitorial work, beginning with “soft skills”—things like getting to work on time, dressing appropriately, and taking supervision. With Buckelew’s help, he secured a position at Northgate Mall in Marin County, California.
“My job is to take out the trash, make sure customers know where they’re going, and that everything is clean throughout the store,” he says. “I like to help customers. I’ve learned responsibility and how to work with others. It’s a good work environment and I like the effort it takes.”
Buckelew has been able to expand its enterprises thanks, in part, to the financial backing and business assistance it receives from REDF. Their program has been overwhelmingly successful in short-circuiting the isolation that often keeps people like Josh from holding down jobs. Individuals find themselves with more energy and self esteem. Josh is a prime example.
“I have more confidence in myself. I feel like a better person,” he says as he goes about his work. He is methodical and attentive to every detail, taking obvious pride in a job well done. With a weekly paycheck, he has become more independent and is transitioning out of the halfway house and into a permanent home. “I am more active socially,” he says. “I have something to focus on. I feel useful. A part of something, and that makes me feel good.”
The Stuart G. Moldaw Step-Up Award is an annual honor, named in memory of one of REDF’s founding board members. The award is given to employees of REDF-supported social enterprises for their tenacity and courage in overcoming significant barriers to employment – like people who have been homeless or in prison, young people who’ve dropped out of school or people with mental health disabilities.