Livingston County program helps mentally ill find work
Fowlerville – — Jim Koronich was a successful masonry contractor before mental illness derailed his business — and his life — several years ago.
“When I became ill, I lost everything,” he said.
Koronich was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. People with the condition can experience a combination of schizophrenia symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions, as well as mood-disorder symptoms such as mania or depression, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
Though Koronich later got divorced, his wife and family were supportive when he became ill, he said, eventually getting him help from Community Mental Health Services of Livingston County.
“I moved into temporary housing through CMH,” he said. “It was at that time that my wife and I began to separate. So basically, I was homeless, I had lost my wife, and I was no longer employed.”
Today, Koronich is working and getting his life back together with the help of CMH’s Genesis House, a community center for those dealing with mental illnesses. A Genesis House job program helps find members transitional employment with several local business partners.
Koronich, 51, has been a member of Genesis House for more than a year and has been working as a shop assistant at Camper/Trailer Parts & Repair near Fowlerville. He also has started taking classes at Lansing Community College.
The Howell resident told his story of recovery last month at a ceremony that honored Genesis House members and the program’s business partners.
“Jim gives one of the most moving speeches you will hear on mental health recovery. I’ve heard it three times, and it always brings tears to my eyes,” said Mike Leahy, employment coordinator at Genesis House.
The Genesis House program has 60 active members, and 38 percent of them are working — a much higher percentage than the 8 percent to 12 percent employment rate among the overall population dealing with mental health issues.
Leahy said about two-thirds of Genesis House members want to work, so finding more business partners is one of his goals.
“We know that with or without mental illness, working has a very positive effect on mental health and quality of life, so it’s important to have these opportunities available,” Leahy said.
Genesis House statistics show that 59 percent of its members in the past three years who completed a transitional employment assignment — generally part-time work for six to nine months — successfully moved on to a job of their own. And 100 percent of those members are still employed.
“Genesis House was a godsend,” Koronich said. “When I first began at Genesis House, I was basically dysfunctional to the point where I wasn’t really fit for society. I needed to be able to learn the basic living skills all over again — being around other people, interacting socially, forming relationships, that type of thing.”
As a shop assistant at Camper/Trailer Parts & Repair, Koronich said he performs a variety of tasks, from stocking parts to janitorial work to assisting mechanics.
“He’s doing a great job,” said Doug Walters, owner of Camper/Trailer Parts & Repair.
While Walters said he has supported Genesis House financially for several years, this is the first year his business has become a partner in the transitional employment program.
“I have a good friend with a son who has limited mental capacity, and he works full time at a grocery store. He’s a great kid who wants to learn, so we thought we could do something like that here, too,” Walters said.
“Everyone needs a hand now and then,” he added.
Centurion Medical Products in Howell has been a business partner in the transitional employment program since 1996, putting more than 30 Genesis House members to work. Some of them have gone on to become full-time employees at Centurion after their nine-month stints in the program.
“They just need some help to get acclimated back into the workforce, and it helps them become productive citizens,” said Rod Severn, plant manager at Centurion.
Tom Kerr, production manager at Centurion, said the program gives the workers self-confidence, too.
“Whatever issues these individuals may have, getting them back into a work atmosphere where they socialize with other co-workers, it helps them out on a real personal level,” Kerr said.
Koronich said he would someday like to become involved with social work and help others who suffer from mental illness.
“I want to show people that there is hope,” he said. “One thing I’d like people to know is if you feel like you are experiencing something unusual and don’t really understand why, there is help available. You don’t have to go through it alone.”