A Rainbow of Opportunities

Employment is an integral part of confidence building, hope, self-esteem, and an essential portion of the recovery from mental illness. In 1991, the Residential Services department of Saint Joseph’s Medical Center decided to pursue the development of a business which would provide vocational opportunities for the psychiatric clients of its residential programs. Rainbow Recycling was established to meet this goal.

Rainbow Recycling is an innovative business that provides recycling and paper shredding services to large businesses and institutions on Staten Island. The recipient of the 1995 American Psychiatric Association Significant Achievement Award, and the 1999 NYC Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Alcoholism Services, Mental Hygiene Business Award, Rainbow Recycling provides meaningful, gainful employment for individuals with psychiatric and other disabilities who had previously been unable to attain or maintain employment and who often have become dependent on long-term psychiatric treatment due to the lack of job options.

What makes Rainbow effective as an employment alternative for those with mental illness? Special accommodations for employees are made, including flexible work schedules that take into account the need to schedule medical and psychiatric appointments and attendance at day programs. On-call employees are available to step in for regular employees who need a leave of absence due to a psychiatric or medical hospitalization.

In 1996, in an attempt to create more job opportunities for individuals with psychiatric disabilities, the services of Rainbow Recycling were expanded to include a general office-cleaning service called “Rainbow Brite.” Now called “Rainbow Environment Services,” these two divisions have grown throughout the years to include floor buffing, stripping and waxing.

In recent years the scope of employment criteria for Rainbow Environmental Services has broadened to include disabled individuals with dual diagnoses such as clients with both mental illness and substance abuse, as well as individuals with both mental illness and developmental disabilities.

In 2012 Rainbow Environmental expanded its services once again by providing painting, moving services, and apartment cleanouts. By 2013, Rainbow had ventured into the card-making business. This new division of the company focuses on making handmade cards for all occasions – holiday, birthday, etc. – including thank you cards, note cards and invitations. In 2014, Rainbow plans to expand even further to include the establishment of peer advocacy services.

In addition to being a source of hope for its workers, Rainbow offers stability and prosperity. Michele Fama, one of the more recent additions to the Rainbow family, has been employed as a receptionist since June of 2013. She answers the phones, coordinates time sheets, and provides general office help to the administrative staff of Residential Services. “The people I work with are special to me,” said Michele. “Very special.”

The longevity of its employees is a testament to the stability offered through Rainbow’s services. Many members of the Rainbow staff have been long-time employees, such as Stephen Boyle and Charles Browne, who have been with Rainbow for 11 and 18 years, respectively. Steven currently provides computer training for clients in Saint Joseph’s housing program along with a variety of other responsibilities. Charles paints apartments, strips and waxes floors, and is involved in moving projects. When asked what he likes best about working for Rainbow, Charlie replied “The people I work with are the BEST!”

With Rainbow’s current services including shredding, cleaning services, painting, moving, cleaning apartments, and card making, as well as future peer advocacy positions, the future is certainly bright for Rainbow and its workers.

Editors note: Behavioral Health News applauds the courage and perseverance of all consumers engaged in their own recovery. It’s a journey that may be fraught with many challenges and setbacks. There is no simple formula for success because each of us must find our own way based on our unique needs and abilities. We also salute the many treatment professionals and organizations that provide vital care in the community.

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