“Before I came to the CIL, I had never thought of my depression as part of the disability community, and I didn’t identify with the CIL,” Joel Reinstein, 22, says. “When I heard the word, ‘disability,’ wheelchairs came to mind. I had never thought about hidden issues as being considered a disability. The summer program really helped me recognize my own depression as a disability.”
Joel, a student at Michigan State University (MSU), was a member of the Ann Arbor CIL’s Americorps VISTA Summer Employment Opportunity Program, which provided a 10-week, full-time work-learning experience for 20 young adults. The Ann Arbor CIL launched the program in partnership with Michigan Works! and the Corporation for National and Community Service. It combined on-the-job work experiences at seven area non-profit organizations with classroom-based learning at the CIL about career exploration and “real world” readiness. Students worked at the Ann Arbor CIL, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Court Appointed Special Advocates, EMU GEAR UP, the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, the Neutral Zone, and Ozone House.
Joel was stationed at the CIL for his on-the-job service experience and worked primarily on the CIL’s annual cycling event and fundraiser, I-Ride. “In the months leading up to I-Ride, I did a lot of cold-calling. It wasn’t glamorous, but I called up potential sponsors to try to get food donations and sponsorships for the event.” It worked: Joel secured enough food donations to make sure every meal was provided at no cost to participants during the four-day event. Joel was also responsible for a variety of other event logistics.
“Participating in the program really made an impact on me,” Joel said. “I saw first-hand the benefits of hard work and sticking something out. It gave me a feeling of being able to accomplish things.”
Joel, who was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety in high school, said “having depression has had a huge impact on my life. Thoughts of ‘what’s the point? I’m not going to make it. I’m not good enough’ play out in my mind all the time.” Joel took a leave of absence from MSU last winter because of challenges related to his depression. After spending the summer with the CIL, he said, “I now have a better understanding that my own hidden issues are part of the disability community.”
“Because of my depression, everything I do is focused on taking on problems that seem insurmountable,” Joel said. “But I’ve stopped trying to fight off my depression, and I accept it as a part of me. It’s always going to be there. Now what I try to do is acknowledge its existence and get out of the door anyway.”
Joel plans to continue with his studies at MSU this winter. And after graduation? “I want to apply for the Peace Corps,” he said. “I don’t like doing things just for my career. I want to help people.”