It’s a cold, wintry night in southeast Portland and Chris is just beginning her shift at a local restaurant. Chris, who works nights, considers herself a “jack of all trades." She loves serving customers and also enjoys helping all of her coworkers.

Chris, who is part of the transgender community and prefers non-binary or female pronouns, has come a long way. That's because, almost two years ago, Chris was living in Phoenix, Arizona and experiencing depression and auditory hallucinations. “It was making it very difficult to get life together," Chris says.

Her grandmother noticed Chris was struggling as well and stepped in to help. Shortly after, Chris moved to Portland, Oregon to live with family and became a part of Early Assessment Support Alliance (EASA). 

EASA is a two-year program for young people, ages 13-25, experiencing psychosis. The program helps transitional youth access employment and education help, consult with a peer, and receive nutrition guidance. EASA also provides individualized therapy and access to a licensed medical provider to help with medications, symptoms, or side effects.

As Chris began to settle into her new home, she worked with her EASA therapist and licensed medical provider to get her medications adjusted correctly and received individualized therapy sessions to address post-traumatic stress disorder from childhood.

“It took time to get the medications right and work through some of my issues, but once those barriers began to resolve, it was easy to decide to go back to work," Chris says. She discovered that she wanted to increase her independence and save money to return to college.

That's when Chris was referred to EASA Supported Employment and began working with a supported employment specialist. The supported employment team helped Chris create a resume and prepare for job interviews. “Supported employment is helpful because they keep me on track and help me explore options within employment,” Chris says.

In time, with help from the supported employment team, Chris returned to the workforce and secured her food service position. She's grown in it for the past six months. “Work helps me feel more positive and helps me feel like I am making progress in life," Chris says. "It gives more substance to days of the week and provides me with more structure." 

Tosha Bock is Chris' supported employment specialist. She says she's seen Chris' symptoms improve firsthand. “Chris and I have been working together for about nine months and they have worked hard to get where they are today," she says.

Occasionally barriers do come up at work. But when Chris needs support, she reaches out to Tosha, who has helped Chris turn challenges into attainable goals.  “I’m still getting help and continued support from Tosha with my current job." Chris says. "We troubleshoot issues that may come up and brainstorm new career paths.”

Chris has future plans of going back to college and ultimately beginning their career.  She wouldn’t mind learning more about food preparation some day, as well. “Cooking is a practical skill to learn, but it is also an art as well," Chris says. "I have a strong passion for art"

For Tosha, watching Chris succeed has been a joy. And she looks forward to seeing Chris grow.

“Chris has always had a strong desire to work within a restaurant," Tosha says. "I know she can do anything she sets her mind to and I look forward to seeing where the future takes her.”