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‘Employment has given me my life’s purpose’

‘Employment has given me my life’s purpose and it is especially meaningful to work alongside others who live with mental illness,’ says Justin.

Abbotsford, B.C.—Whether he’s working behind the desk in the office or out on the truck, Justin Beals enjoys his job as the operations coordinator with Communitas Social Enterprises (CSE). 

“I’m smart enough to be the operations coordinator. Crazy enough to love it,” he says.

CSE is a program of Communitas Supportive Care Society. CSE provides employment and training to individuals living with mental-health challenges, developmental disabilities or acquired brain injury.  Its two longest-running social enterprises are ShredMasters and ValleyRecycling, which have been providing quality recycling and shredding in B.C.’s Fraser Valley since 1992. 

Justin came to CSE through another Communitas program called STEP (Support Towards Employment Program). 

STEP offers people diagnosed with mental illness the opportunity to receive support from an employment specialist as well as opportunities for work experience through CSE. The program is focused on helping people achieve a reclaimed vocational life.

Justin has been with the company since 2007 and has grown into the job, taking on more responsibilities as time has passed. More than that, he’s grown into the person he is today because his job is more than a place to shred paper and recycle materials. For Justin, who lives with mental illness, doing this work enabled him to find himself again.

“Employment has been an immensely integral part of my recovery to wellness,” he says. “Being employed by Communitas for over 10 years has provided stability for me. I’ve lived at three different places, have been married and widowed, lost my mother and I’m on my third car. All these life situations changed, but the job has remained constant.”

Before Justin came to STEP, he had been in and out of hospital for four consecutive years, diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He was at a point in his life where he was unable to work and had to go on disability assistance. He has always been passionate about recycling, so when a friend told him about STEP, he decided to give it a try. He started slowly, working one day a week, then two. He noticed a difference right away.

“I started feeling better, mentally and physically,” he says. “Doing physical activity and being out around town all day, seeing different sites, made me feel more mentally alive.”

Donna Esau is an employment specialist with STEP. She says that having work makes an enormous difference to a person’s mental wellness.

“When the people we serve first come to me, many of them are quiet, not confident in themselves, and unsure of what they really want,” Esau says. “We take the time to get to know them and develop their skills to prepare them for employment. With time, their confidence begins to build. They begin to see possibilities and become hopeful. When they do finally get a job, I see happiness, satisfaction and a confidence that they can work and participate in life.”

Esau says that having a reason to get up every morning, a positive place to go to and the chance to earn money all make an impact on one’s mental health. Meaningful employment gives people access to things many of us take for granted: the ability to participate in social activities, to travel, to make purchases. It connects people to society around them in a healthy way.

“Employment gives people an outward focus. It opens up doors of opportunity to meet new people, grow as a person, and feel like one is contributing to society,” she says. 

This was definitely true for Justin. As he grew more confident, he was given more responsibility. It took four attempts for him to achieve his Class 4 driver’s license. Eventually he succeeded and then he became a driver/mentor to other clients. Over time, it became clear that Justin had strong organizational skills; he was fast and efficient. Soon he was managing accounts in the office. Justin took each step slowly, adjusting to the new process, feeling his way into his strengths. Today he works full-time and says that having an employer who understands mental illness and who treats him with dignity and respect has been essential. 

“Employment with Communitas has been a huge blessing on so many levels,” he says. “This organization’s mission statement of being a place of belonging, growth and contribution doesn’t just apply to the people that it serves but to its employees too.”

For some people, work is simply a paycheque, but for Justin it is much more. A stable income has been vital to his mental health, reducing stress and giving him purpose. His work at CSE can be quite active, which keeps him physically healthy, too. It has allowed him to be part of a larger community, and the fact that he loves coming to work each day is a huge bonus.

“Employment has given me my life’s purpose and it is especially meaningful to work alongside others who live with mental illness,” he says. “I feel that I belong to something larger, and I enjoy working with like-minded, big-hearted people. I’ve grown as an individual. I’ve contributed my time and energy, ideas, participation and perhaps made some sort of difference in people’s lives in the process by just being genuine and authentic. I love my work here.”

Communitas is a faith-based, registered charity that supports people with mental-health challenges, developmental disabilities and acquired brain injury. For more information, visit CommunitasCare.com. For more information about Communitas Social Enterprises, visit CommunitasEnterprises.com.