As a child, Bill Lanoue had difficulty keeping up in school. He’s 66 years old now, but when Bill was ten his parents placed him in Belchertown State School. Sadly, that was not an unusual step in those days for a child with an intellectual disability. “It reminded me of almost being in jail,” Bill recalled. “I guess I was treated all right, but I couldn’t go anywhere.”

After moving out of the state school, Bill worked as a janitor, handyman and painter there for 19 years until 1996 when it closed. Over the years he also worked for a paper mill, a brush factory, an adult day health program, and a landscaping contractor. Having employment allowed Bill to live in his own apartments most of his life.

If you met Bill today, you may not realize that years ago he faced some bumps in the road. He spent some time in jail for involvement with selling drugs.  When he was transferred to a pre-release program, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) made a referral to MHA. “I was sick of doing what I was doing,” Bill said. “I wanted to stay sober, get a job and go back to living on my own.”

MHA helped Bill find sober housing and join NA and AA meetings. “Bill has always been dedicated to following through on all of the principles of AA,” said Linda Kloss, Vice President of Residential and Support Services for MHA. “He helps set up meetings and he even sponsors someone in AA. Bill has created a good network of friends through AA, through his church and through work.”

“Work keeps me out of trouble!” Bill smiled.

For the past 13 years, Bill has worked for Aramark in the food service operation at Elms College in Chicopee. “Billy is a great worker,” says Jane Fournier, the head cashier for Aramark. “He works mostly in the dish room, bringing out dishes and silverware, cleaning up and putting things away. Anything you ask, he can do. He’s reliable and very nice.”

“When we don’t work at Elms College in the summer, I volunteer at a camp for girls and boys who come from foster homes. They go swimming, canoeing, fishing and things like that. I like working with the kids.”

Each week Bill gets five hours of direct support from Lisa Forand, his DDS Outreach Worker for MHA. Lisa advocates for Bill at medical appointments and with his landlord. She helps him make smart nutritional choices, which is important since Bill has Diabetes. Because reading is difficult for him, they review his mail together. Lisa takes Bill to the Veteran’s Cemetery in Agawam each Memorial Day and at Christmas so Bill can put a wreath on the grave of his father, who served in the U.S. Navy. They even go to an occasional baseball game together. “I like the Yankees, but Lisa likes the Red Sox,” Bill pointed out.

Bill is a talented artist whose favorite subject is birds. “I work from post cards or Christmas cards,” he explained. “I keep some drawings in albums and some I put on bulletin boards. My best ones I put in picture frames.” Bill was a featured speaker at MHA’s Annual Meeting a few years ago, giving a moving speech and displaying some of his drawings.

What would Bill say to someone with a disability about getting a job? “Try it and see!”

And what would he say to companies about hiring more folks with disabilities? “I think they should. We have just as much right to work as anyone and just as much to offer. Sometimes people with disabilities stay working at a job for a lot longer. I know they like me at my job because I’ve been there a long time.”

As a local, nonprofit provider of residential and support services, MHA works with people who are impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance use and homelessness. Some of these people are able to work, and MHA does its part by making sure our participants who want to work are ready to work.

As a community-minded employer, are you ready to hire?

If your organization can provide an opportunity for someone
who is ready to work, call Kimberley A. Lee at 413-233-5343.