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Meet our new Culinary Unit Staff!

Our Ladies in the Kitchen

We asked our ladies that now run the Culinary Unit some questions to get to know them better and this is what they had to say:

  • How did you hear about Alliance House?

 

Both Angelica and Alice found Alliance House while looking for employment on the web.

  • How are things going in the Culinary Unit?

 

Angelica says it’s going really smooth and she likes that.

Alice said It’s going well. It’s been fun trying new recipes and sharing life over cooking.

  • Did you know anyone with mental illness before you started working here at AH?

 

Angelica didn’t know anyone with mental health issues.

Alice on the other hand had done an internship at St. Mark’s Psych Unit.

  • Have any of your ideas about mental illness changed since you started working here?

 

For Angelica they really haven’t because she has always believed that all people should have the same opportunities as others have and be treated with the same respect.

As for Alice it sure did. She has learned that mental illness is much more common than society makes it seem and there are such varying degrees.

  • What are some challenges of working here?

 

Angelica’s personal challenges are getting people involved in the work ordered day because she is so use to working alone, but she is finding it very exciting to work with members as a team.

Alice finds it hard to balance time management and make it meaningful at the same time.

  • What are some things that you like about working here at AH?

 

Angelica loves that it is a sense of community, family, friendship, and support for each other. It’s also a place of learning.

Alice loves the members and the staff. She enjoys helping others see their abilities and strengths.

  • What kinds of things do you do in your spare time?

 

Angelica likes to practice and play her violin, play her guitar, and play the piano. She likes to play board games with her husband and loves to dance.

Alice loves being in the mountains and mountain biking. She loves spending time with family and friends.

  • If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go?

 

Angelica would love to travel to Mexico.

Alice would love to go to Chili to explore the Andes.

By Nicole Ferguson and Trudy Bangert

By | 2017-11-15T22:44:44+00:00 November 15th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Niche Article, Part II by Dunc Macdonald

After my schooling, I thought that my challenges were over, but I was so wrong. The job search process was nerve-racking.  Alliance House Supported and Independent Employment Coordinator, Luisa, set to work teaching me more about the job search process. This included inquiry letters, mock interviews, and cover letters, and most importantly, in my opinion, networking.   I learned that an inquiry letter is a document in which you identify your skillset to a company and ask if they have a position for you.   I was also taught how to do a mock interview where you sharpen your presentation for the real thing.  This is different for each person based on their own situation.  For me, it was slowing down my speech and not fidgeting.  Another thing that I learned was how to create a cover letter.   The most important lesson was how to network.   This is done by getting to know people who can help you look for the job type and industry that you want to get involved with.

In December 2010, I got a job as a document shredder with Valley Services through Jeremy who had changed jobs and wanted to give me a chance there.  I held this job for about four months. Then I had a bad fall that dislocated my left shoulder and that ended my job and made me feel discouraged.  After my recovery, I spent the next 4 months in a fruitless search for a job.   By this point I was just about ready to give up.  One day in early July, Luisa came to me and told me that one of our board members, Bill Rice, was starting a social media business and was coming to Alliance House for lunch that day.  I jumped at the opportunity and by the end of lunch, I had my first accounting job as his bookkeeper!!!

After getting my job, I discovered an even bigger challenge.   Between 2008 and 2011, there were a lot of changes to QuickBooks that I learned partially through Bill and partially through researching on my own in Google and E-how.com.  Bill instructed me how to create checks and design invoices the way he, and his company, needed them done.  My biggest hurdle was learning how to do bank reconciliations in the desktop version of QuickBooks, which I successfully learned.

As I said in the beginning, you will be spending almost 50 years of your life working, so it makes sense to find your niche and do something that you really love. Regardless of what your passion is, don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way. I now have a job that challenges me on a regular basis and am so grateful for the opportunity that Bill Rice gave me.  I know that I have a long way to go, but I also know that I have come a long way, and I’m enjoying the ride.  I am grateful for my education that showed me that even though I have disabilities, I also have the capability to conquer my disabilities and learn the skills I need to continue my trek.  Before coming to Alliance House, I felt my chance at being an asset to society were over. Instead, members of Alliance House and staff, showed me that I still had strengths, talents and abilities that I just needed to harness. Through the Salt Lake Community College and on the job, I honed my skills in QuickBooks, Microsoft Office and business communications.

I hope that this will light the fire within you and help you find your calling.

 

 

By | 2017-10-25T19:45:09+00:00 October 2nd, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Niche Hunt, Part 1 by Duncan Macdonald

My name is Duncan and I have been a member of the Alliance House Clubhouse for 17 years.  I feel that it is vital for each member to find their professional niche and get a job that they love doing and can do well.  After all, people will spend over half of their lives working (from ages 18-67, which is 49 years). For some people a job like dishwashing makes them happy, but in the end what is important is that you find a meaningful way to spend your life and, if possible, contribute to society

Before joining the Clubhouse World, I spent a number of years doing manual labor and became bored with it.    I needed something more challenging than the manual labor jobs that were often thrown my way.    I tried working extra shifts and covering for co-workers, but that didn’t make me happy.   I needed a new challenge to achieve a sense of accomplishment, which I knew would make me happy.   The best example of this was my HomeTown Buffet job as a Dishwasher/Line Server.   I would regularly work my shift and then be asked to work an extra one in return for getting an hour or longer break in between the shifts.  This made me popular with the staff and allowed me to earn extra money to spend on myself and my friends.

