Recollections from Tom Parrish, longtime member

When I first joined Alliance House in the fall of ’88 there were only a few members. With Margaret Currin at the helm, we met in the bay where fire trucks used to be parked, struggling to define what the Clubhouse was all about, and to establish a set of Members’ Rights.


One right that was declared early on was the Right of Return. We said, “Once a member, always a member”. It’s important to know that there is a place to return to, especially when there appears to be nowhere else to go.


We expected that as we rebuilt our self-esteem, developing work skills and completing educational goals, with the intent of becoming productive members of society, our personal evolution would inevitably lead toward greater independence. We anticipated that we would become less reliant upon the social support of the Clubhouse. For most of us, it was a challenge. Sometimes we stumbled, but with determination, and a little help from our friends, we persevered.


We refused to be seen as patients or clients of the psychiatric establishment. We rejected that stigma. And we rejected the politically correct term of the day, “consumers of mental health services”. That’s a particularly demeaning epithet.


Thirty years have passed since the original members huddled in the firehouse bay. The building is hardly recognizable. Its walls no longer echo. Underfoot there’s carpet, not cold concrete, and the faint aroma of diesel exhaust is gone. So are the original flagpole and the giant chestnut tree. Has anyone ever counted the growth rings in that old stump?


Gone too, are Clubhouse’s founders. Some have moved on to new lives and a few are no longer living. In their place is a new generation, many of whom were not yet born when Alliance House was begun in 1988.


I stopped by a couple of months ago just to see what I could see of a place that I remember fondly. As expected, the Clubhouse has evolved. That’s progress. And it’s a good thing.

Keep on keepin’ on!

Tom Parrish

Member No. 004

By |2018-01-25T18:20:58+00:00January 25th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Recollections from Tom Parrish, longtime member

Dave Harper My Story: volume 2.

Volume 2:


Since I was in the choir, I learned that the school’s upcoming yearly play was “West Side Story”. I tried out, and what do you know, I made it. I played “Doc”, the malt shop owner. That was an amazing year.

About three weeks before summer break, I decided I had had enough abuse and ridicule from my step mother, and longed for the love and acceptance I had found with my mother and her side of the family. I decided to run away from home in K.C., and walked to my mother in Springfield, Missouri, a 400mile trip. I left after my dad went to work at 11:30 P.M. I walked and hitched rides, and walked through my mother’s door at about 7:30 P.M. Needless to say, my mother was a little shocked to see me. I will never forget when my mother brought me back to K.C.

We met my father at the I.H.O.P. in Overland Park, to “exchange me.” When my dad walked in, he sat down at the table, took a breath, looked at me, and said, “Well, it’s obvious, he wants to live with you.” The only snag was I had to stay in K.C. for three weeks to finish out the school year, but that was fine by me. I needed time to pack my life. Then, as if by magic, the day suddenly arrived.

The first day of summer. My dad woke me up that morning, which was very unusual, since they (dad and step mom) rarely ever woke me, as I was pretty much on my own, as far as waking up and getting myself ready for school. The other unusual thing that morning was his tone of his voice. It almost seemed remorseful, or sad. He drove me to the bus station, downtown, and we waited for the bus to arrive. The entire time, I could feel the tension, and sadness, emanating from my father, even at 14, I could identify his sadness. Only at that moment, could I feel my father’s love for me. That was one of only a couple times we touched, he hugged me, and told me he loved me, a phrase I have only heard him express three times in my life. He put me on the bus, and I was off to begin a new chapter in my life. All this sadness and remorseful emotion my dad was emitting was very strange to me, since, up until then, I had NEVER seen this side of him. Up until then, I thought emotions were only for T.V. and movies. I always thought there was something wrong with me, since I was a very emotional child.

This would be the first time I was faced with very real truth, that “wherever you go, there you are”. Meaning, no matter where you run, you always take you with you. Just because you change your location, doesn’t mean you move away from your own self-hatred. It took me until just recently to learn that you can change everything; Jobs, friends, locations, etc. but you can’t change how you feel about yourself.

