In 2013, the St. Louis Empowerment Center began implementing an employment program designed to assist participants as they seek and eventually maintain employment. Participants in this program attend a weekly employment group and benefit from the services of an on-site employment specialist who provides one-on-one guidance during the job-search process.
The St. Louis Empowerment Center is staffed by consumer workers, many of whom started out as program participants. Four full-time prosumer employees, who have education and/or experience commensurate to a bachelor’s degree in addition to being a consumer of mental health services, provide day-to-day coverage and training for the entry level paraprofessional positions throughout the program. These paraprofessionals function as program assistants for many different programs at the St. Louis Empowerment Center.
BENEFITS ACQUISITION ASSISTANCE
Program staff work in concert with program participants to provide assistance to individuals with mental illness (and their family members) who are attempting to receive social welfare benefits. These benefits may include (but are not limited to) social security disability insurance (SSDI), supplemental security income (SSI), food stamps, vocational rehabilitation services, inpatient or outpatient treatment at public health facilities (not limited to psychiatric treatment), services provided by traditional day treatment facilities, and housing and habitation services.
Frequently, mental health consumers are not empowered to become strong self-advocates as they work to ensure their own adequate access to resources to which they are entitled. This may be due to the demoralizing aspects of illness, side effects of medication, and a sense of l0w self-esteem that can result from an increasing sense of societal marginalization. Program consumers most in need of information and assistance are often the least able to negotiate a system that is complex, fragmented, and always changing.