I found that happiness in becoming an extremely valuable member of the Alliance House   Clubhouse and discovering that I was a person with strengths, talents and abilities in Accounting and other areas.  My first task that I did in the Clubhouse’s Business Unit was tracking member hours in Alliance House’s billing system where I met one of my best friends, Kent.  Another thing I did was the Clubhouse’s statistics, which taught me new computer processes with one of my favorite staff members in the same unit, Sue H.   One day while working in that unit, our director asked me to come into the administrative office.  I thought that I was somehow in trouble, but instead he wanted me to learn how to reconcile the Alliance House’s checkbook that was something that I loved doing on a bi-weekly basis.  I also learned to socialize and I gained leadership skills that I use to this day.   During this time, I focused a lot of my energy on the operations of the Clubhouse instead of focusing on myself.  In mid-2007, I took a course called, “The Campaign for Self-Advocacy: Training the Trainers” which taught me about taking care of your own needs first.  During this course, I realized that I wasn’t happy with where my life was going and needed a change.

After my brother graduated from college, I realized that it was my turn.  My adventure into Accounting started in the summer of 2007.   It began during a road trip to visit my family.   I was sitting in the car and declared that I wanted to go back to college and study Accounting.   My mom was amazed, pleased, and very supportive of this decision. A number of factors went into my decision.  One was a high school elective class in Accounting, and on an aptitude test I took in Wyoming where I scored highest in Accounting.  Finally, my love of doing projects around numbers made my choice clear. However, this decision presented a personal dilemma.   How was I going to go back to school and retain my status as a member of the Clubhouse?

This was resolved in two ways.  My Clubhouse family helped me to realize that I needed to stop taking care of everyone else and take care of myself first.  As I started classes, I figured out that with a little creativity I could retain my status at Alliance House.  I did this by spending a certain amount of time each day helping the Clubhouse and the rest of the time utilizing the Education Room with staff members who would assist me with my homework during the day.  A great example of this was an agreement that I made with our director, Jeremy, which was every other Friday morning I would reconcile the checkbook with him on my day off from classes.  He also assisted me with my Windows XP class and allowed Amber and Katie to work with me during the work-ordered day.

In February 2008, I joined the Accounting Clerk Program at Salt Lake Community College.  I have experienced the change of going from a job that didn’t make me happy to finding a place in my career.  These experiences afforded me the understanding I didn’t need to remain in a job I considered mind-numbing and boring.  I found my place where I fit in and can contribute best to society.  My experience at Salt Lake Community College was invaluable to me.  My first Accounting class was really challenging.   It was Ten-Key which is a special calculator that has a tape on it that puts every entry on the paper.   With my hand tremor, it made the class work very difficult but with each class I took, I became more and more interested in rejoining the workforce in Accounting.   It quenched my thirst for more knowledge.  It also made me realize that you can go to school at any age like my friend that was in her mid-60s and taking classes.  I was also able to show my classmates and teachers that I was capable of doing well in my courses even with my mental illness. But enough about me for the moment, let’s talk about the process for finding your professional niche.

There are different ways of figuring out what you like doing and what you are good at.  You can go online and read about the jobs that fit with your interests, or that contain your skillset.  The best bet in my opinion is taking an interest test either at an employment assistance program or online.   I took one of these and it recommended my skillset.  Your next step is determining if you have all of the skills necessary to do the job that you come up with.  In some cases, you may need schooling to acquire the necessary skills.

There are many barriers to going back to school, yet there are also many avenues for help. Often money is one the largest barriers to returning to school, but luckily there are options for dealing with that.  In my case, the local Department of Vocational Rehabilitation paid for my entire education.  I also had to get hooked up with the college’s Disability Resource Center which meant a bunch of doctor’s appointments and information releases.

I also know that the commitment to school in itself is not an easy one, you have to focus on the prize at the end, a career that you love.   Don’t let me mislead you, there will be days when you want to quit, but if you do, you will only be hurting yourself.  I was fortunate enough to have great tutors that helped me to keep my eye on the prize, Amber and Katie.    Amber helped me with my Remedial Reading and Business Communications (English) classes.    She helped me with the vocabulary area.  On a couple of occasions, she helped me to tell the difference between two words that had really close definitions.  When I took my placement test, I scored in the 4th Grade reading level.  Lucky for me, I was able to start my accounting classes at the same time as taking this class.  Katie assisted me with Excel and Corporate Accounting.    She spent countless hours helping me with my homework in the Education Room to learn the ins and outs of both.  She even took time on weekends to help me.   Some members helped me as well, Jeff who would tease me by calling me “Education” and our staff members were also keeping a constant watch on me as well.  My mom and older brother were a significant help also.  Sometimes it was just letting me talk about what I was learning and other times it was helping me to study.

There will also be days when you are so grateful for sticking with it.  One of my best days at Salt Lake Community College was when I got a 97% on an Accounting test. I was jazzed because when I left school after taking the test I was positive that I had flunked it.  I know that you will also have times that are really challenging.   One of mine was taking an Excel test on formulas.  My brain totally froze and I couldn’t remember anything.  I got something like a 30% on that test.   I felt unprepared and I didn’t know where to go next. After I talked to my Disability Resource Center Counselor at Salt Lake Community College, Jake, I realized that I needed to dig into my studies and really focus.    What stopped me was the fact that I had put in almost a year and didn’t want all that time and energy to go to waste.  After that experience, I really started studying at home as well as at Alliance House with the support of tutors.  In preparation for my final, I was given a simulation where I was on the job for a month and one of my favorite staff tutors, Katie, helped me with it and even worked with me on the weekends.

In February 2010 I earned my Accounting Clerk Certificate which was super exciting!!!!

