There’s No Place Like Hope

Friend­ship and con­nec­tion are at the hub of Hope Club­house, of­fer­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for adults with men­tal ill­ness

Times of the Islands - - In The Community - Cathy Chest­nut is a free­lance writer and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia who ex­plores the peo­ple and places that make South­west Florida, her home­town stomp­ing grounds, unique. BY CATHY CHEST­NUT

There are no se­cret pass­words or ex­clu­sive dues to join. At Hope Club­house of South­west Florida, open­ness and ac­cep­tance—of each other’s men­tal ill­ness—are the keys to mem­ber­ship. Fo­cus­ing on strengths, learning new skills, mak­ing friends or re­turn­ing to the work­force are the goals for the 200-plus mem­bers.

The non­profit Hope Club­house in Fort My­ers is one of eight in Florida and 330 in the w orld ac­cred­ited by New York-based Club­house In­ter­na­tional, a non­profit that over­sees the Club­house pro­gram world­wide. James Wineinger, Hope Club­house’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, has al­most 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in men­tal health, in­clud­ing at Foun­tain House in New York, es­tab­lished as the first Club­house in 1948.

Mem­bers are 18 or older and have pri­mar­ily been di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der, ma­jor de­pres­sion or schizophre­nia, says Wineinger, adding that an es­ti­mated 10.5 per­cent of the United States pop­u­la­tion lives with one of these “big three” ill­nesses.

See­ing a psy­chi­a­trist and tak­ing medicines aren’t al­ways enough to skip along in life. “For al­most ev­ery­body, that’s not the case. It takes mul­ti­ple forms of sup­port,” says Wineinger. “One of the hard­est is­sues to ad­dress is the ten­dency to be iso­lated.” That’s where the Club­house comes in—en­gag­ing par­tic­i­pants com­mit­ted to en­rich­ing their lives.

Mem­bers can visit as of­ten and for as long as they want. Club­house work is divvied into units—busi­ness, culi­nary and hor­ti­cul­ture in the new per­ma­cul­ture gar­den—geared to­ward skill de­vel­op­ment. Reg­u­lar struc­ture and pre­dictabil­ity are vi­tal, and each day be­gins with a 9 a.m. house meet­ing be­fore mem­bers tend to their tasks.

Each week 150 lunches are served, and the $1.50 meal ticket is mem­bers’ only ex­pense. Mem­bers plan the menu, bud­get, shop, cook and serve lunch at cloth-dressed tables. “It gives that sense of struc­ture, and good team-build­ing hap­pens,” says Wineinger.

Each mem­ber brings dis­tinct skills to the club­house: as­sem­bling the news­let­ter, fil­ing, data en­try, an­swer­ing phones, man­ag­ing com­put­ers, har­vest­ing fresh salad in­gre­di­ents. They take turns clean­ing, and they gather to so­cial­ize and watch movies. A mem­ber named Cyn­thia is happy she’s met “peo­ple who treat you like peo­ple.” The Tran­si­tional Em­ploy­ment Pro­gram part­ners with about 10 lo­cal em­ploy­ers for job place­ment, in­clud­ing Broad­way Palm Din­ner Theatre, 20th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit of Florida Pub­lic De­fender Kath­leen A. Smith and Good­will In­dus­tries. Build­ing con­fi­dence and self-es­teem hap­pen at the in­di­vid­ual’s pace. One par­tic­i­pant re­cently re­turned to the work­force af­ter a 17-year hia­tus. The un­em­ploy­ment rate for those with men­tal ill­ness is 10 to 15 per­cent, but 40 per­cent of Club­house mem­bers ven­ture into em­ploy­ment. “Con­ser­va­tively, we’re dou­bling ac­cess to em­ploy­ment with part­ners we have in the com­mu­nity,” Wineinger says.

Its pro­grams are also cen­tered on well­ness, hous­ing and education. Some par­tic­i­pants ob­tain their GED (Gen­eral Equiv­a­lency Diploma) or attend tech­ni­cal school. Oth­ers are in need of de­cent af­ford­able hous­ing—up to 20 per­cent teeter on the cusp of home­less­ness.

Around the Club­house, mem­bers joke, work and share ob­sta­cles and suc­cesses—to­gether. Friend­ship, af­ter all, is the hub of the club. Since join­ing, a mem­ber named Lisa says, “I feel pro­duc­tive. I feel a con­nec­tion with peo­ple—and they’ve given me a rea­son to live.”

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