Clubhouse Heroes: Stories of Gratitude
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are excited to share Clubhouse Heroes: Stories of Gratitude. These are colleagues – Clubhouse members, staff and volunteers – who embody the Clubhouse spirit of community, generosity, creativity, productivity and caring. We are always grateful for the efforts of the entire Clubhouse community, but we are especially grateful for the strength and resilience we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating Clubhouse Heroes: Stories of Gratitude starting with making a special donation, because mental health has never been more important than it is in these trying times. Your gift will support our efforts to help Clubhouses create — overnight — virtual Clubhouses and connections, so that no member is left alone right now. It will also help us to help Clubhouses as they plan for gradual re-opening.
Click on the links below to jump quickly to each Clubhouse Heroes story:
- Story #1: San Antonio Clubhouse and Its Members, Texas, USA
- Story # 2: Karina Guggenberger and Charly Kahl Gortan, Clubhaus München Giesing, Germany
- Story #3: Jason Graham, Crossroads Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
- Story #4: Jeramy Jones, AIM Center, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
- Story #5: Elizabeth Stubenbord, Director of Housing, Fountain House, New York City, USA
- Story #6: Dylan Rademeyer, Fountain House Mitchell’s Plain (FHMP), Cape Town, South Africa
- Story #7: Lester Vecsey, Research Unit Member, Fountain House, New York City, USA
- Story #8: Sanny Gorman, Stepping Stone Clubhouse, Coorparoo, Queensland, Australia
- Story #9: Shahiem Williams, Fountain House, Mitchell’s Plain (FHMP), Cape Town, South Africa
- Story #10: Grant Koopman, Fountain House and Kimber House, Cape Town, South Africa
- Story #11: Daniel Ortiz, Ko’olau Clubhouse, Hawaii, USA
- Story #12: Amanda Rau, Independence Center, St. Louis Missouri, USA
- Story#13: Laura Miyashiro, Friendship House, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
- Story #14: Sheryl Browne, Culinary Unit Member, Fountain House, New York City, USA
- Story #15: Elliott Madison, Senior Program Director, Fountain House, New York City, USA
- Story #16: Virginia Simkins, The Meeting Place, San Diego, California, USA
- Story #17: Timo Teeäär, Haabersti Klubimaja, Tallinn, Estonia
- Story #18: Miriam Sushman, Grand Avenue Club (GAC), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
- Story #19: Mike Coppinger, Genesis Club, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
- Story #20: Joanna Arnold, Director, New Hope Clubhouse, Brownwood, Texas, USA
- Story #21: Mashood Kamal, Pathways Clubhouse, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
Clubhouse Heroes Story #1: San Antonio Clubhouse and Its Members
This is John Snead, a member at San Antonio Clubhouse in San Antonio, Texas.
Mark Stoeltje is the Director there at San Antonio Clubhouse, which like many Clubhouses had to close their physical building due to coronavirus. He wrote recently that during a time of crisis, such as the one we are all experiencing, people’s best and worst behavior seem to become apparent.
He tells the story about how he recently ventured out to the store for some milk and eggs. Mark got there at 8 a.m. as the store was opening and saw a long line of folks waiting to get in, with a police officer and security guard standing by the entrance.
He shared that as he passed the paper towel and toilet paper aisle, he noticed a mass of shoppers filling their baskets. And standing in the checkout line, he saw grocery workers removing paper towels and toilet paper from shopping carts, reminding customers that there was a limit on how much they could buy. One woman, who had filled two baskets with toilet paper, became pretty upset.
Mark contrasted that with his experience at the Clubhouse a few days before, when he received a call from one of their older Clubhouse members who couldn’t leave his apartment due to severe physical disabilities and relies on an undependable provider to bring him food and clean his apartment. He called Mark because he hadn’t seen the provider for several days and was out of food. Mark told him that he would gather some provisions and be right over.
Mark went to the Clubhouse, grabbed some food and toilet paper, and headed to this member’s apartment. Mark gave him the food, but when he tried to give him a couple of rolls of toilet paper, he said, ‘I still have a roll. Maybe give it to somebody else who needs it.’
That member was John Snead, pictured above.
And as Mark was leaving the complex, he ran into another Clubhouse member in the parking lot. Mark asked him if he needed toilet paper, and he gratefully said yes as he was almost out. Mark handed him two rolls, but he gave one back, saying, ‘Thanks, but one’s enough. My dad’s bringing me food and toilet paper tomorrow.’
