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Team Werks is a social enterprise and co-op that provides job training and employment for people recovering from mental illness and addictions challenges. It’s supported by SJCG and Employment Options
Team Werks

Date: 2019-11-05

At Team Werks, people living with mental health and addiction challenges get job skills and confidence

Albert and Andre are giving a tour of the well-organized and busy workshop where they and their colleagues carefully design, build and finish everything from garden planters and picnic tables to Muskoka chairs and sawhorses. "I like the smell of cut wood, and putting things together, and seeing a project go from start to finish," says Andre, who has been working at Wood Werks for three years. "This gives me a sense of purpose, so I'm not just sitting on the couch watching TV, and I socialize with the guys. We all get along really well."

Finding that sense of purpose and community can be tough if you're a person who's living with mental illness or addiction. For more than 20 years, Team Werks, a Thunder Bay worker-owned co-operative (co-op) and social enterprise, has been providing employment and job training for clients living with mental health and addiction challenges. Located inside St. Joseph's Health Centre South, it is part of St. Joseph's Care Group's (SJCG) outpatient vocational program called Employment Options.

With 25 members and an additional 25 clients in training placements, it's one of the largest worker co-ops in Ontario. Team Werks is where people who want to work but aren't yet ready for mainstream employment can find their feet and develop skills, all in a supportive environment with co-workers who really get what they're going through. They are referred by SJCG or by other community mental health organizations. "Some stay on as members of the co-op, having a say in how the co-op operates and setting goals for the program, while others transition to school, volunteering or regular paid work in the community," says Jesse Namysl, an Occupational Instructor with Team Werks. The program goals are simple but significant: helping to build the empowerment and dignity that come from meaningful work.

About two years ago, Team Werks moved from Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital to its base in Victoriaville Centre. Currently, it's home to eight different enterprises, where a worker typically puts in about 15 hours a week in the following enterprises:

  • Green Werks Café, serving up coffee, tea, baked goods and hot lunches
  • Wood Werks, where workers make outdoor furniture and home accessories in the on-site workshop for local organizations and the public
  • Shred Werks, which provides document shredding services to local organizations and businesses
  • Rag Werks, which takes worn-out donated clothing from Community Clothing Assistance, washes the items and cuts them in to rags used by local cleaning companies
  • Piece Werks, where workers assemble small kits, such as those used for water testing
  • Craft Werks, where craft items are sold each Friday in Victoriaville
  • Green Werks Garden (based at Sister Margaret Smith Centre) where workers grow hundreds of pounds of vegetables, some of which are donated to local organizations like the Regional Food Distribution Association
  • Labour Werks small job service for things like dump runs and yard maintenance

Team Werks is an important piece in mental health recovery, says Doug Dowhos, Employment Services Supervisor with SJCG. "Clients gain confidence from working. They take pride in learning new skills, and creating and providing a product or service," he says. "It's also an opportunity to work with colleagues and access that peer support. One way to recovery can be decent housing, a friend and a job, which can be as valuable as medication." He adds that the clients can access clinical supports from health care workers in the same site if they need it - a "one-stop shopping" approach that clients appreciate.

In terms of wider community benefits, Dowhos says that typically only 10% of individuals who have a serious mental illness are employed, compared to 65% of people who enter the Team Werks program. "It has a big impact on the wellbeing of the client, and on the health system. If an individual is working here, with community supports, there is a direct reduction in readmission rates within the hospital, to emergency and to longer-term clinical support."

In the weeks after clients start at Team Werks, Dowhos says he notices a difference. "A lot of people come in at first not really saying anything, but then you'll see a smile on their face and there's a lot more talking. You can see the confidence growing and you can their quality of life improve. Within a few months they're giving me advice on how the place should be run!" Namysl, who oversees Wood Werks, adds the clients take pride in their work. "These guys have a huge say in deciding how to take these basic pieces and make them even better."

Team Werks clients value the program too. Karl, who started off at the car wash at Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital 23 years ago, now comes to work at Shred Werks two days a week, shredding documents for local organizations and businesses and sending the bags to recycling. "I get up and I've got something to do, so I'm not just sitting in the house," he says. Albert, who has been working at Wood Werks for 13 years, agrees. "You want to come in to work even if you're having a bad day, and we joke around and the guys will put you in a better mood. We all have experiences in common. It's cool to put things together and see what you can make."

For more information about Team Werks, visit or call (807) 346-3694

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