Untapped Potential: Behavioral Health Employment Program helps individuals with disabilities join the workforce

Lisa Floyd article

Sue Wyder (left) and Tiffany Turner

At a recent employment resource fair, staff from the King County Behavioral Health Supported Employment Program ran into Tiffany Turner, a graduate of the program. Tiffany now works full time as a manager at the Recovery Café, a community of support for individuals who have experienced trauma, mental health and/or substance use issues.

As a single parent of three children, Turner had many challenges trying to raise her children with limited resources or support from others. She found herself overwhelmed and unaware of the symptoms of her illness or how to use healthy ways to cope.  “It’s a stigma in my community to reach out and get support. That’s why I want to share my story with others.”

Turner enrolled with Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation, one of King County’s contracted Mental Health Providers through the Division of Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services Division She then got connected to Supported Employment Services, an evidence-based practice that provides an integrated team approach to employment services that has demonstrated  double the rate of job placements than traditional employment programs for achieving long-term employment.

Turner got connected with Sue Wyder, a behavioral health employment specialist.  “Sue never gave up on me. Even when I had bad days, Sue still reached out and told me she had faith in me.”

Sue helped Tiffany identify her strengths as a person and as an employee, then connected her to employment opportunities that were a fit for her interest. “I went back to school, and got my AA degree in chemical dependency,” say Turner. “I did an internship with Recovery Café then went to work for them because the Café is where I got my sobriety and I wanted to give back.”

Looking back, Turner now realizes that she needed to learn new coping skills in order to address her behavioral health needs. She grew up in a household with many of the same traumatic events and harmful behaviors that she was trying to prevent passing on to her children so she didn’t have knowledge of healthy alternatives. “I was self-medicating,” Turner says. “I needed to realize that what I was dealing with was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Turner now manages the main community area at the Café, leads recovery circles, helps provide consultations and even helps out in the kitchen in order to help serve over 300 meals a month to members. She also uses her life experiences to help other women and children who are traumatized by substance abuse in the family, domestic abuse, or other forms of trauma.

For her, the best part of her job is being able to greet members of the Recovery Café and watch people grow. “The look in their eyes, the inspiration they get from me,” Turner says. “Because of the person I have become, I really feel that I am helping to change their lives.”

This October we’re celebrating Disability Employment Awareness Month and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

By Lisa Floyd, Project/Program Manager III, Department of Community & Human Services.