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The Green Team: Making a difference in Havre

 


Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson

The Center for Mental Health The Green Team members Ronnie "The Muffin Man" Anderson, in front, Bryan Lantz, back row from left, Josh Dixon, Wayne Small, Chad Ellingson and Bobby LaValley, third from right, stand with The Green Team's job coach Rachel Bianco, from right, the center's rural case manager Pam Veis and the center's clinical social worker Joe Uhl around the team's pickup truck and trailer Thursday afternoon outside of the center. The team's logos were just put on the truck and trailer Thursday.

On a calm Thursday morning, six men unload a trailer full of lawn equipment next to a resident's home. As they begin their lawn care service, dressed in T-shirts with their names on them, they have a sense of self-confidence because, for some, this is the first job they've ever had.

The Green Team is a lawn care and snow removal business composed of Center of Mental Health peers. It's a unique program that allows peers to feel useful and make a difference in the community, and it's also the first business venture the center has undertaken.

"Our mission is to give peers in the mental health community an opportunity to work and earn their money," The Green Team job coach Rachel Bianco said. "It gives them confidence, and it empowers them to believe in themselves and builds their self-esteem."

"(The Green Team) has just been the most positive experience that I've encountered in my 26 years in community health," Center for Mental Health rural case manager supervisor Pam Veis said.

The Green Team program is in its infancy, being 2-months-old, but customers have been satisfied and peers have been inspired to make a positive impact in the community.

"I like it because I think it's good for the community," The Green Team peer Bryan Lantz said. "It makes the houses look good. It's good for the economy, and it's really good for the community."

Lawn care is not a new job for The Green Team peer Bobby LaValley. In 1981, LaValley was the groundskeeper at Malstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, and he tends to his own yard. While waiting for fellow peers to arrive at a home on 2nd Street Thursday morning, he swiftly picked up litter on the boulevard next to the home.

Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson

Wayne Small of the Center for Mental Health's The Green Team trims hedges at a 2nd Street residence Thursday morning.

"I enjoy it. I do all of the weed-eating. I like working outdoors. I like doing stuff for lawns and yards," he said. "Whatever needs to be done will be done."

The Green Team was a joint partnership between the center and Vocational Rehabilitation. Rural Director for the Hi-Line for the Center of Mental Health offices Joe Uhl coordinated with the center's Great Falls administration to purchase The Green Team's equipment. Larry Adams of Badland Tree & Landscaping provided advice to the team on how to operate a lawn care business.

"(Vocational Rehabilitation) have been great partners in this project," Veis said, adding that Linda Cady at the center helped write the grant.

In May, the center received a $20,000 grant from the Montana Mental Health Settlement Trust to cover the start-up costs for The Green Team program.

"These funds have to go to help directly or indirectly to affect the lives of people who have mental illness," Veis said.

Bianco and Veis said the money was used to locally purchase a pickup truck, trailer and lawn care equipment. Bianco added that the survival of The Green Team program will depend on the support of the Havre community.

The Green Team has worked on a variety of yards in the community. Some lawns, which range from a small yard to a couple of acres, are taken care of by The Green Team weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on the homeowners' requests.

Bianco said the crew is also willing to work on vacant lots and senior citizens' lawns and can also help take care of lawns for realtors trying to sell homes. Veis said the center's goal is to make The Green Team a year-round service with fall cleanup and snow removal in the winter.

The feedback from homeowners has been positive. Just ask Terina Bailey. Bailey is the owner and nail technician at Puttin' On The Glitz. Running a new business takes a lot of her time away from taking care of her yard. She said she was impressed with the care The Green Team took with her yard.

"My yard has never looked better. I was just ecstatic when I saw my yard. I'm not home when they do it, but I sure like the finished product," Bailey said. "They really did a good job."

Charlene Schmitz, another client, is also impressed with The Green Team's service.

"I'm greatly impressed with the detailing and attention to detail in my yard and boulevards," Schmitz said.

She added that the crew made height adjustments, at her request, when mowing her yard, and she appreciates that the crew doesn't leave yard clippings or debris when they leave.

"Rachel does excellent quality control. Her workers are cooperative, and they do a great job," she said. "She's training them well based on the results I'm seeing in the last three weeks."

Bianco said some clients have even donated a television, refrigerator and stereo to the center to show their appreciation.

Bianco was hired as The Green Team's job coach at the center. She travels with the crew to job sites and oversees the work that the crew performs.

"Rachel has been amazing … she really has," Veis said. "She basically dove in and started this business camaraderie with clients."

Bianco's background in business and landscaping helped her get the job. But there was a personal reason that Bianco relates very well with the crew. Like members of her crew, she too suffers from a mental illness — bi-polar disorder.

"Pam and Laurel Andrechak (who was an advanced practice registered nurse at the center) put my life back together," she said while wiping tears from her eyes.

Bianco said there is a "stigma" from society associated people with a mental illness. She's lived her life ridiculed for having bi-polar disorder, but she has been able to be a professional businesswoman and live an active self-sufficient life.

"I've had such excellent camaraderie with these people that it just brings tears to my eyes," she said.

She added that mental illness is not uncommon. In fact, many people are affected with a type of mental illness. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one out of four people is affected by a mental health issue.

"I have personal experience with bi-polar disorder and the message that I want to send is to give people the courage to get help because it is available," Bianco said. "If they have the right treatment, stay on their meds and have a great support group … they too can have an independent, fulfilling life."

Veis and Bianco said The Green Team gives peers a sense of empowerment, provides an opportunity in a trade, builds confidence, teaches them to work as a team and helps them with their recovery from their mental health illness issues. Both also added that a lot of people with a mental health illness also suffer from "dual diagnosis," where people take medication for their mental health illnesses are also self-medicating with alcohol and drugs.

The center provides a welcome outlet for people suffering from mental health issues and its doors are open to everyone. Peers are provided with a hot lunch, snacks and transportation to appointments or for personal errands Monday through Friday. Veis said the center is hoping to make the downstairs area of the building a recovery center for peers to apply for work and to find resources they need.

The Green Team crew members are hired based on their capability in the workforce. Currently, there are seven peers on The Green Team crew, and Bianco said it is growing.

"Yeah, I like it," said The Green Team peer Josh Dixon. "It's just the fact of getting out there and doing something."

Another peer, Wayne Small, said his favorite task is to mow.

"It passes the time," Small said with a smile as he continued to trim hedges in a yard.

Those interested in The Green Team's lawn care and snow removal service or for more information about the program can call Bianco at 399-6350.

 

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