Colleague Training: Focus on Young Adults

Posted on March 14, 2011

Swedish colleagues and the FH Training Team mingle and share ideas over dinner.

Swedish colleagues and the FH Training Team mingle and share ideas over dinner.

Ashley Corbiere
Education Unit, Fountain House

Recently I was fortunate enough to spend time doing colleague training with an awesome group from Fountain House Sköndal, which is located in Sweden. It was a busy week filled with a lot of lively discussions that were always interesting, no matter what the theme. However, the most common theme was Young Adults.

Compared to Fountain House, where we serve 300 members a day, Fountain House Sköndal is a small clubhouse. They have four units: the housing and grading unit; the clerical and economy unit; the kitchen and animal unit; and the information and reception unit. They have three staff people, and on a normal day, 10-15 members attend. I just got exciting news from one of the colleagues - this week they set a new house record of 22 members attending in one day!
Although one staff member, Elmira, referred to the experience of their visit as “David meeting Goliath,” I believe that colleague training can always be a mutual learning experience. I think we learned a lot from them, even though they are a new clubhouse.
Fountain House Sköndal was started a year and a half ago to work specifically with Young Adults, giving them a place to go where they could be with their peers exclusively. They decided that three days per week, they would only allow Young Adults to attend. On the other two days all ages were welcome. They also emphasized to older adults that there should be mutual respect in relationships. There was some resistance at first, but according to those we met, it is running smoothly now.
We talked about networking - something that both clubhouses are working on. It was suggested that we could work with other youth agencies and strengthen our relationships with other clubhouses as a way to expand our Young Adult program. I definitely think we can put those ideas into action here at Fountain House.
Another important topic that I found particularly interesting was Young Adults and socializing day-to-day. The question of how best to bring Young Adults together to socialize was posed by someone from Fountain House Sköndal, and it is something that we have been struggling to figure out here at Fountain House.The more I reflected on it, the more I related the differences in how that plays out to the sizes of our clubhouses, as well as to the cultures that they are in. I pointed out that we are very focused on the clubhouse work day here and that socializing during the weekdays often doesn’t happen. We seem to have never ending to-do lists that always carry over into the next day, and we are located in a city where everyone rushes just to look important.
I was completely shocked when the director of Fountain House Sköndal mentioned that it is not uncommon for the people in their clubhouse to sit down in the living room and have a chat and a cup of coffee together on days that they finish early. Can you imagine that ever happening at Fountain House on a weekday? I feel like the closest we would get is fighting a 30-something with a MacBook Pro after hours for a table at Starbucks.
Of course they have what you could see as an advantage over us in that their staff isn’t trying to manage nearly as many members. There isn’t nearly as much unit work to be done as there is here. I’m sure it’s less hectic. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do feel there is a lesson to be learned here - there could be some happy medium.
There are over 400 clubhouses around the world, all operating under the same standards but all with different ideas about how to carry those out. Fountain House Sköndal chose to focus on Young Adults, and I’m grateful that I got a chance to learn from them. Hearing ideas from another clubhouse was completely eye-opening, and the prospect that there are 400 more out there to hear from is really exciting to me. Let’s not forget that we can always teach as well as learn, talk as well as listen while still sharing the common bond of creating better lives for those living with mental illnesses.

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