It has been a bit of a winding road, but the journey has always been driven by the challenge to overcoming barriers (my personal barriers, as well as sharing and mentoring others in their journey). As a child, I spent nearly two years in a hospital, and my adolescence in and out of Riley Hospital. So, by the time I got to high school I was pretty aware of some of the challenges people face in the world.
In high school and college I worked in retail. I worked for three different toy companies, setting up stores around Indiana. It was a match made in Heaven, as I was the only one who fit in the Barbie cars and could drive them around. But I did realize in college I wanted a job with a deeper “purpose.”
It was my experience at Ball State University and my interaction with several para-athletes at Long Beach City College that really guided me down the path of rehabilitation services.
How long have you worked for Aspire?
Well to quote our CEO, I’m a thrice “retread.” I started out my career in employment services here in 1992 as a job coach, and then moved to northern Indiana a little less than a year later. I came back in 2001 under the “SECT” grant for 10 years. I then returned for the third time in July of 2011 as the Director of Vocational Services. Adding everything together, I’ve worked here just under 14 years.
What positions have you held with Aspire?
As mentioned, I started my career as a “job coach” – that’s what we were called in 1992. When I returned the second time I worked as a trainer and consultant for the Supported Employment Consultation and Training Center (SECT) under a grant from Vocational Rehabilitation to provide technical assistance and training to the then 31 mental health centers in Indiana, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) staff, and other community rehabilitation programs. In my present position, I am the Director of Vocational Services.
Describe your current position, including your responsibilities?
As the Director of Vocational Services, I oversee three Aspire programs: Career Connections, Indiana Works, and the Entitlement Specialists. A large portion of my job is working to create new and innovative employment programs. I research and write grants, create partnerships with community stakeholders and government entities, and look for new ways to improve and enhance programming and funding streams. In my role with Indiana Works I work directly with the Social Security Administration (SSA), Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Ticket to Work program to promote employment for individuals on Social Security. The Entitlement Specialist program helps individuals obtain and maintain health insurance benefits. We recently worked to help enroll folks in the Healthcare Marketplace.
What does a typical day as Director of Vocational Services look like?
Is there such a thing as a “typical day?” If there was, I hope it would look a little like this:
Go get a cup of coffee (with Sweet & Low and fancy creamer), and hope that Susan B. has brought in Panera bagels- with the crunchy cinnamon on top.
Read and answer all my emails .
Go to lunch…etc… J
Oh well…Most days entail trying to read as many emails as possible before 9 am and getting a few tweets out. By around 10, meetings begin either with teams or with outside stakeholders such as DMHA or VR. Between meetings, we are typically working to address questions or program concerns. I spend a lot of time reviewing data for programs and developing reports. By around 5, things tend to slow down and you may see me back tweeting or on Facebook.
What in your educational background and work experience prepared you for your current position?
I have a BS in Legal Administration, which seems odd, but in the long run has been a great asset. Legal knowledge has assisted me with understanding how to advocate for individuals. It also prepared me for the work I do with governmental entities.
As mentioned, I was introduced to rehabilitation services in college. I worked on a grant integrating computer voice recognition and screen reader systems for individuals who were paralyzed. By the time I graduated from college I knew I wanted to do something with advocacy. I heard about a job as a “job coach” and a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor suggested I apply at the Center for Mental Health. He said he thought my 10 years of retail experience, along with my work at BSU, and my personal experience (as a PWHD) would make me a good match for the job.
If you weren’t working in this field, what would you be doing?
Well, if money wasn’t a factor, I’d love to be a tour guide. I think if I wasn’t working in the mental health field, I would be working in the healthcare field in some capacity.
What is it that drew you to the field of mental health?
Well, it was a VR counselor who suggested working at a mental health center, but I have always been very interested in psychology. I have family members and friends who have experienced mental illness and addiction in their lives. I have watched their battles, and observed the challenges and stigma each of them has faced to reach recovery. The one thing that everyone I know who has experienced mental illness has said was the “most helpful” in their journey through mental illness and addiction is to have someone who was “there alongside” when they needed them. It has been wonderful to be a part of so many journeys!
What impact do you feel your work has had on Aspire and its clients?
I would feel more comfortable answering what impact the individuals I have encountered in my career have had on me. Watching people battle out of the “darkest places” – homelessness, unemployment, and physical/mental illnesses – you realize the resilience of the human spirit.
What things do you do to help you cope with the demands of your job?
I enjoy sports. You will usually find me engaged in some type of physical activity or at a sporting event (e.g. watching my son pitch for the Yorktown High School baseball team). I’m looking forward to summer– tennis and golf. I also teach water aerobics at the local YMCA.
Tina Skeel is the Director of Vocational Services at Aspire Indiana. While the beliefs and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Ms. Skeel, you can learn more about Aspire Indiana at https://www.facebook.com/AspireIndiana. You can also follow Ms. Skeel on Twitter @skeelts1.