(To be continued)

By | 2017-09-20T17:26:55+00:00 September 20th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

How I came to Alliance House by Kim Smith

Hello my name is Kim Smith I have been a member of Alliance House for almost a year now. When I first arrived at Alliance House for a walk-through and orientation I felt lost, alone and scared out of my wits. I eventually I found my place here and I now feel safe and accepted. Because of some past experiences which had the possibility of following me here to Utah I had difficulty finding a place to live. Within eight months I was offered and accepted nice and affordable housing right next door to Alliance House where I can feel safe. My goal in life has been to be my own independent boss and to run my own restaurant business and to help others like me. I enrolled in Spice Kitchen Incubator, a culinary art program, which teaches by example and instruction how to start a business, offers startup cost after completion of the program, as well as all the cooking and business skills necessary to run a restaurant. This includes advertising, balancing of books and ledgers and best start up practices. Alliance House continues to help others like me find themselves and their way in life. Alliance House has provided me with so much I can never repay. They have helped me with school, housing and an ability to feel safe and live on my own again.

By | 2017-08-24T17:47:16+00:00 August 24th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

After months of hard work and grit, Alliance House Members celebrate an education milestone

The energy in the Masonic Temple was palpable.  Families, friends, and graduates were taking pictures while getting ready to participate in a rite of passage, once previously not available to them, their high school graduation commencement.  Each year, Alliance House offers its graduating students a commencement ceremony so that they can receive their high school diploma in full cap and gown, cheered on by family and friends.  Each graduate told the story of their journey, each unique but with a shared sense of elation that this never-expected day has come.  Educational dreams were crushed at an early age in for these people because of the effects of mental illness but, through dedicated work with Alliance House and Horizonte Training Center, their lives have changed course. 

The theme of this year’s commencement was “Dream Big, Build Bridges and Expand Horizons”, and these graduates now finally see a brighter future for themselves where they can go far beyond just settling for what they can get. 

The Alliance House Educational Coordinator, Terry Harrison, said “most of the people that first walk through our doors are pretty downtrodden; but, after participating in the Alliance House program for a year, they are ready to run out the door, emboldened with new possibilities because they now see that they have the power to create the future of their dreams”.   As one of the other guest speakers and previous year’s graduate, David Ivy, so eloquently said, “the greatest obstacle to expanding our horizons is ourselves”. 

In his speech, Leif Oldert, Executive Director of Alliance House said “in order to achieve our goals and expand our horizons, we build bridges by working together as peers to lift each other up so that no dream is out of reach.  Regardless of where your life’s journey takes you, the Clubhouse community will always be here for you”.

After the speeches, each graduate received their diploma and had a few moments to share their story.  Graduate Olivia said, “If it wasn’t for the Alliance House staff and fellow members, I wouldn’t be here today.  They never quit on me and provided unconditional support without judgment”. 

Following the ceremony, family and friends were able to partake in a catered dinner.

While the graduation commencement is an important ceremony for Alliance House members, none of this work would be possible without the support of our long-time educational partner, Horizonte Training Center.  They have partnered with Alliance House for the past thirty years to provide our members with the opportunity to earn their diploma in a way that enables members to work at their own pace in a supportive and accommodating environment.

This year’s commencement was made possible thanks to the generosity of America First Credit Union and Squatters.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

   

By | 2017-07-17T20:55:18+00:00 July 17th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Being a Consumer Advocate by Dunc Macdonald

Over the last 7 ½ years, I have had the honor and privilege of being on the Salt Lake County Behavioral Health Services Advisory Board.  The role of this board is to advise the Mayor’s Office on subjects involving services around mental health and substance abuse in Salt Lake County.   My role was to give input based on my experience as a consumer, around how the resources were provided.

During my tenure, I got to know some of the key players on a first name basis including Optum, Select Health and the officers in the Behavioral Health division at Salt Lake County.   I also discovered some great cuisine.  I was part of a hiring committee which added 2 new people to the council.  During this time, I learned a great deal about how and when to voice my opinion and do so in a tactful way. At one point, I had to be reminded about not repeating myself too many times in a meeting.   I was, also, able to use my accounting knowledge to understand some PowerPoints.  This was especially useful while discussing the impact of the Affordable Care Act.   At one point, we were discussing the use of the jail for holding people with mental illnesses and I pointed out that if these individuals were to be connected to Alliance House they would have something to do besides going back to jail.

Once again, I had a great ride on this council and learned a great deal about myself and what it takes to be on a board.

By | 2017-07-06T17:00:40+00:00 July 6th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Article for House Discussion June 15th

Attitudes and Structure in the Clubhouse Model

By Roberta Vorspan

Roberta Vorspan, M.S., is Assistant Director of Education, Van Ameringen Center for Education and Research, Fountain House, Inc., New York, New York

Editor’s Note: This paper is based on an address given at the Vermont Conference on Community Rehabilitation, September, 16th-18th, 1986, at Stowe, Vermont.

 

 

 

I spend most of my time at Fountain House working with colleagues from all around the world who come to Fountain House to see and to understand what it is that we are all about.  Immersed in this constant exchange of ideas with mental health professionals and consumers, I have been forced to quickly let go of any notion that what we do at Fountain House can be easily explained by describing a particular structure, program, or organization.  At this point in our evolution, we are much more inclined to speak about the Fountain House “culture” or “world,” than to speak of it as a specific type of program. I think that it is much more important, though also much more difficult, to focus on the beliefs and attitudes that inspire the structure of the program, rather than on the structure itself. To say that Fountain House is a vocationally- oriented psychiatric rehabilitation program is to say little at all about the rehabilitation that is actually offered at Fountain House.

The core attitudes and philosophy of the Clubhouse, though so basic, are enormously difficult to articulate and objectify.  For me, I think that the most powerful way that I can begin to convey what “rehabilitation” means at Fountain House is to do it from the inside, using my own personal journey and experience to come near to what I have found to be the radical “basics” of what the model is.

