Woman helps mentally disabled find jobs

April 14, 1997


Staff Writer

Job hunters usually do not use words like "manic-depressive," "schizophrenic" or "obsessive-compulsive" on job applications.

But some people with mental illnesses want to work, and Melanie Sloniker-Larson at Turning Point of Washington County Inc. helps them find employment.

"It's about turning our lives around and getting back on the right track," she said. "We're helping them develop the coping skills they need in society."

Ten weeks ago, Sloniker-Larson joined Turning Point as the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program/Employment Services Manager. Her clients include 48 women and 44 men.


Sloniker-Larson, who lives on Lappans Road in Williamsport, previously had been commuting to Rockville, Md., to teach students with disabilities at TransCen Inc. She also taught at Westland Middle School.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Stout, Sloniker-Larson, 41, earned a bachelor's degree in vocational rehabilitation and special education.

She has four sons: Sean, 15, Che, 17, Andrew, 18 and Eric, 20. Her husband, Roger, is 48, and her daughter, Jennifer, is 23.

She said her experiences with people with disabilities has taught her that people want to be treated as people first - the disability is second.

"Our goal is to assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities to re-enter their community," she said. "That would encompass independent living, medication management, awareness of their psychiatric disorder and how to get a job and keep a job."

Behaviors and feelings caused by mental illness can appear in work environments and other areas of life, she said.

For example, an obsessive-compulsive person might straighten a desk. Then restraighten it. And restraighten it again.

The programs at Turning Point counteract the effects of mental illness so people can join the work force. Clients learn to recognize their interests and skills, manage their emotions and stick to a schedule, she said.

"We find out what has worked against them in the past," Sloniker-Larson said. "We teach the individual to talk about the skills he has - that can be sold to the employer - that makes him attractive as an employee."

For the work-ready, there are food service, day care, custodial and clerical positions. Paid and volunteer work is available, she said, and most jobs are part time.

Companies like Martin's Food Market and Pizza Hut have provided jobs for Turning Point clients.

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