Profiles in success: Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia

With a history of mental health challenges and substance use disorders, as well as felonies on record, “Gloria” sought help from Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia (BHS). She was referred to an outpatient treatment program for women. After several months in recovery, she entered BHS’ Shelter Care Plus program, which provides permanent housing and support services to those who are homeless and have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

When Gloria was ready to find a job, BHS connected her with G&B Works, Inc., a supported employment service in Valdosta. They helped her build a successful résumé, researched companies that had openings, and provided transportation to the businesses so that she could apply in person and fill out applications.

“The supported employment program is so vital to people with a background and history such as mine,” said Gloria. “Not only from the beginning with the job hunting process, but with the continued moral support and most definitely with the transportation assistance. Without [that], I would have no other way to get back and forth to work every day.”

Gloria’s work experience and qualifications landed her an interview with Pleats & Creases Dry Cleaners, but it was her honesty about her past and her commitment to a better future that secured her a job.

“She is a productive and valued employee, working to live with the tragic life event of addiction,” said her boss Evan. “If she met the initial employment scrutiny and performed as desired, then it wasn’t my place in this world to judge the past.”

Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Tift, and Turner counties.

Jennifer Briggs recognized for contributions to supported employment

(Above: Michael Callahan, President of Marc Gold & Associates, and Jennifer Briggs)

At the national TASH conference held last month, Jennifer Briggs, president and founder of Briggs & Associates, was recognized for her work helping people with behavioral health issues or developmental disabilities find gainful employment. The 2015 Marc Gold Award for Employment is presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution to increasing access to communities by integrating employment into the lives of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Briggs founded Briggs & Associates in 1989 in Roswell, Georgia, with the philosophy that everyone has the ability to succeed in the workplace. The company provides career development services, and consults and trains businesses on employing people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. They have served thousands, including adults with psychiatric disorders, adolescents moving into the workforce, and people desiring to get off welfare.

The award is named in honor of Marc Gold, whose research and advocacy showed that people with significant disabilities can learn complex tasks, and that supported employment benefits individuals, employers, and communities.

Profiles in success: Pineland Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

When “MS” first sought assistance with Pineland Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ supported employment services earlier this year, he was timid and often felt too nervous to speak up during meetings with potential employers. He sometimes did not speak at all.

Pineland’s integrated mental health team provided counseling and case management services, and changed his medication. The team worked with “MS” on conversational skills and conducted mock interviews.

His confidence level rose noticeably when he began to engage in conversation with employers, introducing himself and inquiring about any open positions. At a Georgia Southern University job fair a few months ago, “MS” was hired after an on-the-spot interview.

Pineland Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network.  Pineland Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Appling, Bulloch, Candler, Evans, Jeff Davis, Tattnall, Toombs, and Wayne counties.

Profiles in success: Unison Behavioral Health

CP-SupportedEmploymentstoryC.P. is a young man working on his recovery with the assistance of peer support and supported employment services from Unison Behavioral Health in southeast Georgia. He lives with schizophrenia which, in the past, prevented him from working and having a fulfilling life in the community.

Last December, C.P. asked to be referred to Unison’s supported employment services and with the help of his employment specialist and peer support counselor, he now operates his own carwash in Waycross. “I have really good teachers and counselors,” said C.P. “It feels good to get compliments from my customers, and this helps me in my recovery.”

Unison Behavioral Health of Georgia is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. Unison Behavioral Health of Georgia serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Atkinson, Bacon, Brantley, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Pierce and Ware counties.

Profiles in success: Advantage Behavioral Health

E. B. is a 52-year-old woman who receives DBHDD supported employment services and participates in the Georgia Department of Community Affair’s Shelter Plus Care housing program. Ms. B. has a history of substance abuse and incarceration, but she had a strong desire to get her life back on a positive track. However, due to her background, many employers were reluctant to hire her.

Determined not to be defined by her past, she enrolled in a peer recovery program, from which she graduated in 2013, and was referred into supported employment services in February 2014. With the help of her employment specialist, Ms. B. applied and was hired for a position as a housekeeper at a Courtyard Marriott in her community. She has been in this position for four months and has learned additional job skills to help her achieve her employment and housing goals.

Advantage Behavioral Health Systems is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. Advantage Behavioral Health Systems serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton counties.

Memories of Ken Whiddon

kenwhiddon

William Kenneth Whiddon
1951 – 2015

Wendy Tiegreen:

When Georgia was initially developing the concepts of recovery and peer support in the early 2000s, there were still several leaders within and outside of the system who did not fully grasp that individuals who might be living with a significant mental health diagnosis could also manage that illness and be living full and extraordinary lives.  Ken Whiddon walked alongside us blowing up those old notions, as a man with lived experience, as an advocate, as a certified peer specialist, as a department administrator, as a provider, and as a friend. His very extraordinary life not only touched those of us who knew him, but radically moved the cultural needle of the system towards embracing recovery and full lives.

