Clubhouse Provides Meaningful Work to Those Living with Mental Illness
With a sweet smile, Marie walks slowly along the length of the table, carefully wiping it clean before moving on to the chairs. She moves between a steady stream of people who come and go from The Hope Center, a nonprofit organization that serves those in need in Waukesha County where she is employed through a transitional employment program of Spring City Corner Clubhouse.
Marie is a member of Spring City Corner Clubhouse, an LSS daytime drop-in center in Waukesha that offers a safe, no-pressure environment where those who are disabled because of a mental illness can participate and engage in meaningful work and also receive vocational and social support. Marie and another Clubhouse member, Sally, work at The Hope Center as custodians as part of Clubhouse’s Transitional Employment (TE) program, which places members in short-term jobs in the community.
Both Sally and Marie have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Sally lost a job she loved in childcare because of her illness, and as she talks about it, she has to pause and take a deep breath to regain her composure. Marie was employed at a restaurant for many years, and lost her job when she got sick. They both came to the Clubhouse in search of support, structure and skills to do meaningful work again. Together with Matt, Jake, Cindy, Michele, and many other members, they run Clubhouse.
“Clubhouse has given me hope,” says Sally.
Work-Ordered Day Builds Skills and Authentic Relationships
Clubhouse is based on an international model that believes relationships built through shared work are more authentic, explains Program Manager Linda Cole. Members are empowered to build their vocational and social skills that lead to more satisfying, productive lives.
Using a work-ordered day that mimics the flow of a regular workday, members work side-by-side with LSS staff to operate the Clubhouse and all of its departments. A large sign-up board lists open jobs, and members choose the work that interests them. There are no expectations, only encouragement, and a sense of members feeling a need to get the work done; members decide how involved they want to be.
Some work in reception, answering calls and greeting members. Others give tours or conduct orientation sessions. Some work in the snack shop. Still others, like Matt who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had to leave a high-level management position due to stress, enjoy clerical work, including tracking Clubhouse statistics.
The heart of Clubhouse is the culinary department. Every weekday, members prepare a hearty lunch in the Spring City Cafe that sells for $1.50. Alongside Clubhouse rehabilitation specialist Sharon Dixon, the members coordinate everything from selecting the menu, grocery shopping, preparation, serving and clean up.
“The culinary department isn’t just about making lunch, per se,” says Sharon. “It’s about building relationships and trust. It’s about empowering members with skills they can use. In some cases, it’s also about overcoming fears. Our members have experienced a lot of trauma in their lives. They have to learn to trust us.”
She tells the story of one member who suffered abuse that involved a hot stove. It took months for her to even stand in the kitchen. Gradually, as she was comfortable, she moved closer.
One day, she was asked to place something inside the oven. Sharon remembers her fearful question, “You’re not going to push me inside, are you?" Sharon gently assured her that would never happen.
New Friends, Meaningful Activities
Without exception, when asked, members say they are drawn to Clubhouse because of the friendliness of colleagues and the chance to do something constructive during their day. They attend weekly house meetings and standards meetings and are actively involved in all decisions made for Clubhouse.
Some come with the goal of getting back into a job, but for others, coming to Clubhouse and successfully completing their assignment while among friends is all the satisfaction they need.
The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), of which Clubhouse is a vendor for job placement services, is available for all Clubhouse members, explains Lorie Pukenis, Clubhouse’s program supervisor. Some come to be part of the TE program, but others come for education that includes computer training and employment workshops. Clubhouse staff also helps members with other needs, such as obtaining resources for government benefits, health insurance, energy assistance and housing just to name a few.
Clubhouse is funded through Waukesha County, the United Way of Waukesha County and through revenue generated by the Café and by placing members successfully into permanent work positions. In fact, it was through job placement revenue that Clubhouse was able add two additional part-time staff members and increase employment training opportunities.
Lorie points to Gordon, a Clubhouse member who had been homeless, as a success story of the TE program. He successfully participated in the program, and it eventually led to permanent employment in the field of environmental control.
“We believe you have to meet members’ basic needs first before they can begin to work on recovery. We are very proud to offer that support system,” said Lorie.