I also learned something even more powerful, and that is, respect is earned from everyone, including yourself. You have to do things to make yourself like yourself; Finish the things you start, always do the very best you are able, in everything you attempt, treat, and speak to others the way you want to be treated, and when you work, always work to impress the boss, like he’s standing right behind you.

When I came to Springfield, I was so excited, new school, new people, new environment. I thought things would be different, I thought I was leaving all my problems, but, as I would soon learn, my problems moved with me. My isolation and depression came onto me like a raging bull. Strange, new school, strange, new kids. I was not prepared for such a culture change, it was a massive shock, and it never occurred to me to tell someone. I couldn’t find the crowd I fit with, and instinctively went back to what was familiar… Isolation. Despite my mother’s constant attempts to make me go, I just didn’t have the ability. My depression, and my growing fear of life, and success, caused me to give up school, and I isolated for several years.

When I turned 17, I tested for my GED, and enrolled, in Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, Missouri, again with the hopes of change, of a “T.V.” life, where the “happily ever after,” filled my head. Only to find that I took me with me AGAIN. I constantly isolated, only going to my psych classes. By the end of the school year, the administration had expressed their disinterest in seeing me return for future semesters. This closed the chapter in my life of scholastic affairs.

I need to digress, When I was 13, I became a born again Christian. That, in and of itself, was significant enough, but in the hands of an extremist such as myself, I suddenly became a Bible carrying, sermon quoting, Jesus thumping maniac. No one was safe, I suddenly had the unstoppable urge to tell everyone about the, “Cleansing blood of Jesus.” Whether you wanted to hear it or not. The only problem with all that Bible thumping, was that it was just another attempt to run from my own self-hatred. I thought that, “accepting Jesus”, would make me feel like a good person, only to find that, not even Jesus could exempt me from me. While I was in my “Jesus” phase, I went to church like it was going out of style. Every time the doors were open, I was there.

One night, while sitting in the choir loft, I noticed this beautiful woman in the congregation. Long straight, black hair, slender, very outgoing, an angel, sent from heaven to deliver me from this “horrible” life I was living, (Or so I felt). I have to admit she taught me a huge amount in the years I spent with her, both good and bad. At 19, I left Bolivar, school, and Missouri, to try a life in the Rockies.

I moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, to help her and her husband start a church, only to find them in the midst of a failing marriage. I helped keep the house clean, and the kids tended to. I turned 21 in G.J. and dove head first into a full time drinking career. After growing tired of running from myself in Colorado, I ran back to Springfield, to add cocaine and meth to my accolades on my resume of substance abuse career.

It was about this point of my life that I met my future ex-wife, Heather. She and I had ten years together, off and on. We had two of the absolute coolest kids to ever walk the face of the earth. (By the way, if you have kids, and don’t feel like they are the absolute coolest kids to ever walk the face of the earth, then you brought the wrong kids home from the hospital). I have no idea why Heather stayed with me for so long, or why she didn’t beat me to death in my sleep. She stuck with me through a huge amount of verbal abuse, not to mention the drug, and alcohol abuse. Not to mention the total emotional instability, numerous evictions, and countless lost jobs. I really admire her for that. She and I had gone to the same high school together, even knew of each other, but never met. Not until I turned 19, and tried out for a community “Christian” play house, called, “Stained Glass Theater”. They were having auditions for their next play, “The Idle of Sacred Oaks”. I asked her for a date, and the rest is history.

We got married, shot out two kids, and after 10 years, got divorced. I was 30 years old, the worst year of my life. In one month, I got divorced, lost free visitation with my kids, (supervised visitation was probably the smartest idea for me at the time, as I was extremely unstable at the time), lost another job, and found my mother dead on the coach. All in the same month. I had to tell all my relatives that the cornerstone of our family had died.

With all that, I began to listen to the little voices in my head, I call my committee. They were telling me that I didn’t matter one iota to anyone, and that all I brought to people was heartache and misery. One night after a party that me and my roommate had thrown I was very depressed, and had developed a plan to end my life. After everyone had gone, and my room-mate fell asleep, I pulled his car into the garage, locked the front and back doors, left the car on, and waited to die.

