Program finds jobs for those with mental challenges

October 14, 2010 (CHICAGO)

A local not-for-profit agency for people with mental illness is finding steady jobs in a competitive market.

Earl Burke has been working at a Jewel food store on Chicago's North Side for two years. He works four days a week, six hours a day.

"I started off as a maintenance doing and throwing garbage away in the compacter and little things here, and then and then I switched to bagging and getting the carts out in the yard, and I do a little bit of," Burke said.

Thirteen years ago, Burke's life changed when got involved with C4 - Community Counseling Centers of Chicago.

"I don't know if I would say it saved my life, but I was kind of drinking in the streets a little," Burke said. "I've been seeing the doctor now for the last 13 years. I've been out of the hospital, like, 13 years. I haven't been drinking in about 11 years. I had my apartment 13 years."

Jim Puglese is Burke's former boss and the person who hired him.

"He's got a wonderful personality, he's always positive, likes to talk to people, and that's the kind of person we want in the service department," said Puglese.

Tania Morawiec is the supportive employment coordinator at C4. She is responsible for finding suitable employment for people with various mental illnesses.

"We have a lot of people that need jobs," said Morawiec, "and there's such a wide variety of skill set, so people that receive our services, some of them are looking for education jobs, some of them are looking for janitorial. I've had accountants, I've had lawyers, it really spans just a huge variety of different sectors for employment."

Burke is just one of many employees with disabilities who are part of Jewel-Osco's organization, says external communication manager Karen May.

"One of the things that I hear so much about is just their level of enthusiasm," said May, "because our associates with special needs want to be out there, and they want to be contributing, and they are so happy to have the job."

"I love it, I like it a lot-- the people are real friendly, it's good pay, it keeps me busy, gives me a chance to act different ways," said Burke.

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