Mitch has always been good with his hands. For decades, he relied on his skills to escape from the effects of schizophrenia. But his path in life never seemed to lead anywhere good. He needed a helping hand, a guide.

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He turned to Heartland Family Service to help him find his path to hope and success that he longed for.

“It really makes a difference,” Mitch says. “I know I’m not dumb. I know the overpowering voices are something I control. I have a barrier I have to deal with every day of my life. But you can’t get hung up and just got to look at it with the right perspective.”

As a child, he loved to help his mother in the kitchen. Learning to cook allowed him the kind of one-on-one time that was pretty rare in a house with four other children and his father, an Army drill sergeant. His mom, a civil servant by day, also was strict, but seemed uncharacteristically kind in her baking instruction.

However, even their sweet creations couldn’t brighten the darkness growing inside of Mitch after witnessing his baby sister’s death.

“I used to cry, and didn’t know why I was having trouble in school,” says Mitch, now 57. “I didn’t know what was wrong. I realized when I was older that I saw the whole thing.”

Mitch threw himself into his hand-crafting activities to escape.

In high school, he took up wrestling, using his strong hands to take down opponents. At age 18, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his family members and enlist in the Army. But just before basic training, Mitch suffered a dislocated left shoulder in a motorcycle accident. When he reported for duty, the Army discharged him.

Mitch returned home and turned to carpentry, using his talented hands to build homes. But the manual labor of a carpenter took a toll, and his back went out and his shoulder pain came back, forcing him to quit the trade. Without any outlet, he spiraled into a deep depression.

“I started drinking and wound up homeless,” Mitch says. “I hit rock bottom. . . . I was really paranoid and frustrated and just blamed it on the (childhood) trauma.”

He decided to go to the hospital for help and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“It wasn’t easy (to get help),” he says. “I didn’t know how to explain it. It’s like taking a drug. Schizophrenia is a real thing, but it’s not seen by anyone else.”

He was given medicine to help him cope, but he wasn’t able to find stability until he came to Heartland Family Service.

Using a multi-service approach, our staff created a path for Mitch. Our Pottawattamie County Homeless Link (PCHL) team helped him secure short-term, scattered-site transitional housing before he found a permanent home with his brother.

Our PCHL staff then referred him to our Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program, which works with Mitch to maintain his treatment plan, including medication, and help keep the frustration and paranoia under control. Our ACT exercise science/nutrition staff member also goes on weekly walks with Mike around the mall to keep his body healthy and to counteract the side effects of his medication.

Today, Mitch has found his way back to using his hand-crafting skills while cooking for his brother, with whom he now shares a home. The brothers enjoy watching Chicago Bears football and spoil their great-nieces and nephews every chance they get.

“It’s a hard struggle, but I won’t give up,” Mitch says. “I’m proud of myself. … Definitely reach out and use your options,” he says. “That’s what Heartland Family Service has done for me.”

Heartland Family Service. Creating the path to a better tomorrow.