Sat Aug 24, 2013
AT the peak of his 25-year career in hospitality, Keith Christiansen was earning $200 nightly tips from media tycoon Kerry Packer.
At private dinners hosted by the late billionaire, he waited on guests such as Tom Cruise, Jackie Chan, Nicole Kidman and Rod Stewart.
But when a heart attack ended his career, Mr Christiansen spiralled into severe depression and attempted to take his own life.
Today, the 57-year - old is working again thanks to an innovative program that gives people with a mental illness training and experience to get back into the workforce.
"I just love hospitality because I love making people happy," Mr Christiansen said.
With colleague Catherine D'Angelo, he runs the catering service at Figtree Conference Centre - a unique function centre at Sydney's Olympic Park which employs people with a mental illness.
"It's hard to get into an industry if you don't have any experience so this has given me a stepping stone to one day working in open employment," said Catherine, 35, who has schizophrenia.
Figtree is a multi-million dollar conference centre and was purpose built by Richmond PRA, a service provider offering pre-employment programs for people living with a mental illness.
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