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Helping People with Mental Illnesses Thrive

by Jonathan Greenblatt
This post originally appeared on the White House blog on June 5, 2012.

Josh, 45, was one of the millions of Americans suffering from a mental illness, but he was not receiving treatment. He was unemployed and living in a halfway house, and he could hardly find the motivation to do the dishes or leave his room.

"I felt I wasn't going anywhere," he said. “I hadn't had a job for a year, and I wasn't a part of anything. I decided I needed to get out and be more active.”

That is when Josh turned to Buckelew Programs, a nonprofit organization that, for 40 years, has provided homes, jobs, and hope to people with mental illness.

Working Their Way Back Into Society

An estimated one in four adults in the United States experiences a mental health disorder, In addition to the immense personal struggles individuals face, the economic cost of mental illness to the nation is also substantial, including the costs associated with lost productivity

That's why in addition to providing traditional clinical services, Buckelew helps people with mental illnesses build the personal and professional skills they need to succeed and keep steady jobs. Buckelew also hires people like Josh to work for their social enterprises.

Josh gained experience as a cleaning professional through Buckelew's Blue Skies Cleaning Service, which specializes in environmentally-friendly office cleaning. This experience positioned him to find a job at Northgate Mall in Marin County, California, and eventually enabled him to move out of the halfway house and into a permanent home.

“I've learned responsibility and how to work with others,” Josh reflects. “It's a good work environment, and I like the effort it takes.…I feel useful—a part of something—and that makes me feel good.”

Expanding Buckelew's Reach

Buckelew received a Social Innovation Fund grant of $550,000 over two years through REDF, a venture philanthropy organization that invests in nonprofits that create jobs, change lives and reduce public costs. Building on its successes, Buckelew is now launching a new social enterprise, People's Harvest, which will provide fresh-cut produce to school districts and hospitals in Marin County while continuing to employ individuals living with mental illness.

Buckelew is one of more than 200 high-impact nonprofit organizations that have received a Social Innovation Fund grant. These other nonprofits, like Buckelew, are expanding and creating jobs, and strengthening communities across the U.S.

Josh's story is part of our ongoing effort to highlight how social innovators are strengthening our communities and addressing social needs across the country.We hope stories like this inspire you to think creatively and take action in your own community.

Jonathan Greenblatt is Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

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