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IPS Program Empowers Youth

Work can provide so much more than a paycheck: a sense of independence, confidence, and achievement, and for youth coping with mental illness, this “more” can be key to their recovery. 

Founded in 2015, the YBGR Individual Placement and Supported Employment Program (IPS) is an evidenced-based program to empower youth and encourage them to live healthy and productive lives through employment. Specifically, IPS assists those ages 15-24 who live in Yellowstone County and have a diagnosed mental illness in finding a job that works for both them and their employer.

When Daniel Gibson graduated from the Yellowstone Academy and discharged from YBGR in spring of 2020, he was armed with a high school diploma and the skills he needed to manage his depression, anxiety, and ADHD. He was not sure, though, how to go about getting a job and pursuing his dream of becoming a mechanic. Daniel was at a crossroads. Then he met Erica Kern, a YBGR Employment Specialist. 

“Erica worked with me on writing my resume and getting the right clothes for an interview in the Jiffy Lube service center. Even though I messed up big time and lost that job, she helped me move on from my mistake. In the past, that would have sent me back to unhealthy habits. Instead, I have moved to Great Falls to work and train in a shop here. Now, I am on the path to achieving my dreams,” says Daniel. 

Daniel’s dad Jerry added, “Dan has always been good at ‘how stuff worked.’ People are another story. I knew he would be fine working on engines.

Erica really worked with him on people skills. I see a sense of pride and self-worth on my son’s face and hear it in his voice.” 

Daniel is just one of the many success stories that have come out of IPS. Currently, the junior and senior classes at Yellowstone Academy have 10 of their 12 students enrolled in the program. “Work and contributing to their family or society in some way can be extremely therapeutic,” says Yellowstone Academy Superintendent Keith Tresch. “The lessons they are learning from work are just as valuable as what they are learning in the classroom.” 

IPS provides more than just clothes for an interview and resume writing skills. The Program helps youth understand their benefits, arrange transportation, balance work and school obligations, and more. IPS staff work closely with a youth’s treatment team to help them achieve their employment goals and manage their illness. 

Youth work with Employment Specialists Chris Cutright and Erica Kern to set goals beyond just finding a job. “Whether it is applying to college, the military, moving into a trade, finding housing, or becoming independent, the IPS team works with our youth to set and achieve those goals,” says Elizabeth Campoy, IPS Supported Employment Supervisor.  

Since its inception, IPS has served 178 youth and filled 260 jobs from a youth who was able to overcome addition and become fully independent, to a youth who thought she would never leave the state and is now a successful photojournalist traveling the world and winning awards.  According to Campoy, "The power of hope, the relationships with youth, and the right employers are key to the program continuing to grow.  The IPS team is truly comprised of "Caring People Preparing Youth for Life."