At Work program helps recovering mental health patients find meaningful work

August 25, 2016 | by glebeadmin
John Veltri (left) and Glebe Meat Market owner Stephane Sauve.

John Veltri (left) and Glebe Meat Market owner Stephane Sauve.

John Veltri doesn’t know what he would do with his days if it wasn’t for the Glebe Meat Market.

The recovering schizophrenic was hired by owner Stephane Sauvé through the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) At Work Ottawa Employment Program, which connects individuals in the final stages of recovery with meaningful work.

For Veltri, the program has been life changing.

“I love it here,” he says, dressed in his white butcher’s apron at the Bank Street meat shop.

“The atmosphere, the work, the clientele, the management. It has motivated me to keep going on.”

The 39-year-old says the new job, which he started earlier this summer, has given him a new lease on life. He’s become more social around the shop and enjoys the work. The regular routine helps him focus on minor things like getting up in the morning and getting ready for a day of work – things that most of us take for granted – things that weren’t so easy for Veltri just a few years ago.

Veltri was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 29-years-old, and while it was somewhat of a relief that he was able to identify his mental illness, dealing with it was never easy.

“It turned my life into shambles,” he admits, recalling the darker days of his life. He spent close to 10 years trying to rebuild himself, and now that he has a job and friends, his confidence is sky high, he’s happy and empowered to keep chugging.

“I find hard work everyday keeps me positive and focused.”

For owner Sauvé, having Veltri around the shop has been even more helpful than he anticipated. While he wasn’t surprised that Veltri would be a good fit, he was amazed at how quickly he picked up the necessary skills to work in a butcher shop. He’s always on time and is eager to learn more and more everyday.

“John knows more than I anticipated,” says Sauvé.

“He does a great job. He’s efficient, doesn’t waste time. He’s a great worker. It hasn’t been challenging with John. He is really easy to manage.”

Sauvé sings praises for the At Work program, not only because it’s giving those who suffer from mental illness a chance to integrate back into society, but also because it helps small business owners with wage costs. Half of Veltri’s wages are covered by Service Canada through the program and all of the candidates are pre-screened to ensure fit in any given situation. There are training programs available and the program has qualified and skilled workers ready to fill any need a small business may have.

“I love the program because it gives opportunities to people like John to get out of the house and interact with the people and work,” adds Sauvé.

“It makes their weeks a lot more productive and they are looking forward to it everyday.”

The program, fully funded by Service Canada, has only been around for about seven months, but the CMHA is already seeing results.

Employment Case Manager with the CMHA Ken Wright says the program helps recovering mental health patients get back into society with work that suits them and jobs they are already good at.

“We are pulling out skills that they may have forgotten they have and re-identify what their qualifications are and what their marketable skills are,” says Wright, adding that the intake interviews help to find the right worker for the right job.

“We are trying to match them, their qualifications, their motivations and their interests in the right job.”

According to the CMHA, one out of every five Canadians will experience a mental health illness and up to 90 per cent of those are unemployed, a stat that is 40% higher than any other group.

“The stats tell us and the research tells us that if you are working it exposes you to social interaction, it helps you feel purposeful, because we are so driven by money and position and status,” adds Wright.

“It also allows people to feel like they are functioning again and they belong and they have a place in the work environment.”

Veltri sure feels like he has a place at the Glebe Meat Market, and hopes it leads to a career in the butcher industry.

For more information, or to participate in the program contact Ken Wright at kwright@cmhaottawa or at 613-737-7791 or Christine Gagné at or at 613-552-1385.