What happened next is hazy at best, but the paramedics said that I was found upside down, dangling out the window, my foot having been caught in the seat belt. From what I can gather, I thought that this type of suicide wasn’t working, or it was taking too long, and I lost patience. Either way, I suppose. Instead of just opening the door, I tried to climb out the window. When my head got higher than the roof of the car, where the fumes were thicker, I passed out. I was found hanging upside down, next to the car door, and doctors said that since I was in that position, all the blood rushed to my head, keeping me alive.

According to the nurses, my doctor, and family, I was brain dead for five days. My ex-sister in law told me that the hospital staff had informed them that I was posturing, when your toes point inward. They said that this was a sign of brain damage. The doctor told my family that even if I regained consciousness, I would be in need of constant supervision and care. I would need to be bathed, dressed, fed, and possibly even changed. Despite the doctor’s insistence, my brother refused to allow them to turn off the respirator. For five days, I was kept alive by machines, and for five days, my brother was either working, in the hospital chapel praying, or at my side. I was told that he only went home to shower, and maybe sleep a little. On the fifth day, while my brother kneeled in the chapel, praying, a nurse was tending to me, and doing her morning rounds, while my ex sister-in law, and ex-wife were in the room helping out however they could and, as if I had been awake the whole time, I opened my eyes and sat straight up in bed. Naturally, all three girls were taken completely by surprise. I tried to speak, but since the tracheotomy tube was still in I couldn’t, so the nurse removed it, and tried to get me to speak, to see how extensive my brain damage actually was. I was told that, at first, I refused to speak, only when my brother came into the room did I actually speak. When he came into the room, the nurse asked me if I knew him, that’s when I smiled, and said, “That’s Betty!”. Despite the nurse and doctor’s confusion my family laughed a sigh of relief. That was an old nickname I use to call him several years before.


Stay tuned for part 3…

By |2018-01-10T20:44:34+00:00January 10th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Dave Harper My Story: volume 2.

Role of Member-Leaders in the Clubhouse By Dunc Macdonald

In my niche article, I discussed taking time to do Clubhouse work between my TEs and going to school.   What I was doing was becoming a member-leader which I thought would make me happy.   This task was accomplished by gaining a more in-depth knowledge of the Clubhouse Model.   This process started well before I went to school and continues to this day.

Before I go any further, I must explain a little bit about myself.  I have a mild case of Cerebral Palsy which created a speech impediment and hand-eye coordination issues.   I also have a habit of talking too fast.  I continually work on these challenges.

From the first day I joined Alliance House, I jumped right into the work-ordered day.  The work-ordered day simulates a normal scheduled work day.    My first task was working on billing where I helped my friend, Kent, track members’ hours in the Clubhouse.  I also worked with a staff member, Sue, on the Clubhouse’s statistics where I realized that I still had an interest in working around numbers.   One day while doing these tasks, our Executive Director, Jon Paulding, asked me into his office and had me help him reconcile the Clubhouse’s checkbook by making sure that we weren’t overspending on services, confirming that the account numbers and the amounts were accurate.  This is something that I took ownership of.  This friendship resulted in Jon asking me to co-lead a meeting and I realized that doing this was so fun for me that I kept on leading meetings more and more.     I ended up reconciling the checkbook with all the following directors and helped with meetings as well.  As well, I wanted to learn more about the Clubhouse Model so I started attending Culture Trainings where in-depth discussions were held around how and why Clubhouse works so well.  These discussions led to my realization that the real reason behind the Clubhouse work is to turn every members’ talents into a contribution to the Clubhouse and/or a job in the workforce.  Some members like to sit and watch or just socialize.

By late 2007, I was bored with what I was doing at the Clubhouse and needed a change but didn’t know what until I took a short course around advocating for yourself.  This class helped me to figure out what I needed to take care of my needs for a change.  I didn’t know how to do this until my brother graduated from college.  I realized then it was time for me to go to college, so I came home and started getting ready to go to school in the Accounting Clerk Program at Salt Lake Community College in February 2008. I didn’t realize how much of a challenge I had gotten into but I figured “in for a penny, in for a pound.”   My first two classes were excellent examples of this.  One was a Ten-Key course which was a special type of calculator and the other was keyboarding.   My hand-eye coordination issues made these classes difficult but I muddled through.   I had some really fun classes as well like Excel and PowerPoint.    I also made new friends that helped me with some of my classes and helped me to grow and realize that it takes all kinds of people to make the world work.  I had a good friend in her mid-sixties who was taking a different course. I finished my course in February 2010.

