Fountain House Practice: Creating a Community

Posted on March 26, 2012
My name is Julius Lanoil, and I will be doing my best to explain the sophisticated Social Practice developed at Fountain House, which for the past 63 years, has been working to help adults with serious mental illness fulfill their human potential in a world filled with stigma and irrational fears. I’m one of three authors of a soon to be published book on this subject.
This Fountain House practice has helped me as a person, a psychotherapist, and a program developer. It has been replicated in most US states and many countries around the world. I believe that a deep understanding of this practice is useful, not only for people with a specific interest in Fountain House or in programs for people with mental illness, but also for persons interested in social science theory or in exploring ideas about helping any population in need of support and human understanding.
Each week I’ll write about one element of the Practice and discuss why it’s important, how it’s related to social science theory, and how it’s implemented at Fountain House. Over the next weeks and months as I write about this unique practice, I welcome your comments and opinions.  
Element One: Intentionally Creating a Community and Culture
Working together to prepare lunch for the Fountain House community.jpg Working together to prepare lunch for the Fountain House community.jpgPeople have needs that must be satisfied if they are to manage the complexities of life and function at their individual best. Many people with serious mental illness have significant obstacles to satisfying these needs. Therefore the first element of the Fountain House practice is the creation of a working community in which its members (people with serious mental illness) can fulfill their need for relationships - and avoid the pervasive and damaging isolation endemic in this population - while finding a purpose, a positive identity, and the comforting feeling that they belong.
The Fountain House community is a place where members can find support and assistance in most of life’s domains as well as specific opportunities in employment, education, wellness, housing, and recreation – all within a community context in which human potential, basic acceptance dignity, and respect are highly valued. This is demonstrated by several policies:
  • no time limits to membership
  • no separate staff or member meetings
  • no segregated spaces
  • complete freedom of movement
  • a policy of all inclusive decision making
  • freedom to choose the manner of your participation and the people with whom you will participate.
It’s important to recognize that the above policies of the organization that support the community are consistent with the values of the community.
As stated above Fountain House is an intentionally created WORKING community. Staff and members work side by side to satisfy the needs of the membership and the maintenance, growth, and longevity of the community. The community provides its membership with a normalizing experience, because it is organized with work activities during the day and recreation activities in the evenings and on weekends and holidays. All of the work of the community is organized into units representing the membership or organizational needs they attempt to satisfy (e.g. employment unit or research unit or food service unit). Each staff and each member belongs to both the Fountain House community in general and a work unit in particular.
The work of the Fountain House community programs are structured and led by a cadre of charismatic staff with a generalist orientation; by design they need the help of the membership. The fact that staff and members work side by side in the work of the units is both a demonstration of their commitment to their own goals and to the goals of their unit and their community. From a treatment perspective, this side by side work represents an important opportunity for members to increase their self-confidence, efficacy, and esteem which can facilitate the motivation to take positive risks in the general community.
Julius Lanoil
Wellness Unit, Fountain House 

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