Staff Spotlight: Employment Program Manager

Anna Sack has been with Impact since 2017. She started as an Employment Specialist and is now the Employment Program Manager.

Impact’s Employment Program assists participants in utilizing their existing skills and experience to find meaningful employment that places them on the path towards their career goals.

The program uses the Individual Placement & Support (IPS) model, an evidence-based model of supported employment developed at Dartmouth College. IPS is specifically designed to integrate employment into mental health treatment. Impact helps provide employment services in partnership with a variety of community mental health centers, social service agencies, and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) throughout the Chicago area.

You first started working at Impact as an Employment Specialist, then got promoted to managing the entire Employment Services Program. How has the program changed since then?

It’s changed a ton! When I started in 2017, there were three employment specialists total. We only worked with three or four referral sites.

We’ve worked hard to grow the program. We did a lot of presentations and conferences, just getting our name out there. Our program is one of the top in the state, and people can see how our program is different from other programs that are out there.

Since then, we’ve grown exponentially, and currently have around 19 employment specialists and three supervisors.

Can you tell me what a typical day looks like for you?

A lot of my day is program development. It’s supervising supervisors now. We talk through how each referral site is going. Each site is different so we talk about how we can best integrate our services with the way the individual programs operate.

Then it’s making enough referrals, touching base with treatment teams, and making sure employment specialists know what they’re doing and that they’re trained well—getting them continuing education, etc. Next it’s working on new research projects and looking at new sites and how to get those up and running behind the scenes—making sure that upper-level management at referral sites know what we’re doing.

It’s pretty different every day!

You’re a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). A lot of people might think of LCSWs as mostly doing counseling or therapy with individuals. Can you describe how your background in social work and your LCSW credentials inform your approach to services?

Typically people see LCSW and think you’re a therapist. I think having this education and these qualifications is a huge asset to managing a program because I do have a direct service background. I come to program development thinking about how a participant and an employment specialist would think about and do things.

I also have a lot of insight into what makes a referral site flourish or not—I come to managing the Employment program with that macro-level mindset and the experience of having provided those services.

Can you give me a recent program success story?

We have one referral partner that we started having conversation with two years ago—it’s been up and down and it wasn’t successful right away. They’re a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) and focus on physical health and the medical side of things and do behavioral healthcare on the side, which has historically been more challenging for us in terms of integrating employment services into their model.

We did a presentation for the whole treatment team, which was great. We got [Impact’s Executive Director] Patti involved, building those connections at a high level. The challenge is figuring out a referral process internally—do we call the participant, or do we wait until a participant reaches out to us? We try to make it easy as easy as possible at each referral site.

We usually do a small pilot program with about five participants, to see how things go. The employment specialist for the pilot was really passionate about working with the community this center served, and getting a passionate staff member that is connected to the community is ideal.

The employment specialist started working with their treatment team and their agency—understanding their needs and how best to work with them. One barrier was staff turnover within the partner agency, so our program launch got pushed back. We had to be patient and wait to get onsite and connect with the therapists and build rapport.

We’ve finally gotten to a point within the last month with the agency where we now have a staff onsite and we attend their weekly treatment team meetings. We’ve also connected with a management-level staff member who is our advocate at that level. We now have a waitlist of five participants. It’s a huge organization, so there is a lot of room for growth with them. We anticipate having a lot more people that are interested in services!

What do you think Employment participants would like potential employers and the larger community to know about them and their lives?

For a lot of participants, they just want the chance: they want a chance to work, they want a chance to work at a job they know they can do. A lot of them have 10-15 year gaps in their resume related to mental health symptoms, which can be very hard to overcome. They want employers to look at them as they who are now and what they bring to the workforce, and not just the struggles they’ve had in the past.

Anna Sack Headshot

Meet Impact’s Board Fellow Scholar: Soledad Errazuriz Vergara

Impact is pleased to announce that Soledad Errazuriz Vergara will be serving as an ex-officio board member through the Northwestern University Kellogg Business School of Management Board Fellow Scholars pilot program. This innovative program gives scholars the opportunity to sit on a nonprofit board as a non-voting member while they complete their MBA program through May 2023.

We are thrilled to be hosting Soledad, and supporting Kellogg’s presence in the local nonprofit community.

Soledad hails from Chile and has experience working in Finance and Investor Relations.