Mark said in his experience working with marginalized folks, as so many Clubhouse members are, it seems that often those who have the least need the least. And paradoxically, those who have the least are often the most generous.
“I’m not naive. I know this is not always true,” Mark said. “But I’ve seen it happen enough to know there is something to it.”
Mark’s story of members’ generosity reminds us that even as Clubhouse members seek recovery for themselves, they are almost always giving to others, as well, in their Clubhouses and their communities. Just as Mark’s story is just one of the many Clubhouse Heroes stories we have shared during this Mental Health Awareness Month, so too these stories are but a few examples of the endless spirit of generosity that shows itself time and again in Clubhouse members everywhere.
For that generosity of spirit, each and every Clubhouse member is our hero!
Clubhouse Hero Story #2: Karina Guggenberger and Charly Kahl Gortan
When Jenny Miller at Clubhaus München Giesing received an email from Jack Yatsko, Clubhouse International’s Chief Program Officer, asking her whether she had anyone she could nominate as a Clubhouse Hero, she immediately thought of Karina Guggenberger and Charly Kahl-Gortan.
”I instantly had to think of two of our members who moved in together when the Government initiated the curfew in Munich,” said Jenny. “I think they have been managing the crisis in a great way.”
Karina and Charly have both been members of Clubhouses in Germany for many years: Karina since 2008 and Charly since 1993. Both initially were members of Clubhouse Schwalbennest but eventually joined Clubhouse München Giesing.
In 2015, just a year after Karina had joined their current Clubhouse, the two women worked together on a Clubhouse song for the 20th anniversary of Clubhouse München Giesing. In the process, they became close friends. They continued as the band “unXpected” and they also began meeting twice a week to exercise.
Charly actually ‘retired’ from the Clubhouse in 2018, and then the coronavirus hit. When the government initiated curfew and other stay at home measures in March, they decided to ‘quaranteam’ and go through this crisis together. Karina was sharing an apartment, so she moved in with Charly, who was living in her own apartment.
“They support each other with grocery shopping and take care for the other in times of feeling down,” said Jenny. “And there is plenty of time to work for the clubhouse community: Karina is editing the newsletter, Charly makes birthday cards and get well cards for members. And together they are already planning the Clubhouse’s Christmas gifts for the members and Christmas cards for Clubhouse friends.”
Before coronavirus, Karin edited the newsletter and did the bookkeeping. Even in retirement, Charly continued to support her Clubhouse by making cards and decorations for special events, wanting to contribute by helping to make the Clubhouse a friendly environment.
Through it all, they have a lot of fun making music in their band. You can see a clip here.
For Karina and Charly, Clubhouse is not only a place to go to but it is also a philosophy for a good way of life: supporting each other, caring for one another – and having fun together!
Clubhouse Hero Story #3: Jason Graham
Ronnie Sharpe would like to introduce you to Jason Graham, one of the Clubhouse Heroes at Crossroads Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. A fairly new member of Clubhouse – he joined in June 2019 – Jason has begun to take on a leadership role and immerse himself in the Clubhouse world.
“Our plans to relocate to a new clubhouse building have continued through this time of Covid and have created opportunities that Jason has taken full advantage of,” Ronnie shared. “He has offered to assist other members in navigating the municipal transit system to our new clubhouse location. As well, Jason is a member of the Design Team working to finalize details of this new space.”
Since the clubhouse was physically closed to members due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Jason has also been very involved in daily conference calls. He has been active with colleagues from Club Bistro Unit in researching weekly sales at local grocery stores and finding recipes that make use of ingredients on sale.
“These calls are the highlight of my day and give me something to focus on,” Jason said.
He issued a Walking Challenge to both of Crossroads Cape Breton’s work units during one of their Friday afternoon Wellness calls. Each week their Club Bistro and BEAT Unit are reporting their walking hours and encouraging one another to stay healthy. He has recently signed up for Peer Support training and is learning how to play the guitar. He entertained the Clubhouse membership with his guitar playing on our Easter Weekend conference call.
“Jason has been an example of taking a challenging new situation and turning it into an opportunity for greater input and leadership within our clubhouse world,” Director Colleen Mackenzie said. “It is resilience and strength at their finest and this is what our clubhouses are about – fostering this in each one of our colleagues.”