I went off to Sarah Lawrence College in the late 60’s, and in the spirit of the times, graduated with the very practical majors of dance and religion. After leaving the safe,

 

protected and vaguely unreal atmosphere of school, I wandered out into the real world and wasn’t much impressed by it. I became convinced that I couldn’t possibly be expected to navigate the chaos of life until and unless I understood fully what the purpose of life was. I began a serious, full-time study of and immersion into a religion that wrenched me further and further from the family that I loved and on which I depended. I was in a completely untenable situation, leaning both on my new and all-embracing faith, and on my family, which were leaning in totally opposite directions from each other. After a few years of trying to maintain this impossible balance, I fell, and when I fell, fell far and hard and landed in a psychiatric hospital.

I believe that I was, like most people who suddenly find that their lives have come undone and have landed in the hospital, looking for someone or something safe to lean on. The structure of our traditional psychiatric hospitals and day programs, I found, clearly encouraged this dependency.  As a patient, you are quickly rid of the symbols and realities of whatever independence you may have attained. Your license, your keys, your bankbook and your money are taken from you, “for your own protection.” You are separated from your friends, family, “outside” therapist and other supports in your life.

You are then asked to invest your blind faith in the “staff,” who during your stay will decide when you will wake up, what you will do during the day, who are “appropriate” visitors for you, if any, what medication you will or will not take, and what is or is not appropriate behavior, laughter, or tears.  Neither I nor anybody else goes into a hospital without being extremely vulnerable and shaken as it becomes very easy to slip quickly into full relinquishment of your autonomous, decision-making faculties, while one runs the risk of being labeled a “bad” patient.

I was a “good” patient, and freely allowed the responsibility of my life to slip into the hands of the hospital staff. After 3 months of good behavior, I was discharged to the community, but without the ubiquitous “staff” to dictate my days, I quickly came undone again and was returned to the hospital. For about two years, I found myself tied tightly to the yo-yo string of repeat hospitalizations, because I found myself hankering for the security of the hospital, and more and more dependent on it.

The mental health system, in this regard, can be an addictive system. Patients learn quickly that the way to succeed and gain approval is to be “compliant,” and to allow the merciful staff to unburden them of their conflicts, their decisions, and their onerous autonomy. But once the patient leans into this embrace, he or she begins to lose the ability to function without it. For the patient, the staff became magical, wise, all-knowing, and completely essential beings.

The staff daily secretes themselves behind closed doors to discuss the patient’s intra-psychic reality, and to decide on his or her fate.  As a patient, you quickly learn to hold these judgments in awe, and to believe that behind those closed doors the truth about you is being discussed by those who truly know. You begin to believe that it is only right that they meet in locked and private places, out of your earshot, because the real truth about you is something from which you must at all costs be protected.

You do not miss your sacred sessions with your appointed therapist. If he appears to be distracted, bored, dense or just simply lacking in intelligence, this becomes your problem, for you to express to your therapist, and for your therapist to offer up in holy staff rounds. In staff rounds this piece of yourself will be distilled, understood, and acted upon. The consequence will be issued to you at your next scheduled session, as you do not dare approach your therapist at any other time. You learn from your therapist that the consequence of your negative attitude is that your weekend pass has been suspended. Though this seems to you to have no relationship at all to your feeling that your therapist is bored and dense, you accept that your reality is flawed. You need the all-knowing staff too much to doubt their judgment, so you strive to understand their wisdom.

Being a patient is also very lonely. Staffs are too wise and exalted to count as living, growing human beings who in any way are like ourselves.  Other patients are highly suspect, for as you discover that you as a patient have very little worth, voice or acceptable reality, you must also assume that the other patients are of equally equivocal worth.

What finally allowed me to break out of this destructive addiction to patienthood was a fierce curiosity about what really went on behind those formidable doors that separated us from the staff. And the best way I knew to find out was to infiltrate their ranks. I went back to school to get a Master’s Degree in dance therapy, which would allow me entry into the sacred staff places. I graduated, and got a job as a dance therapist at a small, private psychiatric hospital in upstate New York.

Now I was on staff. I role-modeled myself after the other staff, and learned that I was not to let patients know where I lived, who I was, how I felt or what I thought. I was now invited into staff meetings, where we felt very good about ourselves because we were not “them,” and were safely distanced from them by those wonderful, large doors, and where we made decisions about patient’s lives. We decided, for instance, that we all felt that Joe Brown was giving us signals that he wasn’t ready to go out on his weekend pass to see his girlfriend. His attitudes towards several staff members had been somewhat hostile and secretive. We decided to suspend the pass, and that tolerating this frustration would no doubt be therapeutic for Joe, and in any event this girlfriend didn’t seem to us to be a very suitable partner for Joe.

What I have so far described is not meant in any way as an indictment of individual people, many of whom are obviously genuinely caring and concerned professionals, but of a whole hospital after care system. This system, I think, is built on some very tenuous and, at times, even destructive premises, the central one being, I believe, that people with psychiatric problems are best helped by being relieved of major responsibility for their own lives.

I came to work at Fountain House after several years of working in a traditional hospital setting. I didn’t choose Fountain House for the noble reasons that I now understood the destructive and disabling processes at work where I had been and that I was now looking for a change. The only change I remember having looked for was a shorter commute, and Fountain House was a 10-minute subway ride from my downtown apartment. I applied to Fountain House, was told that I would no longer be doing dance therapy, as “we don’t do therapy here;” and though I wasn’t really told what it was that we do “here,” I accepted the job and began doing it.

For one whole year I was very uncomfortable in my job. There were no closed doors behind which staff could go off and be staff, no offices, no staff rounds, and the one staff meeting we did have, as it turned out, was open to members. I couldn’t keep track of who was who, and least of all who I was. Here when I tried to role model other staff, I found that we were allowed to say where we lived and who we were and what we thought and where we’d been, and that, for me, was problematical at best. For a year I had a constant, gnawing sense of discomfort.

