From Consumer to Producer
Copyright © by Bruce Ario, 3/8/04
When I was growing up, I thought from time-to-time about what I wanted to
be when I grew up. What kid doesn’t? There were a lot of variations in what I
thought I’d become which corresponded to my changing age. I considered
everything from president to pro-hockey player and everything between. What
never occurred to me, what never entered my mind, was that I might become
nothing at all. I might never have a job. That came close to happening.
I had studied my way through school being in honors societies, having
good success in almost all I did, including being admitted to a top-notch law
school. Life seemed good and I was upwardly mobile.
Unfortunately, mental illness caught up with me. I had been in a car
accident and sustained a serious head injury between my time at undergrad
and grad school. For a long time I coped, mostly through will power,
spiritual programs, friends, family, meds, therapy etc., but it was a life held
together by threads and eventually they broke.
I had been able to complete two years of law school but by the time the
third year students of my class were going back to school, I had become homeless
on the streets of Minneapolis. This dumbfounded many people including me. I
lasted on the streets for six months before I broke the law and was arrested.
That became the point in my life when I chose to accept my illness and get
It would be years later that I found myself at my current position of
Site Supervisor at the US Dept of Agriculture’s mailroom. This is a JWOD
contract that was begun by a woman who pushed for it when she had seen the
success of such a contract at
Now, by all measures, she has been correct. My crew, working along side
of federal employees, has successfully carried out the duties of mail, supplies,
and photo-copying for over two years. My crew consists of one full-timer and two
part-timers who work real hard to ensure such things as promptness, excellent
quality, and pleasant demeanors when dealing with the customers at USDA. We have
met the requirements of the contract for the past two years with the attitude
that “We can do it!”
It’s not come to us without effort. First we had to prove ourselves
while a lot of people stood back and watched to see what would happen. The type
of contract we had was somewhat of an experiment so we viewed ourselves as
trailblazers and went forward.
There was a lot
of learning in the process which has greatly been aided by my company Tasks
Unlimited who is a social services agency providing job support and housing to
people with mental illness. The USDA people also proved very supportive and
Some of the
people were probably wary of these new folks on the block, but nobody said
anything, and as far as I know, we’ve been fully accepted. They see us able to
do the work.
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