Posted on November 10, 2011
Fountain House has consciously built itself around the cultural construct of the workplace. Despite its appearance as a workday like culture, however, there exists an emotional tone to Fountain House that is more than an aggregate of the expectations and practices that have been honed over the years as a normal place of work.
Emotional tone is a non-verbal perception or understanding that is transmitted through the senses. Often, emotional tone is used to describe the atmospheric qualities of music, like the mood that arises from background music in a tense or romantic movie. Members sense the tone of Fountain House from the first moment they walk through its front doors. When new members enter Fountain House, many express surprise. One such member was quoted on tape as she first viewed Fountain House: “And when I came, I mean, I was really shocked. I mean, I did not expect what I saw.”
To prospective members, Fountain House projects a refined appearance, even an affluence, that many of its members lack in their personal lives. But more important to new members is how they're received at Fountain House—not as an illness in need of a treatment, but as a person who can contribute to the common enterprise. During their orientation, new members are expected to make choices; they're asked to which unit in the house they’d like to belong and who they’d like their staff worker to be. There is a conscious effort to distinguish it from an ordinary pace of work or mental health clinic.
Visitors who tour Fountain House express similarly surprised reactions. They often comment on how people go about their work without being told what to do. Activities in Fountain House flow with a seamless spontaneity. The atmosphere is respectful and convivial, yet businesslike. This is not the behavior of what society has come to associate with people suffering from mental illness; it is responsible and productive.
Thus Fountain House is intentionally designed to challenge the normal perceptions as a place of work, and especially as a workplace where people with mental illness participate and make necessary contribution. Despite its distinct workday-like appearance, it's in the nature of the relationships of those involved in the enterprise, as a community, which forms the core of the Fountain House culture.
The relational nature of the organization and the principles that guide its construction as a working community set a tone of respect, productivity and mutuality. That tone is evident in the exchange among members and staff that generates the effortless flow of its routine activities.
Director of Education, Fountain House