Tom Stolpa is a 26-year-old man with a wry sense of humor, a steady job and aspirations of achieving a doctorate. He also happens to live with bipolar disorder.
Each week, Tom goes to work at the Coulee Children’s Center in La Crosse, Wis. as a janitor. In his 12 hour a week shift, Tom helps ensure that the children have a clean environment for work and play, something he takes great pride in. Although he’s had the job for a year, it wasn’t an easy process. He admits freely that there were some significant barriers that he had to overcome in order to get work. One of those barriers was himself.
“My biggest downfall was me,” he says. He simply was not able to attain a job on his own.
At this point, Amber Kaio stepped in. Kaio is a supported employment specialist at the La Crosse County Community Support Program (CSP) and provided coaching to Tom on the application and interview process. Tom is now involved with Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Supported Employment, provided by the CSP program. IPS Supported Employment programs are designed to assist individuals living with mental illness find a job to match their individual strengths. Once a job is attained, the program provides continuous support to ensure the individual can overcome obstacles and succeed in the workplace.
After Tom started work, Kaio provided transportation and assistance in mastering his work tasks. She also continually checked in with Tom’s employer to make sure all was well from their point of view. IPS is highly receptive to the needs of their clients, and so allows for an individual’s program to change over time to suit those needs. As such, Tom is now able to work mostly on his own.
As Tom explains, work is valuable.
“Work builds character. Being praised by your boss for good work builds self-esteem and you realize if you can do this, you can do other things too.” Having a job also provides him structure and a place to relax, thus helping his mental health recovery. “When you work, you have less time to think and destabilize yourself with your thoughts” he reports.
Tom is clear that he hopes to advance his career and believes that his supported employment program will help him do it. He highly recommends it to others.
“Use this program; it will get you farther than looking for work on your own,” he says. “Don’t give up hope. The job market is tough but there are jobs out there. Get in somewhere and just get started. I did it. You can too.”
To learn more about employment and mental illness, check out www.nami.org/supportedemployment.