How a new cafe at St. Joe's helps treat mental illness with work

Angela Jaspan has battled with schizoaffective disorder, but as a patient at St. Joe's she finds comfort listening to jazz and serving her family and friends at the new cafe at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton's West 5th campus.
Angela Jaspan standing behind the counter of Colours Cafe.

For Angela Jaspan, the new supervisor at Colours Cafe, a new social enterprise operating in St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton's West 5th campus, her mental illness was “like your worst nightmares come true.”

She first came to St Joe's as a patient for her mental illness. Now, through an innovative social enterprise that helps mental health patients, she works at the mental health hospital's cafe. All her employees have a similar path, as the cafe-real work environment helps patients along the road to recovery. 

“It’s vital and gives people a sense of worth,” said Jaspan.

Japsan, 32, who was born in South Africa and moved to Canada when she was nine, made a trip back to South Africa when she was 20. She worked in a cafe there. That’s when she began experiencing the onset of her scary and powerful symptoms.

She said she started having delusions of racism all over the place, “which is actually likely in South Africa”, but she was over-interpreting it and it overpowered her mind.

“It wasn’t very obvious in the beginning,” said Jaspan, but after returning from the trip, delusions and paranoia continued. She started feeling like people could read her mind and it terrified her. Jaspan’s family, many of whom have a history of mental illness, began noticing her strange behaviour and encouraged her to seek help.

She was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenic and bipolar symptoms. She was admitted and was prescribed medication to remedy the symptoms.

The Colours Cafe and Rainbow's End team. Left to right: David Williams, Dawnna Keith, and Angela Jaspan.

As a patient, Jaspan began working in the cafe at the old West 5th St. Joe’s campus three years ago, and when she was offered the opportunity to continue similar work in the new building, she was thrilled.

“It was an opportunity to continue working with the family I have made at St. Joe’s.”

Success at the Rainbow’s End

Colours Cafe is a social enterprise; a for-profit venture owned by Rainbow’s End, a non-profit organization driven by a social mission. Rainbow's End, the non-profit organization, began in 1997 as a ceramics maker and seller, but by 2008 the business lost steam and Rainbow’s End had to reform their approach.

Now, Rainbow’s End offers part and full-time employment for people who have lived experience of mental illness and addiction, at any of their six businesses. The spirit of these jobs is to help people experience empowerment, inclusion and dignity.

Colours Cafe was modelled after a similar business in Toronto called Out of this World, which also employs individuals who have suffered from mental illness and addiction.

David Williams joined Rainbow’s End as their Executive Director in 2012 and said despite their desire to provide opportunity for as many people as possible, there is no need to cycle employees or force them out if they are working and improving.

“As long as a job is being done well and the employee wants to keep it,” said Williams, they are encourages to stay. Obviously opportunities are bound to expand as demand increases.

On that note, Colours Cafe has recently hired a new chef, and will start making food on site, making the business financially sustainable and offering more job opportunities.

Like any job at any business though, Williams said there are people who are not successful, and Rainbow’s End will try to find a place for them elsewhere in any of their other businesses. “We try to match people more closely.”

These jobs are not given to just anyone, they operate as legitimate businesses, said Dawnna Keith, manager of rehabilitation schizophrenia and community integration service at St. Joe’s. “We can do [the work] as good as anyone else—or better.”

Rainbow’s End currently employs 64 people within their six businesses.

Jaspan gets the jazz going

Jaspan starts her day by opening the doors, starting the coffee, “then I plug my iPhone in and get the jazz going.”

“This is the one area where we have disagreement,” jested Williams. He has an aversion to jazz music while Jaspan finds solace in it. “It has a relaxing and subliminal effect.”

Jaspan loves her work. It’s a place and a business model she never thought she would be working in when she was younger, but it makes her happy—it makes everyone who works there happy.

“It’s our baby and we want to help it grow and we care about it,” said Jaspan.

If the occasion arises, she will try to use her position to comfort people in need.

“Everybody has moods... but if I can crack a joke or if they are moved by the music... it gives me purpose,” said Jaspan

When asked if she would like to make the job into a lifelong career, Japsan simply said, “I’ll run with it.”


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