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Suburban café gives mentally ill a second sh -

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Suburban café gives mentally ill a second shot

Broadcast: 23/10/2008


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Even in good economic times, finding employment and holding down a job
isn't easy for many people with an mental illness. A lack of understanding as well as the stigma
still associated with mental illness means they are often overlooked by employers.

A mental health service in Melbourne decided it had to try something new to guarantee its clients
entry into the work force. It came up with the concept of the Madcap Cafe, which has just opened
its doors in a busy suburban shopping centre.

Owned and operated by the Mental Health Service, its focus is on making a difference, not a profit,
and it's already paying off.

Lisa Whitehead reports.

LISA WHITEHEAD, REPORTER: Not all customers at the Madcap Cafe get such special attention. But
Richard Iskaf delights in serving these VIPs, his son and daughter.

RICHARD ISKAF: It's like I'm remodelling my life into how I really want it to be. And my son is
seeing me working. Because I didn't work. I only have a year eight pass. You know, who is going to
give you a job?

LISA WHITEHEAD: The Madcap Cafe in Melbourne's Dandenong Plaza is giving him the break he needed.

RICHARD ISKAF: I mean, mate, I was in the gutter. I was in the gutter. I had nothing.

LISA WHITEHEAD: His father says for 11 years his drug addicted son's behaviour was erratic and
sometimes violent.

ALBERT ISKAF: Very hard. Very hard. Even if I start to talk about it, maybe I will cry. He doesn't
know what he's doing.

RICHARD ISKAF: I walked into the house with a machete and I said, "I'm going to kill one of you",
or something like that "I'm going to kill you".

Then he said to me, "Drop the knife." I dropped it, and then I dropped as well and I had like a fit
or something. And then I woke up, and the police and ambulance were there. The police said, "Who's
he going with?", and the ambulance took me to the psych ward.

LISA WHITEHEAD: After that stint in hospital Richard Iskaf was finally diagnosed with a severe
anxiety disorder. He was put in touch with Melbourne's Eastern Regions Mental Health Service, or

RICHARD ISKAF: If it wasn't for ERMHA I don't know where I would be or what I would be doing or
what. Even if I would be here.

LISA WHITEHEAD: For the past 12 months his case worker has been helping him run a gym group for
other people with a mental illness.

PETER VELTMAN, SUPPORT WORKER, ERMHA: Richard's got amazing energy, just running from one person to
another and making sure everyone's doing well. And then we sort of figured from that point, maybe
in a cafe environment that would be good as well.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Now, three times a week Richard Iskaf clocks on at the Madcap Cafe, owned by ERMHA.
In a bold move to help provide jobs for its clients, the Mental Health Service took over the lease
of the cafe, renamed it, and took on the risks of running a small business in a suburban shopping

PETER WATERS, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, ERMHA: The cafe is predominantly front of house. I mean, even if you
are doing dishes, you are still in people's view, you are still front of house.

So, you know, there was, you know, there's an element of risk in that for us, there's an element of
risk in that for the clients, and there's an element of risk in that for the customers.

But, you know, with goodwill and a genuine approach, you know, these issues, these risks, just

PATRON: People need a chance, and it gives them confidence I guess.

PATRON 2: Excellent idea. At least, like, in the old days they used to lock them up and put them
away and say no, they're no good. But now they are doing this sort of thing.

PATRON 3: In every of the big shopping centres, I think it would be marvellous.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Peter Waters is also calling on the goodwill of some big names in the hospitality
industry to run in-house training sessions.

MATTEO PIGNATELLI, RESTAURANT OWNER: You can say, "Excuse me," and so that way you know I'm going
to cut in front of you.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Matteo Pignatelli owns one of Melbourne's top restaurants. His business is a world
away from the Madcap Cafe, but he's giving clients like Yousef, who has recently been diagnosed
with schizophrenia, a chance to try their hand in a fine dining restaurant.

MATTEO PIGNATELLI: It's all about the opportunity and them realising through practical experience
that it isn't that hard.

The choices are there for them. That's important. And I'm sure there's going to be a couple of
hiccups and a great big learning curve, but I can't see why it couldn't work.

PETER WATERS: You know, one of five of us has a mental illness. We don't stick out like a sore
thumb, you know, we don't wear a bandaid.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Life can still be a struggle at times for Richard Iskaf, but he's determined to
stay on track.

RICHARD ISKAF: They gave me, like, a new life, you know. They said, they grabbed my other life,
they said, "Here, throw that out. Here you go, here's a beautiful flower, just look after it."
That's all I have got to do.

PETER VELTMAN: He's proud of what he's doing now, he's proud of what he's able to show his children
and proud of being a good father.

RICHARD ISKAF: Buy a coffee, come and say hello. We won't bite. (Laughs).

KERRY O'BRIEN: Lisa Whitehead with that report.