Webster’s dictionary defines work as “something to be done, a commitment, test, and an obligation.” However, to others who haven’t always had the opportunity, work is defined as “independence, something meaningful to do with in life, a therapeutic support system, an opportunity to be out with people—a reason to get out of bed or off the couch each day.”

This personal definition was provided by a work candidate who has been working for over 15 years thanks to Work In Progress. Work In Progress, an organization that provides employment opportunities to individuals who have a diagnosis of mental illness or emotional problems, is a Foundation Community Enrichment grantee.

For 19 years Work In Progress has served Richland and Lexington County by assisting people increase their financial stability through employment and recover from mental illness and/or drugs and alcohol.

Candidates are selected by a referral and are interviewed by the director and an employment services specialist. They are coached on pre-employment skills like filling out applications, dressing for interviews and interviewing skills, then take an interest survey provided by Midlands Technical College.

An employment specialist is the key person for the individual experiencing mental illness in completing resumes, job development, job coaching at the job site and follow along supportive services for the duration of the employment opportunity. This specialist also works with the candidate until they better understand the correct way to perform the tasks at their job site or until the work candidate feels comfortable with the demands of the employment opportunity.

Follow along services are dependent upon the need and desire of the work candidate by the work candidate. The follow along services are provided to ensure that the work candidate is given support by an employment specialist.

“It can include going back to the employment opportunity to increase skills or to retrain if the person is not understanding their tasks, to encourage a person on the job if they are feeling less than confident with their abilities, to assist with conflict resolution with the work candidates and their peers or with the work candidate and their supervisors,” Rosemary Hedden, Executive Director, said. “It’s kind of like the last line in a job description or anything else that is necessary to assist someone with being successful.”

The services lasts for the duration of the employment opportunity and can include relaxed group meetings with other work candidates at a selected restaurant. These meetings allow candidates the opportunity to voice issues that have arisen and be of help to others as they are faced with similar peer situations.

Job coaching is key to the organization’s approach. The employment specialist makes it possible for the work candidate to find stability on the job. The partnership of trust and follow through help with high levels of success for the work candidate.

Through the funding the Foundation provided Work In Progress this spring, the organization helped at least 10 work candidates find employment. Work In Progress continues to grow, and exceeds 70 placements annually.

“In a society that places high values on independence and strong work ethics, I truly believe that employment is the key to recovery and stability for many people who otherwise carry the stigma of both mental illness and unemployment,” Hedden said. “We like to say Work In Progress is changing people’s lives though employment.”