“I am a Member of Alliance House, and I want to give thankfulness for the opportunity to live in Alliance House property. Alliance House is just up the street from where I live. It’s my comfort zone and most of the time there is someone I can talk to. At Alliance House, they’ve given me an education and employment training. I am better able to take care of myself with the support of staff and others, and I’ve made new friends.”
“At the age of 11, I was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor that nearly took my life. With great luck and many blessings, my tumor was removed. However, severe headaches and epilepsy caused severe depression, anxiety and suicide attempts. That required a great deal of therapy, anti-depression medication and ECT treatment. I see a therapist weekly where I am able to talk about my problems. I am now able to go to a place called Alliance House, where I am able to be among friends and not worry about my problems anymore.”
“I graduated in business from Montana State University and moved to Salt Lake where I worked for eight years at a local bank. Then bipolar disorder struck, leaving me jobless and homeless. Now a Member of Alliance House, I’ve increased my skills, obtained a job, and moved into an apartment. I receive staff support, make friends, and am constructive when I attend Alliance House. It’s made a huge positive difference for me.”
While growing up in Albany, California, I was the kid that everyone said “Hi” to while walking down the street. I had a lot of acquaintances but only two real friends, Billy and Robert. I remember how whenever we would have a one-night sleepover planned it would turn into spending the weekend playing together. We would be up to the early morning and then sleep-in until eleven or noon. I also remember that Billy and I went to Oakland a couple times. Twice we were able to attend Oakland A’s games together. I also remember playing role playing games like Champions and Dungeons & Dragons until all hours of the morning.
While growing up, my family was a big help. I remember Mom and I would play a modified Jeopardy game with spelling words. We also would go would on trips to Booneville where my Mom’s boyfriend, Howard, had some property. I would have fun exploring and playing Star Wars as if I was on Endor. Howard and I would also go see movies and do other stuff. He had me collecting coins for a while.
My Dad was a major influence on my life when I was growing up and got me interested in writing. I spent a lot of time on dinosaur bone hunting trips while growing up. My brother and I would do stuff like count railroad cars and make truckers honk their horns at us. When I was six, my family took a trip to England and Scotland. One of my favorite memories is seeing the Red Arrows, the British air demonstration team on maneuvers. Another was playing the slot machine in Scotland.
When I was five, my parents divorced. As a result, I spent the school year with Mom in Albany, California and holidays in Rapid City, South Dakota with Dad. In 9th grade Mom remarried and we moved to Grangeville, Idaho for 9th and 10th grade and I finished high school in Boise, Idaho.
During my elementary school years, I did well in my classes. I was lucky enough to have teachers who really liked teaching in an imaginative way. My favorite was Maggie Shepheard in 4th and 5th Grade. The coolest part of the whole two years was a roleplaying game about being pioneers during the Westward Expansion. My class was divided up into groups where we decided everything from what to buy for trip to what to do during the trip. There were always realistic perils and rewards along the way.
During 7th and 8th Grades, I was just plain not interested in school. I hated all of my classes except my elective class as a volunteer at a child care center up the street from Albany Junior High School. I loved the kids and they loved me.
During 9th and 10th Grades, I was in Grangeville, Idaho. School there was a living hell. I constantly teased. The only fun parts of the whole experience was are trips with my stepfather, J.C. and Mom We went to the Oregon coast and back to California to visit my best friend, Billy. The best part of the Oregon trip was throwing pieces of pizza crust to our dog, Hannibal, who was in the back of our Bronco. I think my favorite memory was to dig for gold. We were knee-deep in mud and I loved it. J.C. also helped me get my first paying job at Mount Rushmore near where my Dad lived.
We moved to Boise, Idaho for my Junior and Senior years of high school. Everyone was much more accepting of me and my disabilities. I found classes that I really loved. My favorite was Government since I knew that stuff well and got into lively debates in class. I also loved US History. My teacher would use interesting movies about the different time periods and then have discussions about the movie and how it connected to that part of history. As a final review, we did a Jeopardy game with different parts of history.