I couldn’t figure out why members would come to this place. In a traditional institution, Joe might be feeling very hostile and angry, and come into his program with the sure knowledge that if he flaunted it, he would immediately be taken up into a net of negative attention and apparent concern. He would be rewarded for being out of control by being flanked by all manner of attentive staff– some to medicate him, some to analyze him, some to protect him, some to chart him.

When Joe came into Fountain House feeling angry and hostile, he might have been asked if he could help a group pull together the monthly statistics which we needed for our funding sources. If Joe picked up the pile of papers and threw them in someone’s face, the group of members and staff who were working on the project would have gotten mildly or seriously miffed (depending on how close it was to the due date for the stats.)  Some of his friends would gather around him and ask him what the hell his problem was, and would give him the option of leaving if he decided not to try to control his behavior. What floored me was that he would usually stay. Then I would see him through my patient’s eyes, and feel cheated for him of the solicitous negative attention and “concern” that I thought he well deserved. I just didn’t see any real treatment plans and patient charts where I could write what I really knew to be the truth about these patients. And that’s when it began to hit me. After spending a year at Fountain House, no matter how obtuse you may be (and I was,) or how addicted to the mental health system, you can’t continue to not see. You simply cannot fail to notice that patients caught up in the traditional mental health system are not growing into more whole and stronger people, but into more compliant and dependent patients.

So I returned (quickly) to Fountain House, and gradually began to be able to see and to personally experience what real rehabilitation can be. I discovered that it has nothing to do with compliance in vocational group therapy sessions, or the ability to press the right staff buttons, or achieving the neatly outlined goals that your staff workers have so carefully plotted out for you and written in your chart. Rehabilitation was Joe, coming to Fountain House because he was being treated respectfully, as an adult.  It was Joe, wanting to work on the monthly statistics because they are important to the community to which he belongs, and therefore to himself. It was Joe, seeing the very real opportunities for meaningful work in which he was invited to engage, because people believed in his health, and in his potential, and because they needed his talents. And it was Joe, not leaving in an infantile fit after throwing the stack of papers, because where else would he go if he walked out on his community of his friends. It was Joe, staying and trying to tell his friends, members and staff, what the “hell his problem was,” because he needed them, and they needed to understand.

The allure of membership in the Clubhouse is the polar opposite to the allure of the traditional mental health institution. Fountain House members and staff come to the club every day because they are immersed in a world of appreciation, of normalcy, and the reflected beauty of other’s newly discovered talents and strengths.  They do not come, as staff, to ‘practice’ their craft on others, to ‘treat’ others, to find a haven from their own pain by closing the staff doors on the “others,” or to feel the snug satisfaction of tucking the quilt of craziness around their unfortunate charges.

Rehabilitation at Fountain House is first and foremost a reprogramming, for all of us, from the disabling addictive system from which most of us come.  The first steps toward rehabilitation come when a member stops trying to recreate the familiar roles of patient and staff, and genuinely begins to crave being together with others as equals, as adults, and as potentially strong, whole human beings.  And to the extent that staff have been deformed by stigma, either by having been labeled themselves or by labeling others, this is equally true for them.

The core of rehabilitation at Fountain House is the de-stigmatization that we all, members and staff, grow through.  By being freed of the role of the omniscient staff member, I have gradually also experienced freedom from the deep stigma of the defeated patient. One is only the flip side of the other, and each requires the other to continue to exert its destructive power. It may seem strange for me as a staff worker to speak about my own rehabilitation process through working in the Clubhouse, but on a deeper level, it should not really be strange at all. The Clubhouse is a world which gradually strengthens its inhabitants by dismantling the illusion that we are all indelibly fixed in certain roles. It is a world that frees us, members and staff alike, to be simply people, each bearing the responsibility for our own lives while also openly depending on one another.

I began by saying that in speaking of the essence of a Clubhouse, it was necessary to focus on attitudes rather than on structure. Having said that though, I must also say that the attitudes that create the healing Clubhouse world are to a large extent dependent on the Clubhouse structure.

The structure of the Clubhouse must revolve around work.  Work is the crucible in which debilitating, stigmatizing roles are radically transformed and in which genuine, mutual relationships become possible.

A Clubhouse needs to be structured so that staff are overwhelmed with work, so that looking to and depending on member’s strengths and assets is not a philosophical nicety, but a necessary means of survival.  Staff need to need members.  They need to be in a position in which they are forced to ferret out every hidden ability, skill and strength in every member.  In order to insure the continued functioning of the Clubhouse, and their own survival in it, staff must experience themselves in a setting in which, working intimately with members, they don’t fear failure and even fail.  It is simply human nature that when people find themselves in a setting in which they have to depend on one another, no matter what stigmas or prejudice they bring to a situation, they are finally able to drop their preconceptions and work toward the common goal.

Fountain House is often accused of being arbitrary and stubborn in its insistence that clinical elements, like therapy groups, or OT, or various ADL classes, have no place in Clubhouse. Obviously, there is no inherent harm in any of those and many of our members benefit tremendously from them, in outside clinical settings.

What we are insisting on is not that these activities have no place, because we know that they do, but that the particular nature of the staff/member relationships that are the heart of rehabilitation in the Clubhouse cannot co-exist with clinical forms. It becomes terribly confusing, and finally false, to expect members and staff to move in and out of all of these various roles in one day and in one setting. Given the opportunity to slip into the known and comfortable roles of clinician and patient, the struggle to truly work together and confront one another as people is too often quickly abandoned, by both members and staff.

Those of us who work in Clubhouse programs, whether we are members or staff, must begin to recognize the enormous power of what we are doing– for ourselves, for our Clubhouses, and for the entire field of mental health.  We have to know that we are part of a movement whose premises are so simply human and true, and whose integrity has the power to offer real hope to the millions of people all around the world who have suffered too much both by their agonizing illness and the debilitating institutionalization to which they have been subjected.  We have to believe in who we are, and that we insist on necessary and meaningful work because it is the instrument that can finally uproot the deeply implanted stigmas that have kept us so separate for so long. We have to keep our Clubhouses clearly focused on the integrity of our relationships, fostered through the sharing of our work, so that more and more of us can have the deeply healing experience of realizing that we are not, in essence, patients, clients, clinicians, or therapists, but people, with the opportunity to help each other to achieve what we want to achieve, and to become whomever we dream of becoming.

