At work, Juanita Guevara feels like a different person. Ironically, it’s because it lets her feel the same as others, who do their jobs as well as they can to earn a living.
“Work helps me focus and set aside my sadness and anxiety,” says Juanita. “I feel healthier, both mentally and physically, when I’m working.”
For the past year, Juanita has been working in the deli department at Prince Valley Market in southwest Detroit. She obtained the job through the Individual Placement and Support – Supported Employment (IPS-SE) program at Southwest Solutions. The program is designed for individuals receiving mental health counseling at the organization’s Waterman Outpatient Clinic. The IPS-SE program provides job leads, resume and interview assistance, support services, and resources to help the individuals attain and sustain employment.
Juanita came to the Waterman clinic about three years ago. She was referred by her sister, who receives counseling there. Juanita says that there is a history of severe mental illness in the family. Her mother committed suicide in 2004. Three other relatives on her mother’s side have also suicided. Juanita grew up in an abusive and chaotic household. Her father was sent to prison, and died in incarceration.
“My psychiatrist and counselors at Waterman have helped me work through issues in my family,” Juanita says. “It’s still very emotional for me, but I’m able to talk freely about my feelings in therapy and move forward.”
Juanita was diagnosed with mental illness in her 20s. She was determined not to be defined by the illness and not let it take away her independence. She is now 50.
“I value being self-sufficient and I don’t want to be a bother to anyone,” Juanita says. “I went to work as soon as I could, and I always take pride in my job and being dependable, honest and hard-working.”
In her long work history, Juanita has served as the manager at several locations of a restaurant franchise. When she started counseling at Southwest Solutions, she was out of work for a short while. The IPS-SE program connected her with jobs at two major retail stores in the suburbs. She drove to get there. But when her car broke down, she couldn’t afford to replace and insure it. Getting to work via the bus system proved to be cumbersome. So Juanita asked Manuel Partida, an Employment Specialist with the IPS-SE program, about possible jobs closer to home in southwest Detroit. Manuel helped Juanita apply for an opportunity with Prince Valley Market.
“We have a great relationship with Joe Gappy, who owns Prince Valley and who’s supportive of the mission of Southwest Solutions to help people in the community,” Manuel says. “He had an opening in the deli department, and Juanita’s skills and experience were a good match for the position.”
Prince Valley is about a 20-minute walk from where Juanita lives. When the weather permits, she rides her bicycle. The bike was provided by the IPS-SE program, which obtained it through a donation.
Juanita works full-time, six days a week at Prince Valley. Recently, in recognition of her outstanding work, she was named night manager of the deli department.
“We’re very busy in the deli, particularly close to dinner time,” Juanita says. “I live by myself, and I prefer it that way, but I also really enjoy interacting with customers.”
Juanita is one of 59 individuals who found jobs through the IPS-SE program last year. The program at Southwest Solutions started ten years ago and is supported through Medicaid billing.