What really got me interested in school at all was being on the wrestling as a trainer my junior year and as a wrestler my senior year. I didn’t do well myself, but loved watching and interacting with my teammates.
When I was 18, my parents insisted that I start college so I moved into the dorms. I had no idea what I was going to do for a major while in school, nor what I wanted to do with my life. I started spending more time playing card games and cutting classes which got me suspended. This really made my folks mad, especially J.C., my stepfather. My relationship with him really soured.
I moved back in with my folks. I eventually got hooked up with Vocational Rehabilitation of Wyoming and found an okay job at Hometown Buffet in Casper as a Line Server and Dishwasher with Voc. Rehab’s help. I wasn’t crazy about working, so at first I ignored my appointment which further strained my relationship with my parents. Luckily for me, I made two good friends in the dish room: Jeff, the manager, and a nice kid named Ron. I had an especially good relationship with both of them because I was a hard worker and would cover shifts for my co-workers. I even did split shifts. After a rocky start at this job, my willingness to work hard and cover shifts made me popular and got me away from J.C. and Mom. It was not until after my stepfather past away that I found out from Mom that J.C. really liked me and was proud of me.
In the mid-90s, my mental illness kicked in and I started to act really weird. Apparently, I was acting like a robot and taking long midnight strolls all over Casper. Mom was very concerned and started taking me to doctors. I was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and put on heavy drugs and I spent time at a group home as well as an adult day care center. While at the adult day care, I spent some time in groups but then went to playing card games. I ran into Robert Axlund, a counselor there. We became fast friends and he became one of my confidants. He helped me get my dishwashing job back in 1999 and into an apartment close to work. His favorite saying was “Do it now.” We also spent about a year in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where I worked as a dishwasher at Taco John’s.
My memory of my early days at Alliance House starting around 2001 is fragmented due to the fact that I was highly medicated and basically a zombie. One memory that I do have from those days is working on billing for the Clubhouse with my good friend, Kent. Back then, all members signed in on an attendance sheet at the reception desk. The names were then recorded and given to the Business Unit. While doing this task on almost a daily basis, I proved myself as a dedicated and hard worker. I also worked with our then Executive Director, Jon Paulding, and he asked me to help him reconcile the Alliance House checkbook. This was because he recognized my interest in numbers and accounting. All of the future directors continued helping me to build on those skills.
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). I sent out and recorded information from surveys that I mailed out to VBH clients. I also recorded their responses on the comments section of the same surveys. I had a good time at this position and there was so much downtime I was able to read three novels while working there. This position ended in June 2002.
In December 2002, I was given an opportunity to work a group placement position at Frito Lay. A group placement is a job where a group of members work the same job with a staff member onsite to supervise and help. The duties at that job included breaking down and organizing boxes for shipment to the surrounding area. This job ended in May 2003.
Until late 2006, I was happy with being a full-time member of the Clubhouse. I worked on controlling my speech speed and leadership skills by assisting in the facilitating of meetings around Alliance House. I can remember some really passionate discussions around certain issues around the house.
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 and get done much faster. I chose the Skills Center. The next question was my major. I thought back to an elective accounting course I took my senior year at Boise High School 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 myself. 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 2007, I started classes at Salt Lake Community College and started to learn accounting. The first class at SLCC was a real challenge. It was Ten-Key, which was really difficult with my poor hand-eye coordination; but I muddled through with lots of practice. At this point, I was taking a remedial Reading Course to bone up on my reading and comprehension skills. My next classes were Microsoft XP and Customer Service. I sailed through my XP class, but really struggled with the grammar part of my Customer Services class. Amber Mackay, an Alliance House staff member, saved me on that one by working feverishly with my spelling and definitions.
While attending SLCC, I also attended a bi-weekly workshop at the Columbus Center library in Salt Lake, where I got a chance to try my hand at writing children’s stories. I am to this day working on a story that is about a little boy who has been conditioned to think like a robot and has a special code for doing things. I have actually changed up some recently so that he is an alien creature that has the body of a small child and the mental abilities of a 6th Grader.