 

By | 2017-06-07T19:34:33+00:00 June 7th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

My experiences with club house by Kyle Robinson

All my life I been dealing with autism and depression

And I have been in therapy since I was little. I was in special education for all of school. At the age of 18 my therapist at valley referred me to the Alliance House and I started going there. At first it was a little intimating and very hard and I was very shy too. But once I got to know the members and the staff members I made good friends with: Chuck, Betsy, Kent, Jen, Duncun, and Scot. And the staff I got to know and made real good friends with are Rebecca and Amber. I am 24 now and I am still going strong in the club house. There are great friends and a good support system.

I feel welcomed in to the community of the clubhouse.

They really support me in my time of need when I had my car accident and almost died. And they even support me in my 10 month recovery. And clubhouse helped me get my high school diploma. And even supported a motivated me to graduate and walk and get my diploma. I have been back a few months and doing good. And last year I met Wayne. Now after my recovery he is still my friend. And I am still hanging out with all my friends that I have known for a while. And still get along with Amber and Rebecca.

And hang and get to know the new director Leif and hang with Terry and our new staff Daniel. I am starting to get into my dream of writing books and writing my first book. And tons of people are supporting me in that, including clubhouse. My friend Wayne. And my new friend Honey is going to be my writing coach. I like club house because it is good for Support, Friendship, and the feeling of feeling wanted and not alone.

 

By | 2017-06-05T03:19:30+00:00 May 24th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Stigma Within the Clubhouse Community by Tom Sweet

Schizophrenic, manic-depressive, specialist, generalist, staff, member, line-staff, residence counselor, director, bureaucrat, administrator, personality disorder, unit-based, non-unit based – the list of how we can label each other, or self-stigmatize, is seemingly endless.  Even as we vociferously advocate against stigma in the media, discrimination in the workplace, and unequal application of laws and funding for people with mental illness, we continue to apply some of the same techniques that we despise so much outside our clubhouses, to ourselves within.  The first direction we must undertake, as a worldwide community, as distinct clubhouses and as individuals, is to eradicate stigma from our daily lives, at least within the context of the clubhouse and our work.

 

Stigmatization occurs when we say “I’m just a member” or, “he’s a specialist.”  The fundamental and exhilarating truth is that there are no such people – there is only us.  We are all part of the same community, and as such, equal in and as much as we all contribute our unique talents and abilities.  In a clubhouse, there can be no room for distinguishing between, or comparing the levels of contribution.  The single act of contributing itself promotes the healing environment of the clubhouse which, in turn, facilitates recovery of the membership and strengthening of the staff, even as the community itself becomes stronger and more vibrant.  When we differentiate between the value of certain roles, contributions, or abilities, we violate our most deeply held beliefs: that all of us have some part that is well; that all of us have some unique talent or skill; and that all of us are worth of the same level of respect, decency and kindness that we accord anyone else with whom we come into contact.

 

When we label each other (or ourselves) we pigeonhole people as being limited to certain roles, abilities, or functions, thereby capping their potential.  This, of course, directly contradicts the vision of Fountain House, which states that our vision is “…that people with mental illness everywhere achieve their potential and are respected as co-workers, neighbors and friends.”  While this image explicitly pertains to men and women with mental illness, it is impossible to treat members one way, and staff in a diametrically opposed fashion, and still have one community.  Further, if staff are stigmatized through appellations such as “administrator,” “specialist,” “caseworker,” or any other limiting terminology, how can we expect them not to do likewise to members, consciously or unconsciously?  We treat those around us as we are treated ourselves, by our superiors as well as our peers and our friends.

 

In the clubhouse, it is incumbent upon us to see each other as individuals, as people, not as “cases” or “caseworkers” in order to assist each other in achieving our respective potentials.  In so doing, we will strengthen our community thorough the resultant relationships that will be built upon, mutuality, respect and dignity.

 

 

Community Through Contribution and Mutuality

 

Once we have established the fact that in a clubhouse we cannot label ourselves or others, we must tackle the job of articulating how to talk intelligently and meaningfully about the individuals who make up the community (staff and members).  How can we identify roles, responsibilities and accountability, without stigmatizing, pigeonholing, or limiting the potential of the people who are identified with them?

 

Perhaps the clearest way to start is to talk about how all of the individuals who comprise the clubhouse community contribute, irrespective of their perceived role or position.  There are as many different ways to contribute to the clubhouse community as there are people, but for our purposes, we will concentrate on the general ways that all members, staff, board and other stakeholders can contribute, irrespective of role, title or function.

 

Engaging And Attracting Attitudes: A Contribution We All Can Make

 

The way we carry ourselves and interact with others, even (or perhaps especially) non-verbally, can convey powerful meaning and invoke strong reactions, negative or positive.  For example, staff and members who arrive at the clubhouse full of cheer and excitement about beginning a new day, full of opportunities, are much more likely to attract, inspire and engage others in the work of the house, than those that arrive looking hangdog and depressed, or simply rush to their area and begin working.

 

If we accept the premise that people (staff, members and board) keep coming because of how they are welcomed, celebrated, and supported for who they are, then how we present ourselves and interact each day clearly becomes of paramount importance.  Our presentation of ourselves, if it is positive and upbeat, is most likely to attract and engage those around us, contributing to a healthy, healing environment and promoting meaningful relationships.  The converse is true as well.  If we are negative, act angry, depressed, distressed or otherwise out-of-sorts, our presentation is most likely to repel, discouraging relationships (even previously established ones) and we can be a destructive influence on the atmosphere of the clubhouse.

