Supported Employment Brings Confidence and Stability

Supported Employment Brings Confidence and Stability

Gil Berman wants to de-stigmatize mental health issues and treatment. A bright and funny 23-year-old who exudes self-confidence, Gil has Asperger’s syndrome. He also has an anxiety disorder and “some other issues,” including Tourette syndrome, which he learned he had in fourth grade. 

“People would tell me I was so brave to talk about it,” he said. “That always confused me. It feels good to talk about it. Everybody is educated, and everybody wins.”
After graduating in 2011 from the Ben Franklin Academy, Gil did a gap year in Israel. In 2012, he started attending Georgia Perimeter College. But it wasn’t the right time, as he had “a lot going on in my life.”

“I always planned to go back to school, but I had less of an idea of what I wanted to do than any high schooler ever,” he said. “I had no direction.”

Gil began seeing Dan Arnold, director of JF&CS’ Clinical Services. The two have forged a strong bond, with Dan helping Gil through some major challenges.

“Dan goes far out of his way to make sure he understands what I want to say, what I’m feeling. You can tell he’s very much invested,” said Gil.

After spending some time in a local day treatment program focusing on group therapy, Gil found a door-to-door sales job. He did well but couldn’t take the stress. He tried other jobs here and there, but they didn’t work out. Then in 2015, after not working for two years, Gil met with Rachel Miller, a program manager in JF&CS’ Supported Employment Program, which provides job coaching and regular follow-up.

“We talked for a couple of hours and filled in a few applications. He got calls on all of them,” said Rachel. In the end, Gil took a job with Party City in East Cobb.

“Nearly a year later, he’s confident he can do the job with minimal support, and he’s already thinking of ways he can take what he learns and build it into a new experience, to seek out promotions and more responsibility.”

Gil, who lives on his own in Sandy Springs, spends
30 hours a week at Party City. He works the cash register, stocks shelves and does anything else the store needs.

“He picked everything up very quickly, and his employers love him,” said Rachel.

The customers seem to as well. “I’m working at a place where people get stressed trying to have a good time,” Gil said. “It’s really gratifying to have someone turn to me to ask for pointers about what will be effective for a party.”

While he loves his job, Gil thinks he is ready to go back to school soon. With Atlanta’s film industry growing so rapidly, he would like to train to work in it. He also would love to get back into standup comedy, which he dabbled in at 16. (You can see him on YouTube.) Even before then, he took classes in improvisational comedy.

“When I heard about this film program, I thought,
‘I can get on board with that,’” he said. “I have always loved making people smile.”

Gil’s mom, Dr. Lauren Berman, could not be more proud of her son for what he has accomplished, often against tough odds. She praises him for having the courage to speak out about mental health.

“People don’t talk openly. They don’t talk about their struggles,” she said. As a psychologist herself, she sees people “who seem to have it all.”

“Everybody has challenges, so we need to put it out there and make it less of a stigma. Gil wants to open it up, make it less shameful, just par for the course.”

For more information, visit ytfl.org/counseling or ytfl.org/supportedemployment.

Written by Sheri Panovka, Posted in Counseling Services, Developmental Disabilities Services

About the Author

Sheri Panovka

Sheri Panovka

Sheri Panovka is JF&CS' Marketing Communications Coordinator. As one of JF&CS' principal writers, writes for the printed publications, enewsletters, synagogue bulletins, website and many of our events.