From Consumer to Producer
Copyright © by Bruce Ario, 3/8/04 

  When I was growing up, I thought from time-to-time about what I wanted to be when I grew up. What kid doesn’t? There were a lot of variations in what I thought I’d become which corresponded to my changing age. I considered everything from president to pro-hockey player and everything between. What never occurred to me, what never entered my mind, was that I might become nothing at all. I might never have a job. That came close to happening.

  I had studied my way through school being in honors societies, having good success in almost all I did, including being admitted to a top-notch law school. Life seemed good and I was upwardly mobile.

  Unfortunately, mental illness caught up with me. I had been in a car accident and sustained a serious head injury between my time at undergrad  and grad school. For a long time I coped, mostly through will power, spiritual programs, friends, family, meds, therapy etc., but it was a life held together by threads and eventually they broke.

  I had been able to complete two years of law school but by the time the third year students of my class were going back to school, I had become homeless on the streets of Minneapolis. This dumbfounded many people including me. I lasted on the streets for six months before I broke the law and was arrested. That became the point in my life when I chose to accept my illness and get serious help.

  It would be years later that I found myself at my current position of Site Supervisor at the US Dept of Agriculture’s mailroom. This is a JWOD contract that was begun by a woman who pushed for it when she had seen the success of such a contract at another federal agency. She had been sold on JWOD contracts and she convinced the powers that be at the USDA.

  Now, by all measures, she has been correct. My crew, working along side of federal employees, has successfully carried out the duties of mail, supplies, and photo-copying for over two years. My crew consists of one full-timer and two part-timers who work real hard to ensure such things as promptness, excellent quality, and pleasant demeanors when dealing with the customers at USDA. We have met the requirements of the contract for the past two years with the attitude that “We can do it!”

  It’s not come to us without effort. First we had to prove ourselves while a lot of people stood back and watched to see what would happen. The type of contract we had was somewhat of an experiment so we viewed ourselves as trailblazers and went forward.

There was a lot of learning in the process which has greatly been aided by my company Tasks Unlimited who is a social services agency providing job support and housing to people with mental illness. The USDA people also proved very supportive and helpful.

Some of the people were probably wary of these new folks on the block, but nobody said anything, and as far as I know, we’ve been fully accepted. They see us able to do the work.

  They do not see us as disabled. They see us as able. I am not a consumer who consumes government aid at exorbitant costs and never improves. My crew and I are producers, producing support services in a competitive work environment where we prove everyday that the biggest part of the word “disabled” is “abled”. That’s what the JWOD contract means to me, a chance to be a somebody, not a nobody.

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