Every year, Shalom House presents two Hope Awards to people who are making a difference in the lives of people living with mental illness. Shalom House, which is based in Portland, provides community support services and safe, affordable housing for people with serious mental illness.
Mary Allen Lindemann and Alan Spear, owners of Coffee By Design, will receive the 2013 Johnson & Korda Innovation Award. The award recognizes exceptional community service that supports creative and effective programs for people with mental illness. Mary Allen and Alan were selected for advocating for greater workplace awareness of mental illness by making Coffee By Design a “mental health-friendly employer” and helping staff learn to interact with customers who have a mental illness.
Lessons learned about mental illness
The couple has operated Coffee By Design since 1994. When they opened their first coffeehouse, on Congress Street, they learned some quick lessons about mental illness in the workplace. A few of their customers provided some challenging situations that they didn’t know how to handle, such as being fine one day and disruptive the next.
Instead of turning those customers away, they reached out to some community agencies that provided mental health services. “I started asking how I could educate myself more about this,” says Mary Allen. “I’m not a trained social worker, but how do I make sure when I handle a situation that I’m treating people with respect and giving them a fair opportunity to prove themselves and to come in and patronize our business.”
An individual from the Department of Health and Human Services offered to do a training with the staff. Mary Allen had lots of questions. “How do we actually serve a customer? How do we not be discriminatory? How do we make sure to let people know that we want to serve a diverse population.”
The training helped them gain a better understanding of mental illness. They learned that there should not be two sets of rules — one for people who have mental illness and one for people who don’t. They also learned how to communicate in a non-threatening and respectful manner.
A few years later, a staff member had a mental health crisis. She had been an incredible, giving and loving employee, but Mary Allen began to notice a shift in her behavior. She pulled her aside to say she had noticed the change and was concerned. Mary Allen ended up taking her employee to the hospital. The incident taught her another lesson. “Here we had the customers on one end,” she explains, “and now a staff member. All of a sudden, I had this lightbulb moment. It could be anyone.”
Nearly 20 years have passed since they opened their first coffeehouse and the owners of Coffee by Design continue to be strong advocates for greater awareness about mental health issues in the workplace.
Why Shalom House is honoring Mary Allen Lindemann and Alan Spear
Mary Haynes-Rodgers, Shalom House’s executive director says, “Mary Allen and Alan have taken their role as business owners, and thus their responsibility to the larger community within which they live and work, to a new level. Their commitment to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all their customers, as well as creating such an environment for their employees is a real life example of what our Johnson & Korda Innovation Award means. Their choices help to create a community that is welcoming to all regardless of one’s mental health status and this type of thinking is truly developing and supporting effective and innovative solutions for the treatment of mental illness.”
Congratulations to Mary Allen Lindemann and Alan Spear for being “mental health friendly” employers and having a strong impact on both their employees and their community.
Shalom House will present a second Hope Award, the Johnson & Korda Innovation Award, to Cheryl Ramsay for having the courage to speak openly about her family’s experiences with mental illness and helping other people get the help they need.
You’re invited to the 2013 Hope Awards
If you’d like to attend the Hope Awards, it will be held Thursday, October 3, 2013 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at the Ocean Gateway Terminal in Portland. Tickets are $35. For more information or to purchase a ticket, visit the Shalom House website or send them an email.
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