With my new knowledge, I found more interesting projects to help the Clubhouse with.  I started by convincing our director that we needed to upgrade our computers from Microsoft Office 2003 to Microsoft Office 2007.  I also started tutoring members in Math, History and Computers.  My new favorite task became working with the development director with recording and tracking the Clubhouse’s donations.   All of this was good, but I needed something to get me away from the Clubhouse.   In July 2011 Bill Rice started a new business and needed a bookkeeper.  He offered that position to me and it gave me an opportunity to utilize my accounting skills. This also gave me a break from the Clubhouse and added to my financial resources.  I could quench my thirst for something besides the Clubhouse.   I learned more about QuickBooks, Excel and emailing etiquette.

I am now using these skills in a new capacity. This knowledge combined with my ability around teaching others what I already know and completed the member-leader equation for me.

By |2018-01-05T18:35:47+00:00January 5th, 2018|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Role of Member-Leaders in the Clubhouse By Dunc Macdonald

My Story by Tracy Allen

    •  All through my childhood, I struggled with dark and lonely days. My depression left me in a downward spiral, leaving me with nothing but fear. Everything I did, see, and hear constantly scared me. With my PTSD I was stuck in the middle of a nightmare
    • Locked up in my head, I was completely numb. Everything inside of me was dead with no feelings and no life, with no future, my home (shelter) was a dark echoing cave.
    • I would hibernate by closing my eyes and curling up in a ball – from crippling flashbacks; this was going on every frightening hour.
    • In my preteens I was introduced to drugs
    • Unfortunately I slipped even further and got more stuck in my mental illness.
    • Later on in the following months, I became caught up in theft and vandalism. I was feeling suicidal even started cutting. I trusted no one. Thinking everyone was out to hurt me.
    • I was living with Mother at the time but because of my poor choices I could no longer live with her.
    • I received emergency housing. Although I was grateful for a roof over my head I still struggled to pay bills and buy groceries. I didn’t have the skills to understand or keep a budget so I had to have my mother be my representative payee
    • Thankfully, soon after getting emergency house I was able to receive housing through HUD. I was able to move into the cozy apartment I have today.
    • One day in 2007 a nurse at Valley Behavioral Health suggested I check out a place called Alliance House
    • I went to orientation at Alliance House and that day I was able to open my eyes and ears a bit for the first time.
    • I finally found hope – the kind of hope I only heard some people say, but never really felt. I came by the next day still a bit in my shell and a nervous wreck, for I hadn’t experienced this aspect of mental health services before. Through working with members and staff even if for short periods of time, I started building confidence, self-esteem and friendships.
    • Approximately six months later, I started to become comfortable with people and learned how to trust. With the support of members and staff – I have learned many new tools like:
      • Sobriety and wellness
      • Social and behavioral skills with the support of my Clubhouse community.
      • I felt confident enough to try a transitional employment job in the community
      • I worked with staff to find ways to improve my reading comprehension despite my learning disability and
      • I have been given peer leadership and mentoring opportunities
      • And I even got a chance of a lifetime to attend a Clubhouse conference in Hawaii
  • Alliance House not only can provide actual keys for housing which is the reason why we are here today but for me it has provided the keys I needed for my future.
By |2018-01-08T21:14:54+00:00December 26th, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on My Story by Tracy Allen




4/14/1955 – 12/20/2016


By |2017-12-21T22:31:38+00:00December 21st, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on I WILL REMEMBER DENIS BOUCHER

SLCC and Me by Dunc Macdonald

In my last article, I talked about going to school as part of the hunt for your professional niche and now, I’m going to go more in-depth on that subject.

In February 2008, I started school at the Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah. While there, I hit on some of my challenges but I also discovered that I have some excellent abilities as well. I am writing this to encourage fellow members to go after their employment dreams as I did.

My entire life I have had Cerebral Palsy which has created hand-eye coordination problems and I also have a speech impediment.   In addition to this, I have schizophrenia. I came from a very supportive family. I was able to graduate from high school in 1993. Through hard work and dedication, I have discovered that I am much more than these labels.

