Think Global, Act Local: Executive Fellowship

Posted on July 31, 2018

The Fountain House Executive Leadership Program provides resources and training to clubhouses around the world. Participants travel to Fountain House for approximately a month’s time to partake in the training that focuses on nonprofit management techniques within standards-based practice.  

We sat down with Executive Leadership Fellows, Helene Molvig from Fontenehuset Rygge in Norway, and Guido Valentini from Progetto Itaca in Italy, to discuss the ins and outs of their respective clubhouses.  

Norway: Clubhouse General Manager, Helene Molvig  

Fontenehuset Rygge, located in Moss, Norway, is one of the thirteen clubhouses in the country. With support from the government, three municipalities and the local coalition, Fontenehuset Rygge has been able to help new clubhouses establish and develop, despite only being founded two years ago: “A fourteenth clubhouse is almost finished and we are very excited about that.” 

Fontenehuset Rygge has seventy active members, with an additional thirty, prospective members. The population of the clubhouse is relatively young, with 20% of members ranging in ages from sixteen to twenty-nine. This is partially due to Norway’s health care system: “you choose what you want to do with your health at sixteen…it’s a national law here,” leading Norwegian youth to choose to come to Fontenehuset Rygge. In addition, the clubhouse works with local high schools to help students who may not have access to mental health resources and are at risk of dropping out: “The national dropout rate in Norway is about 23%, our county is 28%”. Students who are struggling with school can attend the clubhouse and their time there will count as attendance at school. Fontenehuset Rygge currently has a few students taking advantage of this service, but hopes to increase numbers in the near future.  

Another unique attribute of Fontenehuset Rygge is that they do not require a diagnosis of serious mental illness upon entry: “We have referrals to the clubhouse, but for example, you can just open the door and go inside and say ‘Hi I am sixteen and I want to join the clubhouse because I am having trouble with my mental health.’” Due to this, Fontenehuset Rygge members live with a wide range of mental health disorders —from anxiety and depression, to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression.  

With the progress Fontenehuset Rygge is making, the Fountain House Executive Leadership Program has been a source of encouragement: “I think it’s so inspiring to be in this environment and at the same time have the opportunity to step back from your daily work and have full focus on creating something new together with people who have been doing this for years.” For Helene, the program inspires her to return to Fontenehuset Rygge with a fresh perspective and new ideas: “For me, it’s time to have reflection in and on action for action. I am learning to be better for my clubhouse, but at the same time, an ambassador for the whole movement.” 

Italy: Progetto Itaca Director, Guido Valentini  

Rome, Italy is home to Progetto Itaca, a privately funded clubhouse. Founded seven years ago, Progetto Itaca consists of eighty members with four units members can join: clerical, restaurant/coffee, maintenance and lab art, and horticulture. Every day, the attendance of members ranges from 20-25 people, with a total of 32-33 people active per month. To become a member, a diagnosis and prescription is needed, as well as regular care from an outside psychiatrist: “I would love to accept anybody, but I really cannot. We have free health services in Italy, and prospective members need to follow these rules.” In addition, without government funding, Progetto Itaca cannot afford to accept each applicant: “Every member that comes represents a new cost and we don’t have the funding to provide for them.”  

Due to the lack of financial support, one of Guido’s main duties is to find donors: “We have a small staff and low salaries. Our funding is 100% donations, so I am very focused on that.” He works with members and volunteers to create and host events, with hopes of attracting more people to the clubhouse. During the local election season, Progetto Itaca held an organized conference where several politicians attended. Although local municipalities know of Progetto Itaca, along with some regional council members, Progetto Itaca is striving for more: “We are aiming for our public administration to finance the clubhouse.” 

Despite the difficulties Progetto Itaca is facing, the clubhouse serves as a positive environment for its members. One of the units Guido raved about was the restaurant unit: “We are a vegetarian clubhouse. With food from our garden, we make delicious meals like chickpea burgers and eggplant burgers.” The decision to become a vegetarian clubhouse stemmed from the interest of the vegetarian members: “They stressed that having a vegetarian menu only would benefit the house. Members who used to eat junk food, have now transitioned themselves to healthier habits.”  

Guido hopes to continue to grow Progetto Itaca and partaking in the Fountain House Executive Leadership Program has given him the opportunity to do so.  “I really had a chance to address my work and to clarify the vision I have for my clubhouse, but not only my clubhouse, but also the clubhouses in the Mediterranean areas that we need to create. So my vision is now, we need to invest time, resources and good will in other cities in Italy and other countries in the world.”  

Fountain House is pleased that its Executive Leadership Program is succeeding in training clubhouse leaders to create public private partnerships that support and sustain operations, while also inspiring a vision for regional growth of the movement.  

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