When Walter P. started his summer job as a luggage handler for HAP-Yukon-Alaska(Holland America Princess), he wasn’t sure he’d like working with customers. It had been six years since he’d had a job. He was worried interacting with customers would make him anxious.  But it turned out, he liked it – and he was good at it. His supervisors wrote that he was always helpful and willing to pitch in. The tips from customer indicate they appreciated him too. He’s already been asked to come back next year.

Learning Coping Skills

It took a while to find a job.  Walter’s therapist at ACMHS, Judy Sparks, suggested going back to work was the next step in his recovery. Sparks has always believed that clients with serious mental illness need something to do, whether that’s volunteer or paid work or activities during the day, to bring some normalcy to their lives. When she first started working with Walter, he was closed off and didn’t communicate well. But after attending groups and working on coping skills, he was able to interact out in the community and learned to take the bus, and she thought he was ready. She says, “He was really nervous, but he’s made awesome growth.”

“Applied, Applied, Applied”

He worked with the RISE vocational team to write a resume and build his confidence. Then he said, he “applied, applied, applied”, but he wasn’t getting hired. Allen Erickson, the owner of Plato’s Closet, offered to do a mock interview with Walter and offer feedback. That helped Walter practice his answers to interview questions. But the biggest problem was the six-year gap on his resume. So he turned his focus to summer seasonal work so he’d have a more recent track record.

Finding His Stride

When he was first hired by HAP, he had to learn to advocate for himself, with help from his vocational employment specialist. The first shift he was offered started so early in the morning, he couldn’t get a bus there. But after talking to his manager, he was moved to a late shift, where he thrived – sometimes independently handling all the luggage for large airport departures.

Next Steps

Walter isn’t content to wait until next summer to work again, so he’s looking for another job.  But he’s considering something seasonal for the winter, so he can go back to HAP next year, with the co-workers he’s come to know.