In early 2002, I was offered a Transitional Employment Placement as a research technician at the Administration Building of Valley Mental Health (now called Valley Behavioral Health) through Alliance House. I also did a group placement at Frito Lay. From then until late 2007, I learned a number of skills at Alliance House.   I continued to reconcile the Alliance House checkbook which kept my interest in numbers satisfied. I also started leading meetings around the Clubhouse.   I went back to helping Kent, a Clubhouse member, with billing from time to time as well. I also discovered my interest in getting new members oriented into the Clubhouse world. Between ending my TEs and starting college, I sharpened my skills.   I learned how to be a member leader and facilitate meetings. I also learned about mentoring new members.

In late 2006, I realized that I wanted to do more with my life than just dead-end jobs.   Seeing my brother graduate from college helped me to make this decision, but the major factor was that I was ready for a new challenge. While preparing to go back to school, I had to decide whether to go the traditional route or to go through the Skills Center (School of Applied Technology) at Salt Lake Community College and get done much faster. I chose the Skills Center. The next question was my major.   I thought back to an accounting course I took my senior year at Boise High School in Boise, Idaho and came to the decision to do the Accounting Clerk Certificate Program.

The next hurdle was figuring out how to do college work and continue to be a valued member of Alliance House.   This was a tough one for me but eventually I realized that I had to take care of me. Part of going back to school was taking a TABE Test that was a placement test. I scored low on the Reading section and did a remedial class that slowed me down on my classes towards my certificate. However, in February 2008, I started classes at Salt Lake Community College to learn accounting. The first class at SLCC was a real challenge. It was Ten-Key, which was difficult with my poor hand-eye coordination; but I muddled through with lots of practice. My family was always there for me. While in school, Mom and my brother both assisted me with my Business Communications class which was basically English, my filing class and also my Accounting simulation which helped me get ready for my Accounting final. I was also taking my Business Communications, or English requirement, and this is where Amber, A Clubhouse staff, really became a life saver.   She and another favorite teacher, Judy, helped with definitions and spelling.

Along with great instructors and staff, many members of Alliance House were instrumental with my learning experience. I remember one in particular who started calling me, “Education” when I started school and the nickname stuck all the way through the two years it took me obtain my certificate. Through all this time, members were interested in how I was doing. I remember one day at SLCC, we had an hour-long power outage. Then the computer I was working on at school wouldn’t work for me. This was annoying because of the challenging spreadsheet project I was working on. I was very irritated by all this. When I got to Alliance House that afternoon, one of the staff started playfully joking with me, and called me Cranky Pants. While working on a project in the business unit, we talked about what happened in class. The combination of staff members’ willingness to distract me from my problems and the work in the unit lifted my spirits. Another huge help was my good friend and mentor, Katie Lorz, a former staff member, took me under her wing and together we learned Excel and Corporate Accounting. One of my teachers, also helped me by teasingly saying “Q” when I had a question as a joke.

When I started school, I was looking for a challenge, but I didn’t anticipate how much of a challenge I was in for. I figured ‘in for a penny in for a pound.’ My entire time at school, I would get up at 5:30 in the morning to finish homework for that day.   Also, there were days when the computer would not cooperate. I remember one time where the computer in my QuickBooks class wasn’t working properly because the school forgot to pay for service which took half of the day to get fixed. Early on, I would not mark in my textbooks where I left off the day before and would have to find my place, but I fixed that quickly by marking my place.

There were real fun times as well. For example, I got my picture taken for a poster at the college for the Disability Resource Center where I got some assistance with my classes. I also got to meet many interesting people.   One specific person was a woman who was in her sixties who was taking classes to be an Office Clerk.

The Disability Resource Center helped me to get accommodations so that I could get a fair chance at school.   They gave me a reader-scribe that would read me test questions and write my answers. I was also given double time on testing.

I feel that if you want to go to college, you should go for it. There is some blood, sweat and tears but it is also a fabulous opportunity to meet new people and get new perspectives on life.