Patrick Waters:

As many of you know, Ken Whiddon founded AmericanWork. It is his legacy. He was always focused on serving consumers in the best possible way. He created a culture that emphasized recovery. His personal and professional life was a testament to that.

Cythnia Wainscott:

I have so many fond memories of Ken. I can still see him leading the early Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network meetings and taking the network’s #1 priority (“JOBS!”) around the state, passionately declaring that there was a moral imperative for the state to respond. Ken and Larry Fricks were a dynamite team during those years.  Way back “when,” Ken and Jean Toole’s leadership of Mental Health America workshops spread the gospel of recovery before we used that word. When I served on the Governor’s Mental Health Advisory Council with Ken and Pierluigi Mancini, their unimpeachable knowledge about what was happening “on the ground” often shone the clear bright light of reality on our deliberations. Haven’t we all seen that piercing look on Ken’s face when he decided something was worth fighting for? Ken was a kick-butt advocate for the passage of House Bill 100, and then for implementation that was true to the spirit of the bill. He and Stan Jones were a great sales team! I think I remember that Ken was even (briefly) a regional director before he decided that he could get more done as a statewide provider. And did he ever! Thousands of people have benefited from his work. Ken was a great spirit and he will be missed by many.

Mary Shuman:

Ken effected tremendous change in Georgia’s public behavioral health system by believing that ANYONE can recover, including those who were thought hopeless and too difficult to serve in the community. Ken provided recovery-oriented, community-based services before we knew what to call it. He was a tremendous leader and leaves a very rich legacy.

Ken was a pioneer, gentle giant, quiet leader, and so much more. He lived his convictions in a way that improved the lives of thousands and effected tremendous change in Georgia’s behavioral health and developmental disability service system. His legacy is enormous and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to work with him.

 Larry Fricks:

What an amazing leader who was a pioneer supporting employment of peers in Georgia.

 Charles Fetner:

If there was ever a person who could take an idea that would improve the lives of people with a serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) and bring it to fruition, it was Ken. I first met Ken in 2001 while working at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah. Ralph McCuinn, the regional director for the Southeast Region at that time, and I were discussing the need to develop community residential sites in order to relocate several patients who had been in the hospital for an extended period of time and who the clinicians said could be served in the community. Ralph brought Ken to our next meeting to continue our discussions. Ken sat quietly and when the meeting ended, he said “I’ll be touch.” A few days later he asked me to come look at some apartments located between Savannah and Richmond Hill. I was expecting to see an old apartment building located near an industrial complex or a vacated military barracks. Instead, Ken had found and already signed leases in a new upscale apartment complex. Not only did he work fast, but he also had high standards and wanted people with SPMI to have an opportunity to demonstrate to themselves and others that they could be responsible citizens and respected. Within just a few weeks, 19 people who had been in the hospital for years were living in their own apartment or were sharing one. Ken’s program was not just to relocate these individuals, but to integrate them into community life. Ken will be missed.

 Audrey Sumner:

About 13 years ago, Ken Whiddon and American Work entered into a project with the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases to transition individuals who were living on a long-term unit at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah. At the time, most community providers did not consider individuals who were still symptomatic to be ready for community living. Some of the individuals had been living in an institution for most of their adult lives. Others had utilized every community service present at that point in our service history and no residential provider was willing to serve them. Ken proposed providing intensive residential services in an apartment setting. Many people believed that it was ludicrous to believe that these individuals could successfully live in their own apartments but Ken was confident that providing people a stable place to live in a non-group setting would actually contribute to their success. Ken broke the mold for how to provide intensive residential services in the community and changed my thinking about what was possible for individuals living with severe mental illnesses.

Mary Holliday:

Working with Ken was great. While all of the regional coordinators had compassion for the people served, Ken had understanding.

Megan Paul:

I was so saddened to hear about Ken’s passing. I feel so fortunate to have known him and to have worked for him. He was a true advocate for those living with a mental illness. I am very proud to be associated with the company he created, and its dedication to providing high-quality care. His passion for supported employment was evident, and it was a honor for me to serve individuals in that role.

I know that he made a huge impact on the entire state, and he will be greatly missed.

I still feel very connected to AmericanWork. It really is a fantastic company, staffed with wonderful people, whom he hand selected and trusted with his legacy. I cannot say enough positive things about my time there, and am extremely grateful for the experience.

Mental Health advocate Ken Whiddon passes away

Georgia remembers tireless peer advocate and provider

kenwhiddonA pioneer of peer support counseling, an advocate of supported employment and a provider of recovery-focused services, William Kenneth “Ken” Whiddon, who lived with serious and persistent mental illness, passed away last week. He was 63.

Whiddon once said, “When you meet someone, they always ask, ‘What’s your name,’ and then, ‘What do you do?’ Work is such an important part of who you are.”

