27 Jan The Inspiring People and Healing Power of Vail House
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has stated that “the lack of safe and affordable housing is one of the most powerful barriers to recovery.” In southeast Minneapolis, Vail House offers a solution. This 23-bed group residential housing (GRH) provides transitional housing and support services to people who are homeless and living with mental illness and chemical dependency. Vail House focuses on skill-building to find and maintain stable, long-term housing, with the goal of preparing its residents for independence.
But the welcoming, inclusive environment at Vail House and success of the program hasn’t happened by accident. The facility is run by a motivated, talented team of people. A few of its key players are Director Jamie Fann, Hospitality Services Lead Octavius Taylor and Program Manager Melissa Leimbach. These three come from very different backgrounds and serve different roles at Vail House, but they are all driven by a common mission – to help people in their paths to recovery.
The director who implements a vision for holistic treatment
Jamie Fann grew up in Chicago. She went to college for special education, but upon volunteering at inner city shelters and working in long-term homelessness programs, shifted her studies to Family Counseling with Biblical emphasis. She received her Undergraduate in Biblical Counseling and her (Mdiv) Master of Divinity emphasis Theology from Trinity College. She says, “I am passionate about working with people of all walks of life. I felt led to pursue a career in social services which has given me an opportunity to apply my skills and continue to grow in the numerous sectors this industry offers.”
In June 2018, Jamie started working for Vail Place as Director of the Hopkins Clubhouse, and she took on the role of Director at Vail House only a few months later. Since then, she has split her time at both locations. When at Vail House, she enjoys building relationships with residents and meeting with staff members to stay abreast of progress, goals and program needs. She continues to prioritize implementing the needed program structures within Vail House to meet each resident where they are at in their recovery so they may live independently and move into long term, permanent housing or apartments. “I truly appreciate being part of a program that allows support to residents as they work towards freedom of addiction and mental health recovery which allows potential housing and employment independence.”
Jamie says the most rewarding aspect of her job has been using her talents and skills to meet individuals where they’re at as they navigate their recovery. “The method I use when working with individuals with severe and persistent mental illness and/or chemical dependency is being aware and present. It’s being able to listen, being mindful and being able to know how/when to insert yourself to support an individual in a time of overwhelming chaos.”
The man who serves wholesome food with sides of happiness and support
Vail House Hospitality Services Lead Octavius Taylor has been working at Vail House for about two and a half years. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and was originally trained in culinary arts at a senior living facility in the Twin Cities. From there, he worked as a chef for 10 years before venturing out to do security work for a while.
Octavius came to Vail House as a Resident Assistant where he found that supporting individuals in their recovery was something he did well and enjoyed. When the Hospitality Services position opened, he easily added his skills in that area while keeping his connection with the residents and the program. “I like working with the community, with needs that I can help with. It’s fulfilling.”
Here, he blends his passion for cooking with his enjoyment of working with people. Octavius leads the efforts in the kitchen to provide healthy, balanced meals with wholesome foods. He sources some of his ingredients from an on-site, self-sustainable Vail House garden. They grow a range of foods, such as tomatoes, basil, peppers, jalapenos, cilantro and chives.
His work at Vail House has been mutually beneficial for the self-described happy-go-lucky chef. “I feel like I can make these guys happy through my cooking, and my attitude.”
The program manager who works to make the House a home
Melissa Leimbach has been working as Program Manager of Vail House for a year. She graduated from Metropolitan State University with a degree in human services and minors in psychology and community violence prevention. She spent some time working in different residential settings, but Melissa said she was drawn to Vail House because “there’s a continuum at Vail Place in that individuals begin, grow, and then move on in the direction and life they have designed for themselves. They are empowered in their independence, strong in their wellbeing and sobriety, and motivated to continue their journey. With every residential program I’d worked in before, that was the end result.” Melissa sees Vail House like a bridge from treatment programs. She finds it rewarding “to watch residents design their own path, create their own goals and succeed. Their end result is independence.”
Melissa’s role at Vail House is an active one. She makes sure the beds are full so the program can sustain itself. This includes coordinating with many different organizations and she has already expanded Vail House referral contacts significantly in her time there. She makes sure that everyone’s needs are met as well, which involves work interacting and spending time with the residents and staff. “What we try to do here is create a community of support and trust, with guidance and resources,” she commented. Melissa is also responsible for maintaining a strong team of skilled staff that support the residents and the program.
After a year as Program Manager, she is beginning to see the positive effects of the changes she has been working toward. “When I first started here,” she recalled, “it seemed more like a facility. We have worked very hard at making the house feel more like home and given a sense of community to the residents.” Some of these efforts have involved encouraging creativity and enhancing the aesthetic of Vail House. She brought in live plants, began celebrating and displaying residents’ art and encouraged projects like a fence mural and a Little Free Library, which has also turned into a contribution to the neighborhood. These efforts stimulate creativity, and show our commitment to the house and the neighborhood.
A unique place with a dedicated team
Obviously, Vail House isn’t your typical sober house. It’s the incredible people at Vail House – not just Jamie, Octavius and Melissa – who create the uniquely supportive and healing environment that’s focused on the whole individual. By addressing the comprehensive needs of its residents, Vail House provides a smooth transition. Jamie describes it not as sober living, but as a sober experience in the path to recovery. It’s a safe place, a home, where a community of people are learning the skills to empower their pursuit of recovery, mental health and life opportunities.