His colleagues at Crossroads Cape Breton can’t wait to see what new paths Jason creates and will always be very grateful for the many ways in which he has supported the club and its membership.
The gratitude goes both ways.
“I would like to thank my Clubhouse colleagues,” Jason said. “I am very proud of what we accomplish together and look forward to working with everyone who walks through our door.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #4: Jeramy Jones
A unique nomination for Clubhouse Heroes was received when Kerri Holmes, Coordinator of Clubhouse Services for Kennebec Behavorial Health, which operates several Clubhouses in Maine, nominated a Clubhouse member of AIM Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“I feel he should be nominated because he is working hard to build bridges during a time of physical distancing,” Kerri said. “Jeramy brings a lot to our Zoom meetings, including updates on the virus around the world, reminding the Clubhouses of the various webinars being presented by Clubhouse International, and most importantly, bringing many laughs to our virtual communities.”
Donna Maddox, interim President/CEO of AIM Center, agrees. “Throughout his time in Clubhouse, Jeramy has been focused on his goal of helping people,” Donna said. He tells us, “I love to help out and want to do whatever I can.” He calls the Administrative Support Unit home base and is often found helping out with Clubhouse tours, assisting the membership office with projects, and recently doing lots of Clubhouse outreach.
Jeramy has also been interested in the community of Clubhouse International, and has been actively emailing and exchanging newsletters and ideas with other Clubhouses throughout not only the United States, but the world as well. He began collecting newsletters and worked with his peers on creating a binder full of them for everyone to look through at our front and back reception desks.
He also enjoys practicing his educational goals by working on data entry on the computer and helped on a cross unit collaboration project of updating our daily newsletter. Jeramy has long had a goal of being a peer support and member leader at the clubhouse. He is always quick to identify fellow members and staff he feels would be good at helping with work order day opportunities throughout the Clubhouse and provide encouragement.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, Jeramy again was quick to jump in and ask how he could help. He worked with peers and staff on developing AIM Center’s Zoom meetings and even co-facilitated a training session to get fellow members up to speed. Jeramy reached out to other Clubhouses in Florida, Maine, and Hawaii and can regularly be found participating in their Zoom meetings in addition to the AIM Center’s daily offerings. He told Donna, “I think they want to adopt me in Maine, they told me that I need to move up there but I told them you guys wouldn’t let me leave!”
He can frequently be found on the Wednesday webinars offered by Clubhouse International thinking of how the Clubhouse can go about its reopening process. Jeramy shared that he has been assisting a member of Club Nova in North Carolina who is moving to Chattanooga and wants to connect with Clubhouse community at AIM. Jeramy has been actively talking with this member about AIM Center activities and helping him with the membership process.
AIM Center greatly appreciates Jeramy’s efforts to be an active leader in the Clubhouse International community! Keep it up, Jeramy!
Clubhouse Hero Story #5: Elizabeth Stubenbord, Director of Housing, Fountain House NYC
Beth Stubenbord has been the housing director of Fountain House since 1999. She joined Fountain House in 1994, initially working in the housing program and the City Lights homeless outreach program. She then opened and was the first director of Safe Haven Residence which was created by HUD for homeless men and women with mental illness.
During the COVID crisis, Beth has been on the front lines ensuring that all members and staff in Fountain House’s five residential buildings and hundreds of members in supportive/supported apartments were safe and cared for. Beth has shown outstanding leadership by protecting Fountain House’s most vulnerable members, making sure staff could safely get to work and do their job with the appropriate PPE and comforting the entire community when we lost someone to the virus.
Beth’s compassion and dedication makes her a Clubhouse hero.
Clubhouse Hero Story #6: Dylan Rademeyer
Dylan Rademeyer started attending Fountain House Mitchell’s Plain (FHMP) in Cape Town, South Africa in November 2018. Since then, this 28-year-old has made a significant contribution to improving the well-being of persons with psychosocial disability.
Dylan said that accepting his diagnosis has always been a challenge for him and that he has lost many friends because of his diagnosis which has impacted on his self-esteem and his social life. By attending FHMP, Dylan has been able to regain his confidence, learn more about his condition and how this affects him, and enjoy socialising with people who can relate to his experiences.
“I remember asking a lot of questions and this has allowed me to grow. I am in the process of accepting my diagnosis,” explains Dylan.