By |2017-12-06T21:15:38+00:00December 6th, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on SLCC and Me by Dunc Macdonald

Meet our new Culinary Unit Staff!

Our Ladies in the Kitchen

We asked our ladies that now run the Culinary Unit some questions to get to know them better and this is what they had to say:

  • How did you hear about Alliance House?


Both Angelica and Alice found Alliance House while looking for employment on the web.

  • How are things going in the Culinary Unit?


Angelica says it’s going really smooth and she likes that.

Alice said It’s going well. It’s been fun trying new recipes and sharing life over cooking.

  • Did you know anyone with mental illness before you started working here at AH?


Angelica didn’t know anyone with mental health issues.

Alice on the other hand had done an internship at St. Mark’s Psych Unit.

  • Have any of your ideas about mental illness changed since you started working here?


For Angelica they really haven’t because she has always believed that all people should have the same opportunities as others have and be treated with the same respect.

As for Alice it sure did. She has learned that mental illness is much more common than society makes it seem and there are such varying degrees.

  • What are some challenges of working here?


Angelica’s personal challenges are getting people involved in the work ordered day because she is so use to working alone, but she is finding it very exciting to work with members as a team.

Alice finds it hard to balance time management and make it meaningful at the same time.

  • What are some things that you like about working here at AH?


Angelica loves that it is a sense of community, family, friendship, and support for each other. It’s also a place of learning.

Alice loves the members and the staff. She enjoys helping others see their abilities and strengths.

  • What kinds of things do you do in your spare time?


Angelica likes to practice and play her violin, play her guitar, and play the piano. She likes to play board games with her husband and loves to dance.

Alice loves being in the mountains and mountain biking. She loves spending time with family and friends.

  • If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go?


Angelica would love to travel to Mexico.

Alice would love to go to Chili to explore the Andes.

By Nicole Ferguson and Trudy Bangert

By |2017-12-29T22:30:57+00:00November 15th, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet our new Culinary Unit Staff!

Niche Article, Part II by Dunc Macdonald

After my schooling, I thought that my challenges were over, but I was so wrong. The job search process was nerve-racking.  Alliance House Supported and Independent Employment Coordinator, Luisa, set to work teaching me more about the job search process. This included inquiry letters, mock interviews, and cover letters, and most importantly, in my opinion, networking.   I learned that an inquiry letter is a document in which you identify your skillset to a company and ask if they have a position for you.   I was also taught how to do a mock interview where you sharpen your presentation for the real thing.  This is different for each person based on their own situation.  For me, it was slowing down my speech and not fidgeting.  Another thing that I learned was how to create a cover letter.   The most important lesson was how to network.   This is done by getting to know people who can help you look for the job type and industry that you want to get involved with.

In December 2010, I got a job as a document shredder with Valley Services through Jeremy who had changed jobs and wanted to give me a chance there.  I held this job for about four months. Then I had a bad fall that dislocated my left shoulder and that ended my job and made me feel discouraged.  After my recovery, I spent the next 4 months in a fruitless search for a job.   By this point I was just about ready to give up.  One day in early July, Luisa came to me and told me that one of our board members, Bill Rice, was starting a social media business and was coming to Alliance House for lunch that day.  I jumped at the opportunity and by the end of lunch, I had my first accounting job as his bookkeeper!!!

After getting my job, I discovered an even bigger challenge.   Between 2008 and 2011, there were a lot of changes to QuickBooks that I learned partially through Bill and partially through researching on my own in Google and E-how.com.  Bill instructed me how to create checks and design invoices the way he, and his company, needed them done.  My biggest hurdle was learning how to do bank reconciliations in the desktop version of QuickBooks, which I successfully learned.

As I said in the beginning, you will be spending almost 50 years of your life working, so it makes sense to find your niche and do something that you really love. Regardless of what your passion is, don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way. I now have a job that challenges me on a regular basis and am so grateful for the opportunity that Bill Rice gave me.  I know that I have a long way to go, but I also know that I have come a long way, and I’m enjoying the ride.  I am grateful for my education that showed me that even though I have disabilities, I also have the capability to conquer my disabilities and learn the skills I need to continue my trek.  Before coming to Alliance House, I felt my chance at being an asset to society were over. Instead, members of Alliance House and staff, showed me that I still had strengths, talents and abilities that I just needed to harness. Through the Salt Lake Community College and on the job, I honed my skills in QuickBooks, Microsoft Office and business communications.

