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Clubhouse: bridging the gap for mentally ill in Elkhart County

The Truth - 10/6/2017

Oct. 06--GOSHEN -- This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Nearly 20 percent of the population of the United States suffers from some degree of mental illness.

From the 1860s through the 1950s, much of this population was locked away in psychiatric facilities. Poor living conditions and understaffed asylums gave way for mass deinstitutionalization during the middle of the century.

Clubhouse was founded in 1948 when a group of patients from a state mental hospital were deinstitutionalized at the same time. They would meet on the front steps of a New York Public Library and they told themselves, "We are not alone," in their illness, in their struggles, in their lives. Their goal was to help each other find housing, employment and, overall, to keep each other out of mental institutions. Their first building was in Harlem, N.Y. Since then, 450 clubhouses have popped up worldwide and are accredited by their own nonprofit organization, Clubhouse International. Elkhart County Clubhouse opened in May 2012 and sees nearly 25 people a day.

"A lot of what Clubhouse does is to bridge that gap between being isolated or hospitalized a lot and then kind of reintegrating into society," Borntrager said, "And one of the big things that a lot of people with mental illness lose is their sense of community, so we provide them with that."

At the clubhouse, members are offered an array of opportunities and meaningful work within and outside of the building. They are expected to help each other in whatever way they can, whether it's rides, tutoring or helping with meals.

"When a member comes here, they have the opportunity to work and run any aspect of the clubhouse," Andrew Borntrager, member volunteer and board of directors member,

Members sign in upon entering the building, and report what they've done prior to leaving. Multiple whiteboards allow members to sign up for daily chores within the facility, driving routes in one of the facility's four vans, tutoring sessions, giving tours of the building to potential members and medical professionals, recreational activities such as bowling or attending local events and job boards including opportunities with partner employers and transitional employment. There are also a community gardening, a space for an in-house news program, donor-provided clothing closet and small library, snack bar with many items for sale and a washer and dryer for members in need of them at a cost of 50 cents per load.

Every morning, meetings are held with members in attendance to discuss announcements and any need for community support such as rides to doctor's appointments, moving help, filing out paperwork or advocacy support with landlords. There are also employment development meetings, daily chore meetings and individual unit meetings.

"All clubhouse opportunities are available to all members regardless of ability or function," Borntrager said.

The club house partners with Horizon Education Alliance who provides mentoring and materials to member tutors who want to help others at the clubhouse.

On their birthday, members get to pick lunch for the clubhouse. Otherwise, menus are chosen by a group of members. Breakfast is served at 8:30 a.m. for $1; lunch is served at noon for $2.

The clubhouse's building was built in 1890 by a local shop owner named J.M. Dale. It remained in the family until 1990 when it was sold to another family, who later sold it to an accountant, who finally sold it to the clubhouse. The kitchen is scheduled for renovation in November.

To become a member of the Elkhart County Clubhouse, individuals must be over 18 years of age and have a qualifying mental illness confirmed by their doctor. Illnesses are not specified by doctors. There is no cost for membership.

The potential for another Clubhouse in Elkhart is currently being explored. Board members meet at Canaan Baptist Church, 933 Fieldhouse Ave., Elkhart. Currently, they have no clients but are in talks with Oaklawn to explore the needs of the community. Contact Hilda Peters at 574-389-6085 for more information.

"Our goal is to become a household name, because this is such an important organization in terms of filling in the holes in treatment- the community-based thing that isn't there and the work-based thing that isn't there in the medical model," Borntrager said. "It's something that the medical model can't provide."

Elkhart County Clubhouse located at 114. S. Fifth St., Goshen. The building is open 8:30 a.m. -- 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.


(c)2017 The Elkhart Truth (Elkhart, Ind).

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