WATERVILLE – Jim Schmidt has spent a lifetime helping people with mental illnesses make social connections and find jobs.

The idea is simple: With work, one gains confidence, self-worth, friends, a sense of accomplishment — and an income.

When people say that a large percentage of those with mental illness are unable to work or don’t want to, Schmidt, who is 83, disagrees.

“It’s not accurate,” he says. “You can’t say a percentage of people can’t work until you give them the opportunity to work.”

Schmidt, of Rome, was recently praised by Gov. John Baldacci and other state officials for his lifelong contribution to the promotion of full-time employment and high quality of life for adults with mental illness.

Schmidt moved to Rome in the 1990s with his wife, Mollie, after retiring in 1992 as executive director of Fountain House, Inc., an organization supporting people with mental illness that started in New York City and grew worldwide.

After retiring to Maine, Schmidt helped launch High Hopes, a community clubhouse in Waterville that helps people with mental illnesses make social connections and find meaningful jobs.

It was the first of its kind in the state and was patterned after Fountain House. About 44 of the 106 members work either full time or part time.

Schmidt also helped develop Capitol Clubhouse in Augusta and works with state officials to advance the clubhouse model.

Despite undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, Schmidt continues to push for funding and expansion of the program.

To recognize Schmidt’s legacy, state officials are providing scholarships for two clubhouse members to attend the Clubhouse Conference and Employment Celebration in Washington, D.C. next year.

Waterville City Manager Michael Roy said there would be no clubhouse without Schmidt.

“He brought the idea to our area and helped secure a lot of our funding,” Roy said. “It (is) the belief of people like Jim that those with mental disabilities should not be confined to a life of collecting benefits.”