Stephanie Vines-Wade works in the café at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It’s a busy place, known for its good selection of food at reasonable prices. Stephanie helps prepare and serve sandwiches and other fare. She interacts with customers and colleagues with genuine ease, and her face conveys a ready smile and laughter.
Seeing Stephanie behind the counter here, one would not suspect the hardships she has had to overcome to feel at home with herself and her place in the community. She is 53.
Four years ago, the difficulties in Stephanie’s life intensified and combined so that she could no longer support herself and her son, who was 12 at the time. She asked her son’s paternal grandmother to take care of him. Stephanie moved into an abandoned house close to where her son was staying on the west side. Every morning, Stephanie would walk her son to school, and then search for work to try to make a living.
“I wanted to make sure that my hell was not my son’s also,” Stephanie said.
While living in the vacant house, Stephanie sought mental health counseling to treat her depression and anxiety. At the outpatient clinic, a social worker referred Stephanie to Southwest Solutions’ Housing Resource Center (HRC). An HRC caseworker came out to see where Stephanie was living. The HRC then helped Stephanie secure a housing voucher to rent an apartment. After a year and a half in the abandoned house, Stephanie’s homelessness was resolved, and she and her son were reunited in a place of their own.
“Stephanie has been through a lot, but through it all she remained a committed mother who is trying to do the best she can for her son with limited means,” said Natalie Savoy, the HRC caseworker who has been assisting Stephanie.
Though her housing situation was stabilized, Stephanie struggled to find enough work to make ends meet. She took temporary housekeeping, food service and other odd jobs whenever and wherever they came along, often traveling on the bus for hours in the day. To supplement her meager earnings, Natalie regularly took Stephanie to a food pantry and connected her with other community resources.
A year ago, Stephanie started working with the supported employment program that is part of Adult Counseling Services at Southwest Solutions. Her supported employment specialist, Dominic D’Aguanno, encouraged her to apply for steady and sustainable work, but Stephanie was not mentally prepared for that yet, since she was in the habit of numerous short-term jobs. So Dominic placed her with three different temp agencies and continued to try to persuade her seek something better.
“I continually brought up the benefits of having a regular job with a regular schedule and paycheck,” Dominic said. “It took a while, but she eventually listened to me.”
This spring, Dominic heard about a full-time employment opportunity that he thought would be perfect for Stephanie. Culinaire, a food and beverage company, was holding a job fair to staff positions at Café DIA, where the company was awarded the contract. Dominic helped Stephanie update her resume and apply. He then drove her to the job fair and practiced job interview skills with her. Less than a week later, Stephanie called Dominic to let him know she was hired. Dominic provided Stephanie with bus tickets for three weeks so she could get from her apartment in Highland Park to the DIA and back. After three weeks, Stephanie would get her first paycheck, and she could pay for the transportation herself.
“It took Stephanie about a month to settle into her new job, but I can tell how much happier she is now,” Dominic said. “This job helps her feel like she is contributing to society and that she has overcome so many barriers to achieve a normal life.”
Dominic and Natalie have also been working with Stephanie on monthly budgeting. Stephanie earns enough that she no longer needs the food pantry, but she also has to contribute 30% of her income toward her rent, in accordance with her housing voucher.
“Things are tight, but they are still so much better,” Stephanie said. “I really enjoy my job and there’s a chance to move up the ladder. The steady work lets me be my own person and not depend on anyone else. I want to be the best mother I can be for my son and give him what he needs to succeed.”
“My dream is to save some money to buy a used car and get a better place to live,” she continued. “I also would love to have my own catering business one day. I love preparing different kinds of food and it makes me happy to see people enjoying the food I make.”
Stephanie is one of 28 individuals that our Individual Placement and Support – Supported Employment (IPS-SE) has helped find jobs in the past nine months. IPS-SE is supported through Medicaid billing.