In a job market that is tough at best for the long-term unemployed, Kathy Titzer, a 50 year old woman living with a Major Depressive Disorder, says she is gainfully employed again, thanks to Pillars’ Employment Services, a program that helps adults with serious mental illness get and keep competitive jobs.

“Kathy was unemployed for three years, and interested in going back to work,” says Jessica Fraider, an employment specialist at Pillars, an agency that has multiple locations, including two offices in Berwyn.

Previously, Fraider says Titzer, a resident of LaGrange Park who resides with her mom, had worked in libraries, as well as at a Jewel for 12 years prior to her three years of unemployment.

Working in a grocery store setting, seemed to be a better fit, so with the assist of her job coach, they filled out an application form for Mariano’s Fresh Market in Western Springs and she got the interview, and subsequently, the job.

“My friend introduced me to the program and I reached out to someone at Pillars and I got on the waiting list and they said, “oh yeah, we can get you a counselor,” Titzer says. “I’ve been working since April 30 at Mariano’s part time. They trained me on how the groceries are supposed to be put in the bags, so I’m a bagger, yeah, and I do overstock.”

Leading up to, and during the job interview Titzer needed only minor assists from her job coach, meaning an advocate and a person who could provide emotional support through the process, says Michael A. Price, coordinator of Employment Services at Pillars.

He adds that often his group does take client referrals from Thrive Counseling Center and NAMI Metro Illinois in Oak Park. All of the candidates are 18 and older, and have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

“We have people that are extremely high functioning and college educated, and some who are lower functioning and have no work experience, or a high school degree,” Price says. “So, it’s the full spectrum of mental illness. We’re not an employment agency, and we don’t just find somebody any job. What we are trying to look at is what are their strengths, what are their interests and what are the transportation options, then we try and find a job that’s going to fall within that range.”

Pillars goal, Price says, is for people living with a mental illness to become autonomous and independent, although the door back into services is always open if, and when needed.

“If somebody asked me what’s a success story for any of the clients, I say every single client we have is a success story, even though not all of them get jobs,” says Price. He is enthusiastic that “Kathy is doing really, really well. She’s a go getter, and doesn’t sit around and let the grass grow underneath her feet.”

As she looks across the table at her two “cheerleaders,” Titzer smiles.

“I like to be independent for money, and have co-workers who will help me out if I need help,” she says. “Just to keep on bagging until I get maybe something, maybe in the deli or bakery, wherever you know. Having a job makes me feel really good.”

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....