Employment program offers experience for those with disabilities and behavioral health issues
Jesse Talbot knows the value of a good job. Before moving to Butte County a year and a half ago, Talbot worked in the construction and wine-making industries in Sonoma County—“a lot of hard labor,” he said.
He’s long had a knack for fixing things; he started tinkering with bicycles when he was in elementary school. Now 21, he arrived in Chico with thoughts of becoming an auto mechanic but also anxiety and depression.
Talbot received assistance with housing from the Youth for Change organization and, through government social services, a referral to a nonprofit skills agency, Caminar for Mental Health. Serving five counties that dot Northern California, Caminar supports individuals with developmental disabilities and behavioral health issues so they can live independently and self-sufficiently.
Each regional bureau tailors programs to its community. In Butte County, Caminar operates a residential facility, Avenida Apartments; a social recreation program, Friendship Circle; and workforce training.
Talbot came to Caminar for the latter. Six months ago, he got a spot at Sensible Cyclery, where participants refurbish donated bicycles that they sell to the public. Along with workplace-related skills, participants develop ways to deal with psychological challenges. (Those who aren’t mechanically inclined work in the other “social enterprise” program, Pro-Touch, a janitorial and landscaping service. Both have 90-day periods.)
Talbot flourished at Sensible Cyclery. He augmented his talent with tools by gaining a better handle on his personal issues. He impressed Program Director Scott Walker so much that Caminar offered him a full-time job as shop supervisor.
“What really strung my heartstrings was seeing people who had difficulties—depression, anxieties—have it hard to cope with those things,” Talbot said. “I have anxiety and sometimes depression myself; I think that’s somewhat natural in life. To help others understand what it takes to be successful in the job field and to teach them new job skills, that’s something that really hit my heart.
“You’re doing more than teaching; you’re working with them, you’re developing friendship levels. I like to see people succeed, and that’s something that really pushed me to want to stay here.
“It was a really big surprise [to get the job offer]. It meant a lot to me. It still does.”
Talbot is just one of many success stories. Caminar’s contract with Butte County Behavioral Health requires the agency to accept 30 participants annually into the social enterprise program (Sensible Cyclery and Pro-Touch combined). Of those, 15 must graduate, then secure employment in the community and keep that job at least 90 days. In 2015-16, the last full contract year, 17 achieved that milestone.
“The whole point is not to produce bike mechanics or janitors or landscapers,” Caminar Regional Director Calleene Egan said. “It’s really to teach those hard and soft skills to make sure that these people will be successful in the community, be independent and be able to keep a job.”
Injected Walker: “It’s a warm-up for community employment.”
Caminar gets all its clients via referral from social service offices, notably the California Department of Rehabilitation branch in Chico. When slots open in Pro-Touch and Sensible Cyclery, Caminar accepts applications and interviews prospective participants.
“Sometimes we’ll do a second round of interviews—we take it very seriously,” Egan said.
Participants become employees of Caminar. They are required to arrive promptly, in uniform, and conduct themselves positively.
“This is a safe place for everyone,” Walker said. “We realize that everyone goes through things, so it’s very important that employees who come here feel safe and comfortable and enjoy themselves—and also learn the skills they’re learning.”
That’s not to say every moment is harmonious. Walker and other Caminar staff receive regular training for proficiency in crisis intervention and de-escalation, plus HIPAA (health care privacy) regulations.
Participants may live at Avenida Apartments while in the program, something unique to Butte County’s Caminar. The pet-friendly complex has single-occupancy units, so it’s not suitable for everyone, and others (such as Talbot) have housing elsewhere. Some, such as current participant Siena Kelly, commute on bikes they’ve refurbished themselves.
“The people who work at Sensible Cyclery and Caminar in general are kind of like a nonstop [source of] hope for me,” she said. “They just bring so much support and love into everything they do.
“You don’t go into this job because you want to make a bunch of money—you want to better the world around you. That brings a lot of hope to my heart, and I really appreciate that.”
Graduates of the 90-day training can continue to receive support through Jobs Plus, a program for Department of Rehabilitation clients designed to assist both the new employee and his or her employer. On-site coaches help the participant learn the job responsibilities and respond to concerns at the business, which can avail itself of training, too.
Jobs Plus is not unique to Butte County, but Friendship Circle is. Caminar puts on the program in conjunction with Far Northern Regional Center, which serves individuals with developmental disabilities. Each Friendship Circle is an interest group that convenes for a social activity, ranging from bowling to knitting to day trips.
“From our Jobs Plus program, we’ve hired facilitators to host Friendship Circles,” Egan said, “so it comes full circle.”
Walker can vouch for the benefit of Sensible Cyclery, which he sees each day when Talbot passes along what he’s learned to the next wave of participants.
Noted Walker: “To see the confidence level raise so high over a short period of time, it’s such a great thing to be a part of.”