In June 2019, he was employed at Cape Mental Health (CMH) as a Mental Health Advocacy Officer Intern, specialising in raising awareness of psychosocial disabilities. Furthermore, he was chosen as the Peer Supporter at FHMP where he supports members with psychosocial disabilities through individual sessions guided by his mentor (a registered counsellor). He has shown a lot of personal growth and is more open to speaking about his diagnosis and advocating for persons living with psychosocial disability. He is chairperson of the CMH Pressure Group (a self-advocacy network for users with mental disability representing various CMH programmes) and recently attended training with senior management of CMH, where he spoke about his recovery story.
As an intern at CMH, Dylan has continued working remotely during this period of lockdown. He remains an active participant on CMH’s social media platforms and regularly composes Facebook posts about the effects of the COVID19 pandemic on people’s mental health, especially for those persons with a pre-existing psychosocial diagnosis. These posts direct viewers to a full-length article on various topics on the internet.
Dylan has recorded voice notes to educate members on topics such as accessing services at their local clinics during the lockdown, motivating members to engage in positive thinking, and providing members with tips on how to overcome negative thoughts. These voice notes have been distributed to Fountain House service users, as we continue to provide a remote service during the lockdown.
Dylan was interviewed recently by Onazia Qureshi from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (in support of a Desk Research for the Development of Country Profiles for SYM Global Campaign) and provided his view of a service user’s perspective on the mental health services provided in South Africa.
“As an Advocacy Officer Intern and Peer Supporter, I would recommend that people participate in the programme because it enables them to learn and to cope with life’s challenges. It prevents relapses, as you learn a lot through life skills topics and arts and crafts. My encouragement to people out there is to seek help – our community of people living with a disability is very large, but people are hush-hush about it. We should talk more about mental health issues because there is help out there.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #7: Lester Vecsey, Research Unit Member, Fountain House NYC
Lester Vecsey has been a member of the Fountain House Research Unit since 2016, where he has contributed to the development of many research and technology projects that have improved the community and directly impacted the lives of many members.
Since the physical closing of clubhouses, Lester has been instrumental in implementing the Virtual Clubhouse community, tirelessly assisting many members with their tech-help needs and developing new online resources and supports with Fountain House’s Media and Technology Working Group.
Lester is always patient and considerate in his work, helping anyone, no matter how small the problem and making members feel comfortable with the new technologies that are crucial to staying connected to the community during these difficult times of COVID-19. We want to celebrate Lester and let him know how much his work means to us!
Clubhouse Hero Story #8: Sammy Gorman
When you’re dealing with a pandemic, your IT support and system becomes extremely important.
For Stepping Stone Clubhouse in Coorparoo, Queensland, member Sammy Gorman (better known as “Sammy G”) has really helped ensure IT and online systems are working for the Clubhouse and its members.
Jaimi Rogers, Program Director, has found Sammy’s help invaluable.
“Without his endless IT support – and patience! – our virtual Clubhouse would not be what it is, and we wouldn’t be able to stay connected to as many members as we are,” she said.
Sammy has been a member of the Australian Clubhouse since 2016, and was already engaged in the Clubhouse mainly in the Clerical Unit.
When COVID-19 began to affect the Clubouse, he took on a leadership role supporting both members and staff to access Clubhouse Zoom meetings, navigate Facebook and assist with their new IT system.
“Sammy G attends almost every meeting and completes tasks daily, and has assisted many in our community to set up Zoom,” said Jaimi. “He created Zoom how-to’s, and has even hosted social Zooms on how to use different programs.”
He is also assisting the Clubhouse’s IT consultant to change over to a new server, and will train Clubhouse colleagues all on how to use it when they reopen.
Jaimi adds one more important detail about Sammy:
“Don’t be fooled by his blue steel look – he does all of these things, and many more, with a smile on his face, a laugh, and a lot of wit and cheek.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #9: Shahiem Williams
Shahiem Williams is a 43-year-old member of Fountain House, Mitchell’s Plain (FHMP) in Cape Town, South Africa. A people’s person, he has impacted on the lives of hundreds of vulnerable people.
The senior rehabilitation worker at FHMP recalls that her earliest memory of Shahiem goes back to when he first heard about the programme. He had gone to collect medication at the local clinic and one of the FHMP rehabilitation workers was delivering an informative talk at the clinic on the programme. Thereafter, Shahiem visited FHMP weekly to ensure that we had received his application and to check the status thereof. His commitment to the programme has therefore been evident since before he was an official member.