In July 2007, I took a short course on self-advocacy presented by Mack Gift at the Mental Health Association of Utah. It was called, “The Campaign for Self Advocacy; Training the Trainers.” This course enhanced my skills in advocating for myself and helping others how to do the same.
Before I go any further, I want to thank Jeremy Christensen for letting me “borrow” his staff. Jeremy was the second director of Alliance House when I had the opportunity to work with. He and I hit it right off. I helped him find a good name for his Executive Director article, Jeremy’s Sound Byte. I helped him find his place in Alliance House and he helped me learn computer stuff and some social skills.
I pretty much breezed through my Microsoft Word class. My next class was Excel. I did a good job in that class with the exceptions of formulas and grouping which I picked up on later on. This is where Dee Ann, the instructor, enters the story by helping me with my Excel class. Dee Ann became one of my favorite teachers. She helped me a lot with one of my Accounting courses, including Sole Proprietorships. That means that there are only one or two owners in a business. This part of the curriculum gave me nightmares, but I struggled through.
I was also taking my Business Communications, or English requirement, and this is where Amber really became a life saver. She and another favorite teacher, Judy, helped with definitions and spelling. I also struggled with a required typing class. This is where my hand-eye coordination issue really showed its ugly head. It was my only really bad score. I hated that class.
At this point, I had a new Accounting teacher. I remember that when I raised my hand for help or told him that I had a question, and his first response was “Q” as a joke. This made me laugh. He made this class fun for me and was really helpful. This is where Katie Lorz, a former staff member, entered the picture. She took me under her wing and we learned Corporate Accounting together.
I also took a filing course, PowerPoint and QuickBooks that I figured out relatively easily. Erin, a Business Unit staff member, taught me about PowerPoint and made it fun. That may be why it was one of my favorite classes. My final courses, Corporate Accounting and QuickBooks, ended in February 2010.
Along with these 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 to get my certificate. Through all of 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, Erin 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 key element in my education was the staff of the Disability Resource Center. My counselor Jake and my reader-scribe Josh helped me stick with my courses and supported me, especially with my typing issue. Josh’s part was reading questions to me off of tests and then writing in my answers on the exams. Jake’s role was to make sure that I got the right supports to compensate for my disabilities That is how I grew as an individual, with help from Alliance House and Salt Lake Community College. Another cool thing that happened was that Josh and I were highlighted in a poster for the Disability Resource Center.
After graduating from SLCC, I spent the next five months looking for a job. During this time, I learned a lot of job searching from Luisa. Luisa was the SE/IE coordinator at Alliance House. She spent countless hours helping me to refine my employment skills. Luisa taught me about how to format my resume by putting the most important skills on the top and far left columns of my skills list. She also helped me to refine my interviewing skills including not fidgeting and talking slow enough to be understood. Luisa also showed me how to create a letter of inquiry and “thank you” emails.
While searching for a job, my friend, Pat, offered me a volunteer position as the consumer advocate for the Salt Lake County Behavioral Services Advisory Council, which I have kept to this day. In that role, I get to share my feelings about issues on the county level.
Jeremy Christensen left Alliance House for a new position as Executive Director of Valley Services. In December 2010, he hired me as a document shredder. I kept this job for only 4 months due to dislocating my shoulder. While there I learned about how to destroy confidential documents and I also learned my limitations for lifting things.
After my injury healed, a former board member of Alliance House, Bill Rice, started a new business and needed a bookkeeper. Within a lunch period at Alliance House, I had my first accounting job which I have kept for over 4 years now. He’s a great boss. His two best qualities in my mind are his flexibility and patience. He realizes that Alliance House is important to me but so is my job. He also allows for a reasonable amount of on-the-job training. One of the biggest challenges on the job is reconciling his bank accounts so that task is being reassigned. This job has taught me that I do have some limitations that I simply have to recognize and find ways to compensate for, such as my lousy handwriting. To compensate, I print out checks and deposit slips instead of doing them by hand.