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Job service centers lose funding

By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / November 16, 2008
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Putting a face on budget cuts

The national economic crisis prompted the governor to cut the state budget by more than $1 billion. To show that behind many cost-cutting moves are people or organizations whose world is turned upside down, Globe North offers a glimpse of the human impact.

Neil Barry wrote a letter to Governor Deval Patrick, urging him to restore $683,000 in state funding for Riverside Career Services, a nonprofit in Lynn and Melrose that provides job and education services for mentally disabled people.

He also called Barack Obama's campaign office in Boston. He was told to fax a letter to the Chicago headquarters of the Illinois senator. But he wasn't looking for a federal bailout.

"He's supposedly friends with Deval Patrick," said Barry, 57, who uses the Lynn center. "It came to me that if Barack Obama got elected and should see my letter, he might give Deval Patrick a call. He might change his mind."

Unless new funding is found, the Riverside centers will close Dec. 5. Patrick's cuts to mental health services included $422,000 for the Lynn center and $261,000 for Melrose. The two locations now are working with 180 people who have emotional disorders, such as chronic depression. A combined staff of 14 work to place people in jobs or education programs.

Barry, who has bipolar disorder, got a job teaching financial literacy to middle-schoolers in an after-school program. "I couldn't have done it without them," he said. "They work with you every step, from interviewing to filling out job applications."

Support continues even after someone starts a new job or school. "It really fills a gap," said Marjorie Longo, director of the Melrose center for 11 years. "We give our [clients] and employers the support they need to make things work."

Victor Friedman, a dishwasher at Turner's Seafood Grill & Market in Melrose, turns to Riverside when things get hectic.

"I have somebody to talk to there to help me with my job," said Friedman, 44, who has anxiety and can get flustered when dishes pile up.

They've helped him write letters to request vacation time. He's talked to them if he is ever asked to do a new task, such as cleaning clam shells. "I don't know what I'll do without them," he said.

Riverside's staff will be laid off after the closing. The centers on Munroe Street in Lynn and West Foster Street in Melrose will be shuttered.

People served at each site can go to state-run career centers, which have one staff person designated to work with disabled people. But they will not get the same level of services. With so many people out of work, the fear is that disabled people could get lost in the shuffle, Longo said.

"We work with a specific population," Longo said. "We have a smaller caseload because we work with people who have different needs than others."

Mary-Ellen B. of Wakefield meets twice a week with Kelly Griffin, a job coach at the Melrose office. She's got a certificate in child care from a community college. She'd like to work in that field, or as a pet groomer.

"I would like to be an assistant for either of those places," said Mary-Ellen, who most recently worked at an Au Bon Pain cafe. She asked that her last name not be published for privacy reasons.

She credits Griffin and Longo with helping her gain confidence.

"I was really down one day, and they helped me to put together a list of my good qualities," she said. "They reminded me that I'm responsible, punctual, nice, love people and animals."

She doesn't know where she'll go once Riverside closes. But she knows what she'd say if someone asked why it should stay open.

"We need services for the disabled," she said. "There are people who want to work and can work. We just need some help."

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