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Erin Walker, CooperRiis Recovery Coach
Erin Walker, CooperRiis Recovery Coach

Erin Walker, Recovery Coach in our Asheville Community Program (ACP), has been with CooperRiis for three years.   As a recovery coach, Erin is part of a team that supports residents as they become integrated into the Asheville Community.  The Asheville team is available to support residents as they pursue their goals and work towards their dream statements.  Areas of support can range anywhere from grocery shopping and cooking, to going back to school, to budgeting, to individualized job coaching.

Erin is currently working on developing a new Supported Employment Program for our residents based on the model provided by Fountain House in New York City.  This program will provide a more supportive step into meaningful employment for our residents while with CooperRiis and beyond.

Erin writes a first-person account of her visit to New York City to learn from Fountain House first-hand:

Fountain House is the original model for over 300 “working community” programs that exist in the United States.  It is located in Manhattan, NY in a beautiful multistory building.  Fountain House is known as the original clubhouse where members join and take an active role in their recovery. It is a non-clinical, non residential program (although Fountain House does offer supported housing in several surrounding areas).  Fountain House offers many recovery oriented opportunities to their members that support wellness, education, housing, and employment.  The employment unit provides several kinds of employment support, ranging from transitional job placement to independent job coaching.  There are currently over 150 members working in jobs directly from a placement through the employment unit.

I have been very interested in the idea of supported employment for our CooperRiis residents for the last few years and have been spending a lot of time researching various models for these programs.  There are not a lot of successful programs in NC, which has been disappointing to learn.  There are definitely not many models around that really reflect the CooperRiis values of recovery.  Through speaking with Madeleine Tramm, PhD, Fountain House special board member, I learned that Fountain House has been successfully operating a supported employment program for over 30 years.  Their vision of meaningful employment in the role of recovery really rang true, so I could not imagine a better learning experience than to see this in action.

During my visit, I had the privilege of touring both Fountain House and Venture House (a clubhouse in Queens, NY).  I spent two afternoons interviewing the directors, employment specialists, and members learning about their successes as well as the challenges they face. The ultimate goal is to take all the information I learned during this visit and develop a similar supported employment program for CooperRiis.

I learned three main things during this visit:

  • I learned that there really is no “magic formula” for creating meaningful job placements.  There is a ton of work that goes into developing these community relationships, upon which the jobs are based.  These relationships with outside businesses can grow into long term opportunities.
  • The larger community really does want to support these kinds of employment programs.  They really can see the benefits of working with a staffing partner, such as Fountain House or CooperRiis.
  • Don’t be afraid to network!  Most of the job placements available to Fountain House members have been direct results of a Fountain House referral.  Fountain House board members, employees, members, and family members have all led to job placements.

It was great to see how Fountain House has so many different options of providing employment support.  My supervisor in the ACP,Simon Wullimann, and I were able to go through all the details, and come up with a working model to try out in the CooperRiis Asheville Community Program.  It will be a work in progress and I am very excited to see how this new opportunity for our residents will positively impact the future of CooperRiis!

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