I hope that this will light the fire within you and help you find your calling.



By |2017-10-25T19:45:09+00:00October 2nd, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Niche Article, Part II by Dunc Macdonald

The Niche Hunt, Part 1 by Duncan Macdonald

My name is Duncan and I have been a member of the Alliance House Clubhouse for 17 years.  I feel that it is vital for each member to find their professional niche and get a job that they love doing and can do well.  After all, people will spend over half of their lives working (from ages 18-67, which is 49 years). For some people a job like dishwashing makes them happy, but in the end what is important is that you find a meaningful way to spend your life and, if possible, contribute to society

Before joining the Clubhouse World, I spent a number of years doing manual labor and became bored with it.    I needed something more challenging than the manual labor jobs that were often thrown my way.    I tried working extra shifts and covering for co-workers, but that didn’t make me happy.   I needed a new challenge to achieve a sense of accomplishment, which I knew would make me happy.   The best example of this was my HomeTown Buffet job as a Dishwasher/Line Server.   I would regularly work my shift and then be asked to work an extra one in return for getting an hour or longer break in between the shifts.  This made me popular with the staff and allowed me to earn extra money to spend on myself and my friends.

I found that happiness in becoming an extremely valuable member of the Alliance House   Clubhouse and discovering that I was a person with strengths, talents and abilities in Accounting and other areas.  My first task that I did in the Clubhouse’s Business Unit was tracking member hours in Alliance House’s billing system where I met one of my best friends, Kent.  Another thing I did was the Clubhouse’s statistics, which taught me new computer processes with one of my favorite staff members in the same unit, Sue H.   One day while working in that unit, our director asked me to come into the administrative office.  I thought that I was somehow in trouble, but instead he wanted me to learn how to reconcile the Alliance House’s checkbook that was something that I loved doing on a bi-weekly basis.  I also learned to socialize and I gained leadership skills that I use to this day.   During this time, I focused a lot of my energy on the operations of the Clubhouse instead of focusing on myself.  In mid-2007, I took a course called, “The Campaign for Self-Advocacy: Training the Trainers” which taught me about taking care of your own needs first.  During this course, I realized that I wasn’t happy with where my life was going and needed a change.

After my brother graduated from college, I realized that it was my turn.  My adventure into Accounting started in the summer of 2007.   It began during a road trip to visit my family.   I was sitting in the car and declared that I wanted to go back to college and study Accounting.   My mom was amazed, pleased, and very supportive of this decision. A number of factors went into my decision.  One was a high school elective class in Accounting, and on an aptitude test I took in Wyoming where I scored highest in Accounting.  Finally, my love of doing projects around numbers made my choice clear. However, this decision presented a personal dilemma.   How was I going to go back to school and retain my status as a member of the Clubhouse?

This was resolved in two ways.  My Clubhouse family helped me to realize that I needed to stop taking care of everyone else and take care of myself first.  As I started classes, I figured out that with a little creativity I could retain my status at Alliance House.  I did this by spending a certain amount of time each day helping the Clubhouse and the rest of the time utilizing the Education Room with staff members who would assist me with my homework during the day.  A great example of this was an agreement that I made with our director, Jeremy, which was every other Friday morning I would reconcile the checkbook with him on my day off from classes.  He also assisted me with my Windows XP class and allowed Amber and Katie to work with me during the work-ordered day.

In February 2008, I joined the Accounting Clerk Program at Salt Lake Community College.  I have experienced the change of going from a job that didn’t make me happy to finding a place in my career.  These experiences afforded me the understanding I didn’t need to remain in a job I considered mind-numbing and boring.  I found my place where I fit in and can contribute best to society.  My experience at Salt Lake Community College was invaluable to me.  My first Accounting class was really challenging.   It was Ten-Key which is a special calculator that has a tape on it that puts every entry on the paper.   With my hand tremor, it made the class work very difficult but with each class I took, I became more and more interested in rejoining the workforce in Accounting.   It quenched my thirst for more knowledge.  It also made me realize that you can go to school at any age like my friend that was in her mid-60s and taking classes.  I was also able to show my classmates and teachers that I was capable of doing well in my courses even with my mental illness. But enough about me for the moment, let’s talk about the process for finding your professional niche.