Friends and colleagues share memories of Ken

He saw work as a path to recovery. His career as an advocate and a leader who educated and encouraged support for those in recovery started with an internship at a community mental health center. Whiddon founded a statewide peer-run recovery network, managed state services as a regional director and started his own company, AmericanWork, to provide services to help people with mental illnesses or addictive disorders live fulfilling lives in their community.

His work, which effected tremendous change in the state, did not go unnoticed. He was appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases in 2006. In 2014 he was honored by the National Council on Behavioral Health with the Award of Excellence for Employment.

“As a man with lived experience, as an advocate, as a certified peer specialist, as a department administrator, as a provider, and as a friend, Ken’s very extraordinary life not only touched those of us who knew him, but radically moved the cultural needle of the system towards embracing recovery and full lives,” said Wendy Tiegreen, director of DBHDD’s Office of Medicaid and Health System Innovations.

After cycling in and out of state hospitals for 10 years, Whiddon returned to school and secured an internship at a community mental health center, which eventually led to a job at a day service center in Macon.

In 1991, Whiddon, along with other mental health consumers, won a federal grant and founded the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) with the goals of promoting employment to foster independence, and providing training opportunities for consumers, including the Certified Peer Specialist Project. He was GMHCN’s first president and two decades later, the organization hosts one of the largest statewide annual consumer conventions in the nation.

Whiddon served 10 years in direct service and management positions in community mental health centers, a community service board, and as executive director of Georgia’s former Division of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse in region 2.

“Ken was briefly a regional director before he decided that he could get more done as a statewide provider,” said Cythnia Wainscott, who serves on the board of Mental Health America. “And did he ever! Thousands of people have benefited from his work.”

In 1999, Whiddon started his own company to help behavioral health agencies provide supported employment services.  He named it AmericanWork, Inc., affirming “I can work.” AmericanWork collaborates with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency and DBHDD to provide recovery-centered core services, specialty services and residential services. Through his company, Whiddon helped hundreds of people with mental illnesses reintegrate into the community after long-term hospital stays.

“[Ken] was a true advocate for those living with a mental illness, the company he created, and its dedication to providing high-quality care,” said former colleague at AmericanWork, Megan Paul. “His passion for supported employment was evident.”

At a meeting in 2001 to discuss the development of community residential sites to relocate several clients who had been living at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, Whiddon said very little, but sprang into action. “Ken found and signed leases in a new upscale apartment complex [within a few days]. Not only did he work fast, but he also had high standards and wanted people with mental illness to have an opportunity to demonstrate to themselves and others that they could be responsible citizens and respected,” said DBHDD regional coordinator Charles Fetner. “Within just a few weeks, 19 people who had been in the hospital for years were living in their own apartment or were sharing one. Ken’s program was not just to relocate these individuals, but to integrate them into community life.”

Profiles in Success: Greg

Advantage Behavioral Health Services

Greg (Advantage) 8.20.14When Greg graduated from Madison County High School in 1992, he was determined to become self-sufficient. His family helped enroll him at the Fine Finish Service Center. There, Greg took part in a pre-employment program and other services. After a year and a half in the program, Greg took a job at T.J. Maxx where he still works today.

While at the center, Greg has achieved many milestones. In 2008, he learned to drive and purchased his first vehicle. He was selected as a T.J. Maxx employee of the month in 2010 and has also been promoted. In 2013, he realized a lifelong dream of moving into his own apartment.

Greg’s managers at T.J. Maxx call him an asset. He takes pride in his work, is very friendly and always willing to help in other departments or areas of the store.

Greg continues to receive supports from Fine Finish. When he isn’t working, Greg enjoys bowling, cookouts at the park, playing basketball at the church gym and using the computer at the library. He even takes cooking classes and has learned to prepare a variety of healthy meals.

Fine Finish and DBHDD are proud of Greg and his many accomplishments.

Advantage Behavioral Health Services is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. Fine Finish provides developmental disability services for Advantage in Madison County. Advantagebhs.org

Profiles in Success: James

Avita Community Partners

James struggled with drug addiction since age 13. He has a criminal history and has had difficulty finding and retaining a job all of his adult life. Last year, he began working with a supported employment specialist at Avita Community Partners.

The specialist helped him obtain a job as an assembler even though he had no prior related experience. James worked hard and learned to manage symptoms of worry and the feeling of being treated differently from others who worked around him. He performed well in this job for three months but was let go in a round of layoffs at the company.

The supported employment specialist worked with a local temp agency to arrange a mock interview for James and help him improve his interview skills. Two weeks later, James was hired as a forklift operator by a local plastics company. He stayed in the supported employment program for three months after starting the new job until he felt that he no longer needed assistance. He was placed on medication maintenance through Avita at that time.

James recently sent a message to his supported employment specialist that he was doing well and loving his job. He is training in other areas with the company and works a lot of overtime, which has enabled him to buy a car and catch up on past-due rent. He is now saving money to get his own apartment, so that he can move out of the halfway house he has been in for the past two years.