Finding work and becoming whole: Rhonda’s story

June 1st, 2020
Rhonda Siddall outside her apartment building in southwest Detroit

“I am a whole person again,” said Rhonda Siddall. “I’d been so low about myself for so long. That’s totally changed now that I have a job.”

It had been more than a decade since Rhonda last worked. She took care of grandchildren during that time, which was fulfilling in its own respect. But a big part of her yearned to contribute in another way, and to engage in the common routine of going to work and supporting herself.

“I was overjoyed when I got that first paycheck,” said Rhonda, 54. “I so happy to actually pay taxes!”

Rhonda got her new job with the help of the supported employment program at Southwest Solutions. The program assists adults recovering from serious mental illness who are ready to work. Rhonda has been a client with our Adult Counseling Services for almost 20 years. When she first arrived, she had a dual diagnosis.

“I’ve been clean and sober for 16 years thanks to the counseling and support groups,” said Rhonda. “Before then, I’d been an addict for over 20 years. I suffered major depression since I was young, and I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals many times. But there were people who never gave up on me, and so I never gave up on myself.

Rhonda’s clinician at Southwest Solutions is Priscilla Cortez. Since the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order began in Michigan, Priscilla has been counseling Rhonda via telehealth.

“Because Rhonda and I already had a strong relationship, the telehealth is working well for us,” Priscilla said. “Recovery had been a long process for Rhonda, but she is very proud about how far she’s come, and so are we. With her recovery, Rhonda regained motivation and wanted to find a sense of purpose through work. Getting a job is a big victory for her that we celebrate in therapy.”

When Rhonda entered our supported employment program earlier this year, her greatest concern was her lack of computer literacy and whether that would prevent her from gaining a job. Employment Specialist Rodney Averett set aside a whole afternoon to help Rhonda with computer basics and then help her apply online for a job with Advantage Solutions giving customers food samples in a store. Rhonda’s application was immediately accepted. Rodney then guided Rhonda through the online training.

“With each module that Rhonda completed, she gained in confidence,” Rodney said. “Once she finished, Rhonda was given a start date, and she was super-excited.”

When Rhonda was supposed to start her product-demonstration job at Walmart in Dearborn, the COVID crisis hit, and so her job was changed to involve sanitizing the store. After a few weeks of work, the store manager was so impressed with Rhonda’s diligence that she was hired full-time to do maintenance.

“It was very emotional for Rhonda to do well at work, and I must say, her success was emotional for me, too,” said Rodney. “It’s not just a job or about the money to her. It’s about being in control of her life and moving forward in her personal growth.”

Rhonda is very conscientious at work to wear the necessary protective equipment because of COVID, and thus is not afraid of being exposed to the virus.

“I actually enjoy cleaning, and it’s the type of job I wanted,” Rhonda said. “I also really wanted to work in a busy store because I enjoy interacting with the public.”

Coincidentally, Rhonda’s long-time partner, Charles Sandridge, also works in maintenance. Charles is employed at Southwest Solutions. He and Rhonda first met in a therapeutic support group at the agency. They now live in an affordable apartment building in southwest Detroit that Southwest Solutions renovated and manages.

Our supported employment services are formally called the Individual Placement and Support – Supported Employment (IPS-SE) program. IPS-SE is supported through Medicaid billing processed by DWIHN. For more information about the program, email Barbara Gray, IPS-SE Program Manager at Southwest Solutions.

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