While the theme for the second USA National Clubhouse Conference held in Washington, D.C., September 18th -20th, is also the theme for Democratic Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, these two simple words emphasize the need for the Clubhouse community to stand together, united, with a common cause and a common goal: the spread of the Clubhouse Model throughout the United States and around the world.
With a special emphasis on advocacy within the U.S. and the respective states, and on building partnerships with other organizations and allies, we heard from such individuals as Melissa Harris, Director, Division of Benefits and Coverage, Medicaid, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and from Meggan Christman Schlike, Principal, Health Management Associates in New York.
In order for Clubhouses to survive and thrive, we must reach across the aisle and create new alliances, new coalitions, and develop new leaders. This was clearly evident when Lisa Soucie, Director of High Hopes Clubhouse in Maine, remarked about the strong relationship her state’s Clubhouses have with Governor Paul LePage, a staunch advocate for the Clubhouse Model in his home state, who also participated in the Conference. The point was well-made and well-taken in the opening plenary with their presentations.
We no longer have the luxury of standing alone – this makes us all easy targets to be eliminated by local and state governments looking to cut health and medical costs across the board. If we don’t come together as a community, as a force to be reckoned with, we will see the eventual shutting down of clubhouses nationwide or see them swallowed up by larger organizations who don’t see or understand the effectiveness of what we do – and that is saving lives by transforming them first.
Local, state and regional Clubhouse coalitions must work together to show the necessary data that we are an evidence-based, proven, cost-effective way to help members get off the streets and out of the jails and hospitals by providing them with affordable housing, by assisting members in getting a quality education, whether it be in a vocational school, a GED program, or in getting a Master’s degree, and also by providing employment opportunities that once seemed out of reach to them. Partnerships with healthcare companies and hospitals are also critical in building relationships that will last a lifetime.
As a member of the Education Unit for over 7-1/2 years, I’ve seen my fellow members grow and thrive in our Supported Education Program, one that has been recognized on the national stage when Fountain House was awarded First Prize for Excellence in Education by the National Council on Behavioral Health in 2013, and that led me to agree to chair the workshop at the Conference entitled “Clubhouse Supported Education: New Horizons.”
This was a great opportunity to hear presenters from three Clubhouses share their respective success stories and the importance of education in the lives of members.
First up were Terry Harrison and Richard Lovato, from Alliance House, located in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was the first time either one had ever given a presentation at a national conference and they did a great job of explaining their education program that focused on the strengths of individual members. I wish you could have heard Richard’s story – deeply moving, heartfelt and inspiring to all. Terry explained to the audience that at Alliance House there are three types of members: member members, staff members and Board members. Everyone coming together to achieve things that they couldn’t do alone.
Next up was Rachel Forman and Lindsey Sexton, from Grand Avenue Club, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lindsey is an excellent public speaker who weaved together a story that was both compelling and very touching. A self-taught photographer, she recently sold much of her work at a Clubhouse event, which certainly put a smile on everyone’s faces! Rachel reminds me of our very own Susan Lieblich: old-school, down-to-earth, and very supportive of her member’s goals and dreams. Rachel shared many stories of member’s overcoming obstacles, triumphant in achieving both their educational and employment goals.
As the last Clubhouse to present, I gave a quick talk about Fountain House and the educational successes of fellow members who I have known, some even before I became a member. Betty, Eve and Michelle are exemplars of what it means to be part of a community that works together to make things happen that wasn’t possible before. I’m proud to know each of them and to call them friends.
I then asked fellow member, Craig Robert Bayer, to talk about our Scholarship Program, and the partnership we’ve had for many years with the Sidney J. Baer, Jr. Foundation, and to share his own personal story of getting an art scholarship to take a course in business writing. Since this was the first time Craig has ever spoken before an audience, I spent time with him to coach him on public speaking, putting together a PowerPoint presentation to go along with his speech. He did a great job and I look forward to working with him on other projects in the future.
All-in-all, the Conference was a success, and I’m proud of our team who represented Fountain House in D.C. Of course, the trip home was a lot of fun, with me getting the ball rolling singing songs from musicals and getting others to join in. And what is a Clubhouse without fun? Laughter, jokes, and games made it all worthwhile.
So in closing remember these two simple words” “STRONGER TOGETHER!” Because together, we can achieve great things!