Paul's Story: Work ethic impresses employer, advances Paul's achievements, responsibilities and independence

—by Nicole Clevenger

(Editor's note: This story originally appeared in "Work Is Recovery: True stories of real people who benefit from Supported Employment, the evidence-based practice," a booklet which was published in March 2007. View the "Work Is Recovery" PDF for free.)

Mentor, OH—On weekends, you will find Paul Yuzva in the kitchen of a very popular national Italian restaurant chain in Mentor. Here, the “dinner rush” lives up to its name, and Paul helps keep things running smoothly. At 3 p.m. he meets with the chef to plan the coming day. They organize and prioritize, then Paul slips on his apron and gloves and gets down to work. He peels potatoes. He portions pasta. He prepares bread for the oven, pausing frequently to tidy his work area and to change the water for sanitizing his utensils. On occasion when he finishes early, he cleans and completes other miscellaneous tasks as needed.

An Employer's Perspective Of A Valuable Employee

The executive chef* explains that Paul is a great employee because of what he brings to the job. He never gripes or grumbles and happily fulfills his role in the spirit of teamwork. The executive chef finds this attitude refreshing.

"It is comforting to have Paul in the building,” he says. "He is a pleasure to work with and he brings everybody’s spirits up. We have a good time.” He adds that Paul is very conscientious: he is vigilant about cleanliness, wants to do his job well, and is eager to learn. "Paul was very self-conscious at first about whether he was doing a good job or not. Now, he only asks for a little feedback. He’s got it down. He gets the job done."

Paul is punctual and reliable. He never misses work, and although he does not own a car or drive, he consistently arrives early for his shift. He feels that dependability is the foundation of the trust that his employer has in him. Certainly, these are invaluable qualities in the restaurant industry, which is known for its high employee turnover. In fact, the restaurant hired and parted company with several employees before they hired Paul a year ago. “We got him by luck,” the executive chef says.

How Paul Sees It

Paul believes he is a hard worker because he is proactive and energetic, committed to excellence, fast but thorough, and never sacrifices quality in his pursuit of efficiency. He laughs as he admits that he does ask a lot of questions. He shrugs and explains that his attention to detail is all a part of quality assurance. “I don’t just want to get the job done. I want to get it done right,” he emphasizes.

There are times when Paul does not feel like working, but he chooses to do it anyway. He gets through the depressive mood by reminding himself that his shift does not last forever, and with this assurance, it becomes less daunting to go. Paul explains that in moments like these he makes a conscious decision to cope. He has, in fact, been coping for over 10 years—and he is only 30.

A Turbulent Childhood, A Steadfast Child

Paul was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18-years old, which complicated the already confusing and often tumultuous process of growing up.

He recalls having had a lot of problems with motivation when his illness was at its worst. At times, he even found it difficult to shower or get dressed. As he got older, someone suggested that perhaps he move into a nursing home, but Paul immediately rejected the idea and, instead, formulated his own definition of recovery. He believed he could work, be self-sufficient, and live independently.

Commitment: A Consistent Effort To Improve

"I used to not like myself very much," Paul says, explaining that his lack of self-esteem directly related to his lack of purpose in society. Therefore, for him, having a job was not just a want; it was a need.

The fusion of desire and drive pushed him to pursue his goals. So in 2004, with the help of an employment specialist at NEIGHBORING, a mental health services provider in Lake County, he began looking for work. When he was hired at the Italian restaurant, he was excited and admittedly quite anxious. He was afraid of not getting his tasks done and he was self-conscious about what people would think and say about his mental illness. It was very difficult to adjust to his job at first, but his motivation to succeed far outweighed his misgivings.

Home Away From Home

Paul admits that his comfort level is much higher now. He describes the feeling of being at work as similar to that of being in the company of good friends. Over the past year, Paul and the other employees have gotten to know one another better. It has been a learning process for everyone.

Paul elaborates. "Sometimes I say strange things and people will ask, ‘Why did you say that,’ but I don’t get offended. They are just trying to understand." He explains that he does not take these questions personally—that is, as an offense. This demonstrates his commitment to professionalism and good judgment.

Patience Pays Off

Looking back, the executive chef knows that his intuition about Paul during their first meeting was on target.

"Paul’s character stood out to me,” he says. "I was confident that he could do the job I wanted."

Over the past year, this confidence has only strengthened. In fact, when Paul masters one aspect of his job, the chef adds new duties to keep him interested. For example, Paul was recently given the responsibility of stocking the kitchen with fresh bread. In this way, he grows with his job according to his own pace.

The executive chef has advice for other employers. "Patience will pay off,” he says. "As with anyone, you have to take the time to train people. If you do that, it will be one less thing you have to worry about.”

Looking Forward

Paul’s employer feels that Paul will determine his level of success in years to come and that he will take his career as far as he wants to take it. Paul has some definite ideas about this as well. He would one day like to become a chef himself.

Clearly, Paul is committed to his future, to his recovery, and to his career. He feels that others with mental illness can learn by his example. "Think about your dreams—and then go for it,” he says.  "You have to take risks, or you have nothing to gain.” 

The 'Work Is Recovery' Stories

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Nicole Clevenger, BFA, is a peer consultant at the Ohio SE CCOE, an initiative of the Center for EBPs at Case Western Reserve University. Edited by Paul M. Kubek, director of communications at the Center for EBPs. Editor’s note: The executive chef who was interviewed for this story was the person who hired Paul and was his immediate supervisor while this story was being written. By the time this story was being prepared for print, the chef had left the restaurant for another employment opportunity. Paul continues to work in the kitchen. He starts his shift promptly at 3 p.m., as usual.