How One Man Offered Jobs To Those With Mental Illnesses And Ended Up Creating a Home

(5-31-18)  From My Files Friday: I realized today that this is the 1,126th blog that I’ve posted.  I wrote this in May 2012.  

Musings on a flight home from Denver

What is home?

I spent most of my childhood in Colorado.  When I moved to the Washington D.C. area and people asked me about my hometown, I always mentioned Fowler. It is a small town in Southeastern Colorado where I graduated from high school and where my sister, who died in an automobile accident there, is buried. (Since writing this, both of my parents have passed and are buried there too.)

Yet, I haven’t lived in Fowler since 1970.

I remember hearing Vance Packard speak in the early 1970s about how mobility for jobs was making it difficult for many Americans to choose where they intended to be buried. A grim topic, but evidence of how many of us move several times during our lives. The old family plots – in some rural areas located on individual farms – no longer were the norm. We had become a nation of nomads, he said.

This got me thinking on a recent trip to Colorado about the definition of home. I had returned there to speak at an event held by Bayaud Enterprises in Denver.

Please stay with me a moment while I tell you a bit about Bayaud Enterprises.

Since it’s founding in 1969, Bayaud has helped more than 10,000 persons with disabilities find meaningful employment. I’m not talking about make-work here. I’m talking about jobs that pay actual wages. Last year, it placed 475 people, most with mental illnesses, into gainful employment.

I believe most people with mental disorders want the same things that all of us would like in our lives. All of us want a safe place to live, a purpose in life, and people to love and to love us. It really is that simple.

Yet, too many people dismiss the idea of someone with a mental illness being employable.

The force behind Bayaud Enterprises is David E. Henninger. During the 1960s when he was fresh out of college, Henninger visited Fountain House in New York City. That’s when he became convinced that jobs were essential to helping people with mental illnesses recover.

Fountain House dates back to the 1940s and the belief that persons with mental illness are capable of helping each other. I’ve visited Fountain House several times and am a strong proponent of its consumer-operated, clubhouse model. One program that I often mention in my speeches is Fountain House’s transitional jobs service.

Realizing that some clients might not be able to work a tradition 40 hour a week job, Fountain House contracts with companies to provide job sharing services.

An example: a company may need to fill a job in a mail room.  Rather than having one person do it, Fountain House may have five or six clients perform that single job. If Pete can only work two hours a day, then another person with a mental illness relieves me.

Henninger introduced job sharing by creating Bayaud Enterprises.  Today, its workers provide secure document shredding in Denver for the federal government and local businesses. as well as, document scanning and payroll services.

While giving me a tour of its paper shredding compound, Henninger pointed out an employee with schizophrenia who was hearing voices and talking back to them. Despite this, he reported to work every day on time and did his shift.

The reason why Bayaud has been successful is because of Henninger. He has dedicated his entire career to it.

This is not the first time that I have seen the power of one person to change lives. In my book, I write about my late friend, Tom Mullen, who created Passageway, a fabulous program that takes persons in jails and prisons with mental disorders and helps them safely return to society.

On my flight back to Fairfax County, Virginia, where I now live,  I thought about how work had taken me far away from my Colorado roots, Bayaud Enterprises, job sharing and something that David Henninger said during an awards dinner. He described Bayaud Enterprises as a “family” that offered persons with disabilities, Hope, Opportunity and Choice, as well as a place that they could call home.

Maybe those schmaltzy Hallmark cards are correct when they say that home is not an actual  location but it is where a person can find meaning and purpose in their lives and people to love and who love them.

David Henninger set out to make employment possible for persons with mental illnesses and other disabilities. In the process, he also created a home.

We need more Bayaud Enterprises ,more Fountain Houses , and more David Henningers in our world.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.