Back to Work

Ms. D had worked for the New York State Board of Education for over two decades as a teacher’s assistant before bipolar disorder sent her life spiraling out of control.

Her undiagnosed illness struck so suddenly, she wasn’t able to advocate for herself. She lost her apartment, most of her possessions, and the job she loved. Feeling ashamed and abandoned by her friends and family, she didn’t know where to turn.

“When I lost my job I felt hopeless and lost,” Ms. D says. “I felt like I was crippled and I could no longer walk the path that I had walked for 21 years.”

Her first turning point was accepting her illness, deciding that it wouldn’t control her life, and getting on medication.  Then, after six months of homelessness, Ms. D came to a Project Renewal shelter and told our counselors that she wanted to teach again.

She joined our Next Step Assisted Competitive Employment (ACE) program, which prepares people with mental illness for employment, helps place them in competitive jobs, and provides extensive follow-up support.

Ms. D faced an added challenge: the requirements for teacher’s assistant jobs had changed since she was first hired. But she was highly motivated to get back to doing the work she loved. Our ACE counselors helped her enroll in six intensive workshops to satisfy the new requirements. She studied in the shelter and our Next Step computer labs whenever she could, and passed her exams with excellent scores.

As a result of her determination, Ms. D received numerous job offers, and this fall she started a new teaching assistant job.  “When I got hired I felt like I was dreaming,” she says. “I still can’t believe it, but the dream has become a reality.”