PSR and Ayuda Latina Participants: Making Their Own Wings
Eye on LSSI, Spring 2006 ( Download PDF of entire publication)
Steve is a big, bearlike man. He wears a knit cap snuggly on his head, and his face is adorned with a variety of silver jewelry. His arms are covered with colorful tattoos. Twenty years ago after a suicide attempt, Steve became a client of the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program (PSR), a program of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) located at the agency’s Portage-Cragin Mental Health Center on the northwest side of Chicago. Today, he is a “prosumer,” a previous client who is now an employee.
“[Portage-Cragin] helped me a lot,” he says. “It’s one of the best programs I’ve been in.”
Steve has been working at Portage-Cragin for the past 2-1/2 years. He runs the drop-in center and also attends a weekly GROW meeting, which is a support group for people with mental illnesses.
“[This is a] place to come to, and [it] saves our lives every day,” agrees Leila, another participant.
“I have been in the hospital more than I care to say,” she adds, noting that one time she was in the hospital for six months. “I had a rough childhood, spent five years on the streets, was on drugs and alcohol. I saw my friends die. This [Portage-Cragin] was my last chance. And I have been clean and sober for 27 years.”
Leila says she still takes it one day at a time. “I respect everyone here,” she says. “I even respect myself sometimes. I even trust people now.”
She likes the groups available through PSR. “I feel comfortable,” she says. “A lot of the groups encourage me. Groups can help with self-esteem. They help us to grow within ourselves and incorporate different tools. And we keep whatever is [discussed] in the groups. We all feel safe.”
The groups she goes to include computer programs, art, dancing, Tai Chi, crafts and cooking. Leila also works at the front desk, housecleans and works in the snack shop.
“The therapists here are really great,” she says. “They will talk to anyone when you really need them. These doors are open to everybody.”
Focus Groups Assess Mental Health Programming
Steve and Leila are two of the five people from PSR who recently participated in focus groups held by the Illinois Department of Mental Health (DMH) at Madden and Read Mental Health Centers located in Chicago.
“[The DMH] wanted to talk with clients from the various mental health centers about where they were in recovery, evaluate programming and see how involved the clients were in their treatment,” explains Cheryl Oseguera, program director of PSR as well as Ayuda Latina, another program at Portage-Cragin. “It was a great experience for [our clients],” she adds. “It was very empowering.”
PSR is an outpatient program designed to provide people with a chronic mental illness a place to learn, practice and integrate life skills that will stabilize and enhance their well-being. Clients receive counseling and have access to support groups and other programs. Ayuda Latina, which is supervised by Alé Bugaro, is a new case management program funded by a United Way grant. The program, staffed by three bicultural, bilingual staff, works to help Latino clients with a variety of essential needs including housing, food, clothing, medication and accessing entitlements, as well as providing assistance with immigration issues.
Eduardo, who at 22 years old was the youngest person at PSR a year ago, also participated in the focus groups. Although he’s only been involved with the center for a year, he has made some important strides in his life and is eager to take more steps on the road to recovery.
Bugaro found Eduardo in a psychiatric hospital because he had threatened a family member. Eduardo says he doesn’t remember what happened. He had been on drugs at the time.
Mostly, Eduardo stayed at home all the time. He hadn’t finished high school and had no friends. He had never ridden a bus. More than a year later, all that has changed. For one thing, he’s back in school and pursuing a GED.
“I probably wouldn’t have gone back to school if not for Alé,” he says. And he is meeting a lot of new people. Every time he goes to school, he meets one or two new people. He takes the bus — and meets new people there. He comes to Portage-Cragin every day, and meets more people.
“My caseworker helped me to [develop] my social skills,” he says.
And when Oseguera asked for volunteers to participate in the forum, Eduardo stepped forward. He, along with Ada, another PSR client, has also volunteered to be on the DMH Consumer Advisory Council.
A Dedicated Staff
The focus groups illuminated clients’ satisfaction with the programs at Portage-Cragin. As he listened to the answers of other participants in the focus groups, Steve noticed that a lot of the things the other people said they needed to improve at their agencies were already present at Portage-Cragin, such as an after-hours hotline. He kept thinking, “We have that already.”
Listening to the staff [from other agencies] made him appreciate his experience at Portage-Cragin. Steve says, “The staff here cares so much. They make us feel like you [are their] second family.”
“It all depends how much you put into [the program],” he adds. “I can tell that the people here are dedicated to their jobs. It’s real positive. It’s safe here — and that’s very important.”
When he first came to Portage-Cragin 20 years ago, there was no day program. Yet, staff members “came out of the way to visit people in the hospital,” Steve recalls.
Staff, Clients Collaborate
A primary reason for the programs’ success is that clients and staff work together to develop programming that fits clients’ needs. For example, PSR clients thought they needed a snack shop, so they started one. In addition, a cooking group was started for those interested in honing their culinary skills.
“Clients have a big part in developing the program [at Portage-Cragin],” says Oseguera. “They say ‘We need this,’ and we try to find a way to do it.
“When there is a hierarchy — with the clients below and the staff on top — it’s an ‘us versus them’ situation,” she explains. “We try to work collaboratively with people. We believe there is power in people coming up with their own solutions.”
“Every choice is ours,” Leila agrees, “and the [therapists] show us the way. We talk about steps to accomplish [our] goals. Each client is an individual; [they] want to learn at their pace and when ready.”
Eduardo says that he and his caseworker set goals with regard to connecting with others and ways to achieve that. He knows it’s up to him to do take the steps necessary for his recovery and says he is proud that he is doing something to increase his ability to relate with other people. His caseworker can’t make him do that; he knows he has to take the responsibility to do so.
“We are just here to guide and help [clients],” Bugaro says. She and the other staff members work with clients on setting goals that they want, thus mentoring and empowering them. “It’s a matter of helping them make their own wings,” she adds. “That’s the way I see it.”
For more information on the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program or Ayuda Latina, contact Cheryl Oseguera at 773/282-7800.