Soledad is passionate about creating a positive impact in the lives of individuals with mental illness and feels deeply connected to the work of Impact Behavioral Health Partners. She is eager to learn more about Impact’s programs and services and contribute her skills and expertise to support your mission.

Through this experience, Soledad is excited to gain a first-hand experience in how non-profit organizations are managed, how they build awareness in the surrounding community to maximize impact, and how they raise funds.

Staff Spotlight: Family Supportive Housing Clinician

In this staff spotlight, we interview Tiana. She is a clinician who works primarily with the Family Supportive Housing Program. This program provides permanent supportive housing to families at risk of homelessness where a head of household is living with mental illness.

When Impact launched the Family Supportive Housing, you were the employee whose job shifted to serving the families in that program. What was it like being involved in the lead-up to those families moving in?
Before the families moved in, I knew the ages of the children and a general idea of what the individual families would need. There are a lot of resources in Evanston and the North Shore area, so I did a lot of research into those and created a resource list.

When you first started working at Impact, you were only providing counseling and therapy to adults. How is your day-to-day workflow different now that you’re working with families?
I get a lot of phone calls from moms, and a lot of emails of school social workers. A lot of transportation questions.

Single adults will call when they’re in crisis. But with families call about a lot of day-to-day stressors—some of them are big things and some of them are issues like transportation, or a piece of paper that came in the mail that they need more clarity on.

I also do a lot of work around the behavioral needs of the kids. Many of the kids have challenges, and it’s been hard to reassure them that after so many years of instability, they really are in a permanent spot now. Yesterday I attended an Individualized Education Plan–IEP–eligibility meeting yesterday for a child of one of our participants.

Now that the Family Supportive Housing Program is operating at capacity (with plans to expand in the near future), what can you tell us about the families served by that program?
We have parents varying from their late teens through their 40s, and children from a few months to 18 years old. A couple of the families have been homeless for several years or have just been sort of unstable—having to move around a lot. Many families have histories with domestic violence.

For families that have a history of unstable housing, behavioral challenges among the children are common. Some of the kids have high level needs, so it’s been a challenge to keep them connected. The children are connected to different resources in the community, whether that’s counseling or just activities to participate in after school.

Some of the adults in the family are looking for work. Others are still working on gaining stability for their mental and physical health before they can find employment. I’m working with all of them on budgeting—stretching their income and benefits to last throughout the month.

And as always, engagement fluctuates. Sometimes it’s multiple meetings per week, and sometimes I don’t hear from them for several weeks. Hopefully, that’s because everything is going well, but sometimes it’s because there’s a crisis happening, and they have trouble finding the capacity to reach out.

A lot of them feel really grateful for the program. The stability is huge. We have a kid in our program—he’s a teenager and he has literally been in a different school every year. But now he’s in one place long term. And that is also so important for the mom. She worked so hard and so long just keeping it together for her family. Now she can focus on her own physical and mental health. That’s a big thing—they’ve been working so hard to maintain the needs of the family, they have not focused on their own health and wellbeing.

How do you think the greater Evanston community can better support families like the ones at Impact—that may be at risk of homelessness, or dealing with trauma, and have adult family members that might be struggling with their mental health?
Agencies like this, and programs like this are the most help.

I can’t stress the transportation needs enough—these families really do struggle getting their children to and from school and extracurricular activities.

Also, access to extracurricular activities—it’s time right now to sign up for summer camps and figure out what kinds of activities are out there for kids during the summer. There’s limited availability and it’s very expensive—some places offer scholarships but it’s usually only for half off the cost, and that is still too expensive for the folks in our housing. But these kids still need somewhere to go during the summer.

What do you think the participants you work with would want people to know about them?
These parents really just need encouragement. There have been moments where they have so much anxiety or depression—questioning whether they’re doing the right things for their kids and their families. And then managing depressive symptoms and self-esteem. Sometimes when things happen with their kids, it’s so hard—they wanted to break the cycle and provide better opportunities for their kids.

All these participants are working through their past experiences and overcoming a lot of obstacles. It takes a lot of strength to be so vulnerable and open with all the trauma they have experienced, and to keep moving forward.

They’re doing really well. Everyone is connected. A lot of the families are African American, and it’s so important that I get to connect with them on that level, too—I don’t take that for granted. It’s really been an honor to work with these families.

Tiana Smith Headshot