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.