For more than 20 years, the Voices Opportunities and Choices Employment Club (VOCEC) has provided supportive work environments to community residents living with severe and persistent mental illness. Currently, the vocational program employs approximately 100 people within nine independent businesses, including the At the Lake and Breaking Ground Cafés.
“Work is somewhere you are needed, somewhere you can contribute and somewhere you can succeed. People at VOCEC take a great deal of pride in their work,” explains Program Manager Ben Gooch. “There is significant evidence to prove that work is a cornerstone of recovery and at Providence Care it shows.”
For VOCEC’s Lea Fraser, the biggest challenge with her mental illness has been the fear of going out in public and maintaining steady work. Over the last 15 years, Lea has worked at three of VOCEC’s cafés and says that her ongoing employment within the program has helped to keep her out of hospital. “My work with VOCEC has kept me alive the last seven years. It’s such a great place to work and a lot of people say that. Nobody would give us the chances that VOCEC does,” Lea stressed. “Every time I’ve had to be in the hospital, I could relax because I always knew my job would be waiting for me.”
Working provides VOCEC associates with a sense of normalcy and helps to build their sense of self-worth. It also helps to reduce stigma and break down barriers in the community because others can see the positive difference VOCEC employees are making. At the Breaking Ground Café, located in the downtown YMCA, VOCEC associates serve approximately 80 daycare children three meals every day, and the At the Lake Café has proven to be a welcomed addition at Providence Care Hospital. “There are many ways that VOCEC associates make an impact in the Kingston community; just by working our associates are providing hope and inspiration to others living with mental illness,” says Krista Johnston, an Affirmative Business Operations Officer with VOCEC.
“A supportive work environment increases a person’s chance of success because employees can work as many or as little hours as they need. They can also work at their own pace and know that we will support them through their struggles. Some of our associates have worked with us for more than 20 years,” explains VOCEC Support Worker Dave Lewers. “I really do feel that VOCEC is helping to change perceptions about the struggles that people with mental illness face – not only personally but professionally,” he said. “I think VOCEC businesses help associates to realize their potential and stay on the road to health and recovery.”