 

The beauty of this premise is that anyone can be a positive, contributing force for clubhouse strength, as described above, irrespective of role, status, job, or function.  In this way, there are no specialist (or we are all specialists) when it comes to the fundamentals of establishing and nurturing an environment of recovery.  All of us can and must treat ourselves and others with honesty, respect, decency and warmth.  This, not the specific roles we perform, is what creates the essence of the healing clubhouse community.

 

The Power of “Thank You”

 

When we talk in clubhouse about engaging members, we often hear stories about members who come to the clubhouse day in and day out, but when asked to help, adamantly refuse.  The work of the staff and members of the clubhouse is to engage this person, which sometimes means just recognizing that getting up and out to the clubhouse can be a day’s work in and of itself.  However, there is a reason that these members are coming – in some way they feel connected perhaps even comfortable.  Understanding this, it then becomes incumbent upon us, members and staff, to place opportunities in their path, open doorways that can become portals to recovery.

 

Perhaps the most effective way to start this engagement process is by creating mechanisms for thanking the person for something, no matter how trivial.  The specifics are not the issue; the importance is in the ability to say “thank you” and to mean it sincerely.  This simple act recognizes the person as an individual, not as a random choice of someone to perform a task.  Saying thank you has the effect of recognizing the person as someone of value and worth (whom you consider to be capable).  When the task is accomplished, no matter how small it was, the person knows that he or she has been appreciated for a job well done.  Saying thank you assures the person that he or she is a full member of the community, having performed something that contributes to the common weal.

 

This process is so powerful that we all must, as we go about our clubhouse work, consciously seek out opportunities to use it.  Whether we are the one that has engaged someone else in a task, or whether we simply recognize that someone has performed a function that contributes, no matter how small (picking up litter and throwing it away, delivering a piece of mail), the possibilities are endless, and should be seized whenever possible.

 

The widespread use of “thank you” in the clubhouse is one of the most powerful ways of building and strengthening individual bonds that, in turn, make our community stronger.  Whenever we can take the opportunity to thank each other, we must do so; if opportunities fail to appear, we must create them.

 

There is nothing to prevent any member of our clubhouse community from performing this very simple, but powerful function that recognizes, dignifies and celebrates another member of the clubhouse community.  There is nothing to limit it to unit staff, members only, or any other category that one might care to create.  Again, when it comes to the absolute fundamentals of what we do, there is no such thing as a generalist or a specialist.  There is nothing to stop any of us from respecting and acknowledging one another’s contributions, thereby contributing to the continued strength of the community.

 

Functions, Accountability and Role Modeling

 

All clubhouse community members have specific functions, responsibilities and accountability.  Clearly, depending on one’s role in the clubhouse, these differ, sometimes significantly.  What does not change is our responsibility to each other, and our individual accountability for our work.  Though members cannot and should not be held accountable for bottom-line responsibility for actual clubhouse work, they can and must, be held accountable to the same standard that applies to the entire clubhouse community – that of treating other members of the commuting with dignity and respect.  We are all responsible and accountable for our behavior and that is where the commonality lies between all community participants.

 

For staff, no matter what their specific role within the clubhouse, the same clearly holds true.  Staff are expected to be in control of their behavior, to role model positive interactions, and to substantially and meaningfully engage members in their work.  They are also expected to serve as role models, whenever possible, demonstrating best work practices, in terms of social and vocational behavior.  For small clubhouses this is fairly straightforward as many specialized tasks are performed by a parent auspice agency, while the clubhouse staff focuses on basic clubhouse work.  However, as clubhouses grow in size and complexity they tend to take on more and provide more, necessitating adding on roles and functions that often require special training, education or skills.  Examples include fundraising, accounting, supervisory positions, housing staff, etc.  All of these functions require some level of expertise or specific education, credentialing or training.

 

None of these so-called “specialist” functions preclude contributing to the community in the ways previously described.  However, accountability for these jobs may limit the amount of support, Transitional Employment, involvement in after hours recreational programs and the like.  This does not mean that they cannot or should not be involved in these and other aspects of the clubhouse.

 

Ideally, everyone, especially staff, should be an integral part of the community through participation in all that the community has to offer.  However, some staff have other contributions that they are required to make to the community, as part of their accountability to the clubhouse.  In smaller, auspiced clubhouses, this premise most likely pertains to the director only, who must attend meetings, raise money, prepare levels of service reports, meet with the advisory board and representatives from the auspice agency, etc.  In addition, of course, the director would be contributing in the ways that all community members contribute, and probably have many of the “regular” staff functions, just fewer in quantity, not quality.  In larger, more complex clubhouses, the role of director is often divided amongst one or more staff.  As with the director of the small agency, these staff have certain functions for which they have the primary responsibility.  However, they must also see themselves as full members of the community, and as substantial contributors, who contribute on multiple levels: by fulfilling their job, by performing “regular” staff roles, and by how they present themselves and interact with all other members of the clubhouse community.

 

For example, if accounting staff do not pay the bills because they have forsaken their primary roles for other functions, (talking with members, taking on community support functions, or simply spending the majority of their time performing work that is done more typically by the units) and the lights, heat and phone are disconnected, who benefits and who suffers?  Clearly, the electricity, heat and phones must be in good working order for the clubhouse to function.  Without proper administration, the clubhouse might well close its doors, at which point everyone is the poorer.

 

We all have our designated areas of responsibility – not ‘specialist’ or ‘generalist’ – just designated jobs that we are paid to do.  One of these responsibilities is to role model good working habits.  In all cases, for all employers, good working habits are characterized by getting one’s job done, doing it well, and in a timely fashion.  We all contribute to our clubhouse by following these tenets, irrespective of our job title, role or function.  When we take time away from fulfilling our primary roles we send the wrong message.