There are different ways of figuring out what you like doing and what you are good at.  You can go online and read about the jobs that fit with your interests, or that contain your skillset.  The best bet in my opinion is taking an interest test either at an employment assistance program or online.   I took one of these and it recommended my skillset.  Your next step is determining if you have all of the skills necessary to do the job that you come up with.  In some cases, you may need schooling to acquire the necessary skills.

There are many barriers to going back to school, yet there are also many avenues for help. Often money is one the largest barriers to returning to school, but luckily there are options for dealing with that.  In my case, the local Department of Vocational Rehabilitation paid for my entire education.  I also had to get hooked up with the college’s Disability Resource Center which meant a bunch of doctor’s appointments and information releases.

I also know that the commitment to school in itself is not an easy one, you have to focus on the prize at the end, a career that you love.   Don’t let me mislead you, there will be days when you want to quit, but if you do, you will only be hurting yourself.  I was fortunate enough to have great tutors that helped me to keep my eye on the prize, Amber and Katie.    Amber helped me with my Remedial Reading and Business Communications (English) classes.    She helped me with the vocabulary area.  On a couple of occasions, she helped me to tell the difference between two words that had really close definitions.  When I took my placement test, I scored in the 4th Grade reading level.  Lucky for me, I was able to start my accounting classes at the same time as taking this class.  Katie assisted me with Excel and Corporate Accounting.    She spent countless hours helping me with my homework in the Education Room to learn the ins and outs of both.  She even took time on weekends to help me.   Some members helped me as well, Jeff who would tease me by calling me “Education” and our staff members were also keeping a constant watch on me as well.  My mom and older brother were a significant help also.  Sometimes it was just letting me talk about what I was learning and other times it was helping me to study.

There will also be days when you are so grateful for sticking with it.  One of my best days at Salt Lake Community College was when I got a 97% on an Accounting test. I was jazzed because when I left school after taking the test I was positive that I had flunked it.  I know that you will also have times that are really challenging.   One of mine was taking an Excel test on formulas.  My brain totally froze and I couldn’t remember anything.  I got something like a 30% on that test.   I felt unprepared and I didn’t know where to go next. After I talked to my Disability Resource Center Counselor at Salt Lake Community College, Jake, I realized that I needed to dig into my studies and really focus.    What stopped me was the fact that I had put in almost a year and didn’t want all that time and energy to go to waste.  After that experience, I really started studying at home as well as at Alliance House with the support of tutors.  In preparation for my final, I was given a simulation where I was on the job for a month and one of my favorite staff tutors, Katie, helped me with it and even worked with me on the weekends.

In February 2010 I earned my Accounting Clerk Certificate which was super exciting!!!!

(To be continued)

By |2017-09-20T17:26:55+00:00September 20th, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The Niche Hunt, Part 1 by Duncan Macdonald

How I came to Alliance House by Kim Smith

Hello my name is Kim Smith I have been a member of Alliance House for almost a year now. When I first arrived at Alliance House for a walk-through and orientation I felt lost, alone and scared out of my wits. I eventually I found my place here and I now feel safe and accepted. Because of some past experiences which had the possibility of following me here to Utah I had difficulty finding a place to live. Within eight months I was offered and accepted nice and affordable housing right next door to Alliance House where I can feel safe. My goal in life has been to be my own independent boss and to run my own restaurant business and to help others like me. I enrolled in Spice Kitchen Incubator, a culinary art program, which teaches by example and instruction how to start a business, offers startup cost after completion of the program, as well as all the cooking and business skills necessary to run a restaurant. This includes advertising, balancing of books and ledgers and best start up practices. Alliance House continues to help others like me find themselves and their way in life. Alliance House has provided me with so much I can never repay. They have helped me with school, housing and an ability to feel safe and live on my own again.

By |2017-08-24T17:47:16+00:00August 24th, 2017|Uncategorized|Comments Off on How I came to Alliance House by Kim Smith