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Orange, Calif., May 11, 2020 – Times are tough all over, with a public health crisis crashing economies worldwide. Yet, even in the best of times, adults with mental illness can find it very challenging to secure and retain a solid job due to stigma, lack of support and other barriers. But there is a successful program in Orange, California, that is finding solutions, pandemic or not. It’s called the Recovery Education Institute (REI) and, since 2012, it has served more than 2,000 students, the majority of whom are between 45 and 60 years old. Pacific Clinics, one of the largest behavioral health nonprofits in California, runs the REI program funded by the Orange County Health Care Agency’s Mental Health Services Act/Prop 63 Workforce Education and Training (WET) program.

REI teaches adults with a personal or family history of mental illness about behavioral health while preparing them to pursue vocational training or advanced education. In partnership with Saddleback College and Santiago Canyon College, REI also offers mental health worker and alcohol and drug counselor certifications. It shares its campus with The Wellness Center and Treehouse, which are also funded by the Orange County Health Care Agency to provide behavioral health services to individuals and their family members.

“This program has helped people to learn new skills and obtain an education. Some program participants decide to study and enter the field of behavioral health, which helps meet the growing demand in our community,” says Jim Balla, president and chief executive officer of Pacific Clinics.

“REI has been a place for students to reinvent themselves, change careers or find purpose,” says Victoria Rivett, REI’s education director. “During the crisis, we are able to continue to serve students through distance learning.”

REI students don’t just want to help themselves — they seek to give back and help others. Consider some of REI’s success stories. Robert McLachlan, 58, as a younger man, struggled as a student, and didn’t think he could be successful in school in middle age. Then, a case worker at HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing introduced him to REI, where he scored top marks.

“Who’s going to take me and put me back in school? And for free?” Robert says. “Now I feel empowered. I plan on getting my bachelor’s degree and becoming a social worker in mental health.”

Another student, Noelia Cisneros, learned about REI from local support groups in the community. She is earning her certification as a mental health worker, and drug and alcohol counselor. “I want to help adolescents stay healthy and tell them about the terrible effects drugs and alcohol can have on their lives,” she says. “I just want to help others recover and use my experience as a strength to connect with people.”

Established in 1926, Pacific Clinics provides low-cost behavioral healthcare and support services to individuals of all ages in more than 50 locations across Southern California.

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