 

We are all accountable for the same general set of expectations, and then, above and beyond that, we may have additional accountability or responsibilities, the fulfillment of which provides substantial contributions to the welfare of the clubhouse community, and the abdication or abrogation of which could be extremely harmful.

 

The synthesis that happens in a healthy clubhouse ensures that the sum is greater than the component parts.  The key to this synthesis, I believe, likes in the mutuality amongst us all.  Not equality, as no person is truly equal to another in a literal sense, but the fact that we all have something of value and merit to give and something to receive, otherwise none of us would be here.  What we give and receive range from concrete services to life-long friendships, and everything in between.  The distinguishing feature is that such mutuality, such giving, is possible and necessary for all of us, and is the dynamo that drives the clubhouse, keeping it strong, exciting, vibrant and healthy.  When mutuality fails to develop, however, we not only become strangers to each other; we begin the process of unraveling the tapestry that comprises our clubhouse.

 

Behavior Vs. Symptomatology

 

Behavior, particularly that of the staff, can have a profound impact for good or ill upon the community environment.  While it is incumbent on all of us, staff and members, Board or Advisory Board, to contribute positively, and all of us can and should be held accountable, there are differences in the nature, type and application of this accountability.  In the clubhouse, in recognition of the various stages of recovery that members often go through, we tend to accept (or try to work with) an enormous range of behavior.  Some of this behavior would be considered unacceptable at worst and off-putting at best, in other places of business or in public or family settings.  As a community, our responsibility and great joy, often, is in challenging such behavior and, over time and with consistent reinforcement, observing positive changes.

 

Does mental illness excuse bad behavior?  Clearly, the answer is a resounding no.  If we did not believe in people’s ability to change, to grow, to improve, none of us would have embarked on this journey.  However, the question is not an easy one to ask, let alone answer.  Is it never reasonable to make the assumption that someone’s mental illness has a direct causal relationship with a negative behavior?  However, we can all also agree that some people are capable of being rude, unpleasant, or just downright nasty, mental illness or no mental illness – staff or member – just as others are consistently sunny and pleasant, with most of us vacillating somewhere in the middle.

 

Seldom, if ever, do staff (or members, for that matter) confront rude behavior and address it.  Yet, this is precisely what must happen.  Such behavior, whether inspired by mental illness or not¸ is rude and unacceptable.  When tolerated, it is harmful to the individual, to others around who receive the message that such behavior is ok, and, therefore, harmful to the community at large.  Such behaviors are infectious and can spread perniciously throughout a community, corrupting the culture, if not corralled and dealt with at the point of origin.  We are all members of the same community, which is only as strong and healthy as we keep it.

 

Mental illness does not discriminate, and people can be rude or otherwise unpleasant for reasons totally disassociated with any mental illness they may have.  When rudeness is caused or created by symptomatology directly associated with someone’s illness, it is just as important, if not more so, to address these actions as we would any others.  Anything less is discriminatory and stigmatizing.  This does not mean we should be insensitive or rude ourselves.  Once again, every action and every word sends powerful messages to our community, and we are all accountable for those actions and words.  Thus, we must each – members and staff – consciously and conscientiously be aware of our behavior.  We are each charged with opening portals that lead to members recovering their lives.  Just as we can, individually and as a community, open these portals and usher people through them, we also have the power to slam them shut, through our behavior and actions.

 

Conclusion

 

Clubhouses, when distilled down to the absolute basics, are founded on certain crosscutting truths that relate to the humanity in each one of us: mutuality, respect, dignity and decency.  As such, all of us can and must contribute to the healing clubhouse environment that promotes recovery, through the various mechanisms delineated in this paper.  We can, and must, each start by seeing ourselves as equal contributors, without differentiation or categorization and without comparison of relative contributions.

 

We must conscientiously and consistently seek out ways of contributing, through our actions and behaviors.  Our actions, behaviors, and interactions must promote mutuality.

 

We must seek commonality through mutual esteem and respect in our relationships, and constantly reinforce that which binds our communities tighter, turning strangers into friends, neighbors and co-workers.  Then, and only then, can we assure a unified community that is strong, vibrant and healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By | 2017-06-05T03:19:30+00:00 May 10th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Standard of the Season

 

By Dunc Macdonald

This time I will be discussing Standard #11.   This standard reads:  Responsibility for the operation of the Clubhouse lies with the members and staff and ultimately with the Clubhouse director. Central to this responsibility is the engagement of members and staff in all aspects of Clubhouse operation.

I feel that this is one that we really need to adhere to.  It reminds us all that it doesn’t matter whether you are a member, staff or executive director we all share the same responsibility to the Clubhouse.  We’re all members of the Clubhouse.  This means that the work-ordered day needs to be focused on the work towards the operation of the Clubhouse.  At Alliance House, we are currently looking at personal use of the computers and how this affects the work-ordered day. As a Clubhouse we meet regularly in House and Policy Meetings to address issues relevant to the workings of the house.

The second sentence of this standard can’t be ignored. It is up to all of us to make sure that every member and staff member that wants to be engaged in the work of the Clubhouse is always given the opportunity to be given meaningful work of the house.  I want you to notice that I said both members and staff.   This means that veteran members need to try to head hunt for meaningful work for newer members as well as the staff members.  Veteran members are a key element in any Clubhouse.   They not only need to assist with teaching other members the projects and tricks on those projects and sometimes even staff members.  Another function of veteran members is to take the reins on projects that they already know and let the staff assist other members with the projects they are working on.

To sum things up, my point is that we all have the responsibility to keep the Clubhouse running no matter what type of member you are.

By | 2017-06-05T03:19:30+00:00 May 2nd, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments