Jill had been in the mental health system for many years. However, she remained motivated to work hard. She heard voices and had a difficult time understanding things, but she bravely tried anything new. She suffered from both a learning disability and schizophrenia. Because of her efforts, she had become independent enough to graduate from our program.
Jill joined our employment program. She worked as a janitor in our snack bar and served on our newsletter crew. We started a small printing business, and Jill learned how to print designs on t-shirts. She lived in a small town a long distance from work. The bus trip took three hours each way, going and coming. She worked a four-hour shift. Still, she had great determination.
Jill’s obesity made things more difficult for her. In California, the summer heat can reach one hundred degrees. Despite the heat, Jill always came to work. We made sure she had plenty of water for her trip and always suggested she wear a hat. We discussed safety precautions, reminding her to stay in the shade on hot days. Jill got along well with other people in the program and knew when to ask for help, if she needed it.
Jill’s smile could light up a room. Whenever we had a new project or held a garage sale, Jill always asked to help. If she saw someone else in need of help, she would always offer assistance. Sometimes, you could tell Jill heard the voices of her schizophrenia, as she would talk softly to herself, or she’d even tell me she was talking to her voices. Many times, Jill would have a hard time understanding, but if I explained things two or three times, eventually she would understand. She found it difficult to count money. If she took her time, and I helped when needed, she could make correct change. She focused and stayed with it until she understood.
Before she graduated our program, Jill shared that she wanted to go to college, as it had been her dream for many years. She thought it impossible, as she’d had difficulty reading and had only completed sixth grade. John, one of our staff members, especially wanted to help Jill. John and I researched one of our community colleges and found that they would accept students with learning disabilities and mental illness. The college would test Jill’s skill level in math, reading and writing and would
provide remedial classes and tutoring, if needed.
When I told Jill, she became so excited, but also grew nervous. She felt unsure about her ability to pass the tests and wondered if she would feel out of place on a traditional campus. She had been in the mental health system so long that she didn’t know if she could adjust to the collegiate world. Step by step, John helped Jill prepare for her journey toward higher education. He helped her register for classes and adapt to the campus. I provided Jill with a bus pass. With each step, she appeared to become more confident. She prepared for the test. They let her take breaks, due to her disability, and she completed the entire test. Jill passed and was on her way!
Jill will start school this fall. She is thrilled, but still nervous. She must overcome her fears to follow her dream. For someone who had been in mental health programs all her life and only completed sixth grade, the seemingly impossible became a reality!