Once a person referred to Larry as the “Rick Hansen of schizophrenia”. Larry Vandergrift, Executive Director of the Okanagan Mental Health Services Society (OMHSS) has made it his mission to provide individuals facing mental health barriers in the Okanagan with opportunities to find a purpose.
A pillar in the community, the OMHSS functions as a non-profit social enterprise, offering programs such as Yard by Yard and Room By Room funded by the Interior Health Authority. These programs offer support with assisted living placements as well as enrollment in a therapeutic work program involving landscaping and janitorial services.
Before starting the organization in 2001, Larry was employed by the Canadian Mental Health Association for the better part of a decade. When asked what drives his unwavering dedication to mental health, Larry describes his own battle with mental health in the past. Due to his experiences, Larry possesses a deeper understanding of what it means to struggle with mental health as well as what it takes to recover. For Larry, it was the generosity of family members and the community that allowed him to find meaning in his life again and what ultimately gave him the strength to recover.
Striving to offer this same glimmer of hope to the Okanagan, the OMHSS provides solutions to two major pieces of the puzzle for those facing hard times due to mental health: finding a home and finding a job. According to Larry, people often forget about the latter. He adds “We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We need a purpose.”
That is where the OMHSS work programs come from. Yard by Yard and Room By Room work programs are considered “transitional” or a steppingstone toward sustainable employment. It is Larry’s goal that these work programs will provide individuals with the stability, transferrable skills, and motivation they need to ultimately rejoin the workforce in meaningful roles. Once participants have gained the necessary work skills (landscaping or janitorial), and feel ready to seek out permanent employment, Larry and his team support them through all stages of the job search process. To aid in this process, Larry provides access to computers in his office space so participants can utilize social media, online education, and all methods of job search.
In addition to preparing for employment, Larry also utilizes the program to instill a sense of worth into the participants. Most participants are provided with a key to the shop to come and go as they please. Some simply come in early to put the coffee on, while others take out crews on weekends. Larry also elicits consistent feedback to give the participants a voice and improve the program based on their experience. By offering these seemingly small gestures of trust and respect, Larry ensures participants know that they are valued members of the team and responsible for their own success.
Besides working directly with participants of these programs, Larry also takes the time to educate the Kelowna community and province about the realities of mental health. As Larry states, participants with mental health barriers are often the best workers you can find. They are usually extremely dedicated, hardworking, and grateful to contribute. Following his own advice, Larry “walks the walk” by hiring especially promising participants as permanent employees following their completion of the program.
While no organization exactly like his exists in the Okanagan, Larry does notice that some businesses and fellow non-profit organizations want to offer similar opportunities but don’t know how. He is frequently contacted for insight into the program’s success and is more than happy to provide advice if it will mean creating more opportunities like his in the community. Larry’s ultimate hope for the future is that there will be “more than one restaurant in town” for individuals to gain work experience and receive opportunities to participate in the community.
What community leaders like Larry prove is that we are not all helpless to the issues that face our community. With the proper education and a willingness to provide opportunities to those who need them, we can all make a difference, one yard at a time.
Written by: MacKenzie Verhelst, BA.Psych, Certified Vocational Rehabilitation Professional (CVRP) with Transferrable Skill Analysis (TSA) certification
Why We Are Unique
- We offer a coordinated set of services for people with mental health issues
- We offer job opportunities & career training
- Short term & long term housing is offered
- Over 20 years of expertise
- Bridge between health care, mental health care & the Kelowna Community
Therapeutic Work Programs
In 2001, we introduced the Yard By Yard program, which is a work program that serves the Kelowna community with lawn and garden maintenance services, forestry site development, outhouse construction, and tree care. This program has been extremely successful and continues to this day.
Shortly after, OMHSS introduced Room By Room, a work program modelled after Yard By Yard, but providing janitorial services in homes, stratas, and commercial businesses across the central Okanagan. The goal of both programs is to provide individuals with work experience.
- Work programs that build life skills, independence & provide social interaction
- Outdoor & indoor work opportunities
- Part-time and Full-Time Flexibility
- Skills can be acquired rapidly, with capacity for leadership growth
- Team-approach is supportive & efficient
- Provides cost-effective options for Kelowna homeowners & businesses
Vocational Planning Services
In 2011, we grew again to include Vocational Planning Services (VPS). VPS offers job coaching to individuals who have outgrown our 2 training programs and are ready to consider other jobs. They have gained work skills and confidence. We help with finding employment or job-shadowing opportunities in the community, supporting employers after the hiring.
- Encourages employment mobility
- Trained, skilled job coaching
- Simplifies job search for Kelowna business community looking to hire
In 2021, we will be celebrating two decades dedicated to assisting individuals in the Central Okanagan who are living with mental illness! Whether you need cleaning or landscaping services, can provide employment, are seeking a meaningful career in helping others, or would like to donate to keep our programs running, we want to hear from you!
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Office: (250) 717-3007
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We are always looking to partner with Kelowna businesses who can support our mission by providing sustainable, meaningful employment. Please contact us for more information.
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Office: (250) 717-3007