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MHA Receives Workforce Development Grant

The Mental Health Association celebrated a $500,000 grant award Tuesday for its workforce development and reemployment programs for people who have struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. The Mental Health Association has partnered with programs like Father Bernard’s Blessed Biscuits to provide individuals with skills needed to rejoin the community workforce. State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, is pictured with Steven Cobb, Mental Health Association executive director. Submitted photo

The Mental Health Association celebrated a $500,000 grant Tuesday that will help expand its workforce development and workforce reemployment programs for individuals who have struggled with mental health and substance abuse.

“MHA is excited to receive the ARC Inspire Grant,” Steven Cobb said. “We will now be able to bring an increased level of staffing of individuals with lived experience in recovery to support Chautauqua County that allows others not in the workforce to focus on vocational goals and for the first time offers businesses support for employees experiencing substance abuse challenges.”

MHA has partnered with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown to support Father Bernard’s Blessed Biscuits, which is meant to help recovering individuals learn practical skills and social skills to prepare them to join the workforce.

The Mental Health Association previously received $1 million from the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. The $500,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will help the Mental Health Association continue to expand its workforce development program and impact the Jamestown community.

The Rev. Luke Fodor, founder of Father Bernard’s Blessed Biscuits, said the initial grant in 2018 helped MHA expand into peer supported employment services. He explained each of the peer coaches employed by the Mental Health Association have experienced a diagnosis of mental illness or had an experience with “chaotic drug usage and chemical dependency.”

Kim Lombard, Mental Health Association board president, is pictured during a celebration of a $500,000 grant the association has received. Submitted photo

“They have that lived experience and now they’re in a space where they have moved beyond and are trying to give back to the community,” Fodor said. “Having a lived experience with those realities, changes how you do your work, and so you can coach not from the outside and tell people, ‘This is what’s wrong with you,’ but you can be there and say, ‘I’m with you.'”

According to Fodor and Cobb, the latest grant will concentrate on the expansion of job training as well as supporting businesses that work with individuals struggling with substance abuse or recovering from substance abuse.

Fodor said people in recovery often have critical gaps in their work history and resume that are caused by prolonged periods of falling out of the workforce; however, he explained it is crucial for individuals in recovery to have jobs that give them a meaningful daily experience and a way to contribute to society.

“The MHA has created a couple of different programs to help with that,” he said. “This grant is designed to help create an ecosystem of recovery.”

The $500,000 grant the MHA received will help ensure that each of the individuals receiving workforce training at the MHA will receive the skills they need to be hired by other businesses in the community.

Fodor said the grant also highlights the importance of the community working together to help individuals who have struggled with mental health and substance abuse to become successful members of the community.

“This grant is designed to build a coalition with employers, with churches with the whole community to help them create a space where we can have a compassionate heart to understand that lived experience,” he said. “It creates a whole system where the grant then is not about just taking care of those people but realizing that these are our people.”

Father Bernard’s Blessed Biscuits is one of the main programs currently available in Jamestown for recovering individuals to develop skills and receive workforce training. Part of the grant will be used to expand the work of Father Bernard’s Blessed Biscuits, which is a ministry Fodor had recently told The Post-Journal he wanted to see expand.

Fodor said Father Bernard’s Blessed Biscuits helps people not just learn skills required in the workforce, but also the social skills that are needed to be successful in a work environment.

“It’s that kind of level of work that this grant will allow, a sustained presence to kind of really help train up the workforce that we have here,” Fodor said. “I think that’s an important asset and gift to our community.”

The grant also will provide funding for a full-time MHA employee to oversee its workforce development program. While Fodor said the work of this employee will be a difficult task, he explained it is essential for the success of the program.

In addition to the impact the MHA’s grant will have on people recovering from mental health or substance abuse challenges, Fodor said the grant will benefit the workforce of the Jamestown region, which he said was in “desperate need” of employees.

“That’s kind of what this grant does for us,” he said. “It’s a game changer in a way to allow us to really engage with our workforce and underutilized portions of our workforce.”

Although the grant is expected to bring positive changes to the area, Fodor warned that good work often takes time and results cannot be demanded overnight. The work of the Mental Health Association and partnership organizations like Father Bernard’s Blessed Biscuits will take time, but with the proper funding and programming, Fodor believes the community will be able to help those who are ‘marginalized’ to ‘feel seen.’

“Our whole community often feels marginalized,” he said. “We feel left behind here in Western New York. The fact that the federal government’s saw fit to see us, I think, is an immediate impact. It helps us to realize that we’re not alone. Instead of panicking or being too anxious, we can realize that the resources are there. It takes time, but we’re working on it.’

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