The dignity of work – a company's quest for the mentally ill

Office. Credit: UnSplash.
Office. Credit: UnSplash.

.- When Bayaud Enterprises was started in 1969 in Denver, Colorado, they had one thing on their mind: employment.

But not just any kind of employment. They wanted to seek out individuals with chronic mental illness and psychiatric disabilities to find them permanent jobs and an independent lifestyle.

Flash forward to 2016, and Bayaud Enterprises has aided over 7,000 individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment find full-time jobs, housing, and benefit acquisition instead of relying on local boarding and care homes.

“We think there is a real connection between people living independently and working...it provides dignity to the individuals,” executive director of Bayaud Enterprises David Henninger told CNA.

“The neat thing about employment is you really get to see a person blossom,” Henninger said, adding that the impact of finding permanent work for someone with a disability is life-changing.

Henninger has been with Bayaud Enterprises since its founding in 1969, and has been its executive director since 1973.

Although it was originally started as a Colorado-state run program through the Mental Health Institute at Ft. Logan, Bayaud evolved by starting its own program that helped patients after they left mental health centers.

“In a psychiatric hospital setting, you often see people initially at their worst – at the bottom of the barrel in terms of where they are,” Henninger said.

“As part of their recovery from a mental illness, the impact of work is really huge, in terms of ego and self-worth,” he said.

Bayaud Enterprises created a diverse work program that includes subcontracted work from the local business community. They hold ten different federal contracts in the state of Colorado and work with organizations such as the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and local hospitals and hotels.

In addition, they own a secure document shredding business with over 5,000 customers across the front range. Instead of sending the shredded paper to a landfill, Bayaud Document Services compounds the paper into bales and sends it to recycling.

With such a diverse range in businesses, Bayaud is able to place every individual seeking work at the appropriate level of employment. Henninger noted that Bayaud has aided individuals with “all sorts of ability,” from people with higher education degrees to people who have been diagnosed with aspergers.

“We outplace about 400 people a year into competitive jobs that aren’t related to Bayaud – and success stories there abound,” Henninger stated.

Henninger recalled one man in particular who came to Bayaud without permanent housing. He was placed as an administrative assistant in a small insurance company and worked there for several years.

“The owner of the insurance firm really liked him...when the owner decided to retire, he actually turned the business over to this individual and that individual is now running a small insurance company and has hired his own employees,” Henninger noted.

Bayaud Enterprises continues to serve over 1,200 individuals in Colorado every year through their employment services and benefit acquisition services. By offering resource navigation, they are also able to help individuals secure additional benefits such as social security, disability, medicaid, food supplement services, housing, and transportation.

“When people approach Bayaud, they are unemployed. So, people are finding some differences in their own personal lives that are significant,” Henninger stated.

Bayaud Enterprises is also focused on remaining community-centric by being involved in local community and emphasizing permanent employment and housing. They have cultivated relationships with local homeless shelters, such as the Samaritan House, by placing homeless residents in long-term jobs.

Their program also boosts local economy by generating annual payrolls of about $5 million every year.

“Our longevity of 10+ years of all of our staff says that they believe in our mission of providing hope and opportunity and choice...we do make a difference and we see it,” Henninger continued.

“Really, these jobs become transformational.”

This article was originally published Feb. 23, 2016.

Tags: Work, Colorado, Individuals with Disabilities

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