Community partnership transforms lives

Published 4:01 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Eleven months after LifeQuest Inc., and RiverVibes formed a community partnership, they have seen a complete transformation of clients’ lives. Clients of LifeQuest volunteer at RiverVibes serving customers refreshing drinks and helping organize kayak rentals. 


LifeQuest is an accredited psychosocial rehabilitation program for adults with severe and persistent mental illness, according to their website. Jennifer Schmitt, a co-owner and operator of RiverVibes is a former full-time employee of LifeQuest. As RiverVibes gained more popularity, Schmitt stepped away from LifeQuest to focus on the business, but her desire to work with clients never left. The community partnership helped Schmitt cultivate her small business and continue to work with LifeQuest. Last August, several clients Schmitt already knew began volunteering at RiverVibes with the goal of becoming more independent. 


Clients rotate when they are able to volunteer. Usually, Schmitt has four volunteers with her on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Some volunteers have regular customers, Schmitt said. 


Independence is a core value of LifeQuest. It is their aim to assist clients in being able to handle more responsibilities like having a job. 


Kirsten Olah is a licensed clinical social worker qualified professional (LCSW QP) at LifeQuest. She writes treatment plans for about 70 clients. Together, she and clients write feasible goals based on their treatment plans. At LifeQuest, clients work on prevocational skills like time management, customer service and professional attire and general hygiene  as well as filling out job applications. 


By volunteering at RiverVibes, clients can develop social and communication skills, learn how to budget money and manage a cash register in addition to keeping a store or restaurant clean.


“RiverVibes has been a great community partner,” Olah said.  “[Clients] love being able to be  out there in the community during the day.” She explained that a portion of clients who live in  group homes do not get an opportunity to be out in the community as much.


Clients volunteering at RiverVibes are able to “step outside of their comfort zone” and see what it is like to have a regular job. This gives them practice before they can apply for jobs. Plus, it helps them practice social skills they learn at LifeQuest.


Emmy, a volunteer at RiverVibes and client at LifeQuest said volunteering is fun because she learns new skills, loves the beachy music and makes smoothies or juices. 


Kim, another volunteer and client, likes the ability to shop and eat at local restaurants during her lunch break. She shared that volunteering has given her the confidence to order lunch at Shep’s on her own. Before, her family ordered for her. Plus, she is learning to make her own appointments. 


Tuesday, July 12 was Gregory’s first day volunteering. He said it will be a challenge, but it will be good for him. 


Kyon said volunteering at RiverVibes is a “rewarding experience.” Volunteering is important to him because he gets to talk to many people throughout the day. 


Olah can see better communication skills from clients who volunteer at RiverVibes and they take more pride in their appearance, she said. Also, she can see improved “mental stability.” 


In time, clients gain self-confidence and learn coping mechanisms. Olah shared that two years ago, one client had difficulty communicating their thoughts and emotions which led to having “breakdowns” during the day; however, though working at RiverVibes they are now one of the most well-spoken clients at LifeQuest. The same client now manages the rental booth at RiverVibes.  “When he first came here I never expected him to do that and now he’s just great. He loves talking to people,” Olah said.  


Schmitt has seen “unbelievable” transformations take place through the community  partnership. “You can teach and you can train at LifeQuest prevocational skills but until they’re actually in the community with real customers and real experience, it’s different. This gives them the real life opportunity.” 


Schmitt said clients are methodical, exact and pay close attention to detail. They are reliable, all which make for great employees. “If they have a routine, it is going to be done that way every single time.” 


Clients not only learn how to run a smoothie bar and kayak rentals, but they also learn how to run errands and interact with local business owners. Schmitt will ask volunteers to go to the post office, or go to a local print shop where RiverVibes marketing materials and rental liabilities are printed. Too, they are able to take an unsupervised lunch break and go to any of the local restaurants. Schmitt said clients budget their money so they have enough to pay for lunch.


“They’re going into these businesses. They are using their social skills, reading a menu, ordering their lunch. They are counting their money, they are paying and they are becoming a fixture downtown since doing the partnership,” Schmitt said. 


Schmitt said it’s important for clients at LifeQuest to be visible in the community because it “absolutely erases the stigma that’s associated with mental health.”  


Businesses who would like to form a community partnership with LifeQuest can call the office and ask for either Olah or Adam Congleton who is the program director.