Shahiem joined FHMP in October 2019 and has shown exceptional dedication to the programme. A natural leader, he never shies away from any work given to him and always tests his limits. He is not one to be idle and is eager to learn new things and broaden his knowledge. A people’s person and very protective of his fellow members, he ensures that those walking home always do so in a group, and even changes his route to ensure that they arrive home safely.
When President Ramaphosa of South Africa announced the lockdown, FHMP could no longer offer its day programme to the Mitchells Plain community in the same way and transitioned to providing a remote service. Shahiem and his family then decided to open up new opportunities for the less fortunate by feeding a few people within their community. Soon, assisted by their neighbours and some much-needed donations, they were able to feed 80 people within their community.
But they realised that the need was broader than just that in their own community when two neighbouring communities notified them of the situation within their area. They were blessed enough to receive another donation from the local mosque and from other caring people, and Shahiem and his family were able to feed 300 more people from their neighbouring community.
Shahiem hopes that this time of lockdown will unite the world with love, peace and happiness. As they wait for more donations, they remain positive and eager to make a difference in the lives of people during this difficult time.
Clubhouse Hero Story #10: Grant Koopman
“I came into this world through humble beginnings. In 1999, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I was admitted to Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital and provided with treatment. After being hospitalised for nearly a year, I was discharged into my mother’s care.”
Grant Koopman explains that in 2005 he was introduced to Cape Mental Health (CMH) and is proud that he was one of the founding members to start the organisation’s ‘Bead-Ability’ project, which he fell in love with. The beading project provided a vital income stream to support him and his family.
“This helped me to be positive and restored my sense of purpose in life. Beading remains one of my favourite hobbies.”
In 2010, Grant no longer had a place to stay, moving from place to place until he secured a spot in 2013 at a CMH residential facility called Kimber House for adults with psychosocial disability where he has stayed for the past 7 years.
In 2014, he joined the Catering Unit at Fountain House (FH), Observatory as a member. Four months later, he was provided with the opportunity to work at The Foschini Group Warehouse (a retail company) in Cape Town through the Transitional Employment Programme. Eight months after, he was transferred to the Home Living Space as an assembler. In 2019, his contract was terminated at The Foschini Group Warehouse, and he secured a temporary housekeeping position at Cape Mental Health and in February 2020, he became a permanent employee of the organisation.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Grant spends his days socialising with the residents at Kimber House. They enjoy one another’s companionship as they often too busy to socialise at other times. He and a fellow housemate enjoy cooking for the residents of Kimber House (for the men’s house and the women’s house). “This gives me great pleasure as most times we cook for ourselves ‒ we delight in the company shared when preparing meals as a team and serving meals.”
Grant expresses his gratitude for the opportunities afforded him by Cape Mental Health and its Fountain House and Kimber House programmes.
Clubhouse Hero Story #11: Daniel Ortiz
Michelle Chow says that Daniel Ortiz, member of Ko’olau Clubhouse, is their Clubhouse Hero.
“Not only is Daniel a hero at Clubhouse but he also a hero working the frontlines as an essential worker in the community,” said Michelle, on staff at Ko’olau Clubhouse in Kane`ohe, HI. “He works at a local supermarket here.”
Due to COVID-19 life has changed everywhere, supermarkets and Clubhouse are no exception. Daniel has been a leader in both areas, providing support to his coworkers at work and supporting the Clubhouse’s program changes.
He stepped up as a leader, providing Clubhouse support and volunteering to do virtual events, sharing his talents with the entire clubhouse movement. Even while working, Daniel makes time to join Zoom meetings, many times encouraging and including other members to join in.
Daniel can be seen on a couple of the Clubhouse’s early Facebook Live events, sharing his original poetry as well as supermarket safety tips. He was on in their latest TikTok style Facebook post. And he outreached and led the first ZOOM employment support dinner.
At work, Daniel is a courtesy clerk, the last face customers see since he bags groceries. Since COVID-19, his job duties have included getting carts and wiping and cleaning each cart or basket with sanitizer for every shopper throughout his shift. This is all in an effort to keep customers, workers, and the community safe and healthy. He even got an award recently for his excellent customer service!
Ko’olau Clubhouse recommended Daniel as its Clubhouse Hero for his positivity throughout these challenging times, his leadership within the Clubhouse community as well as his role as an essential worker at Times Supermarket.
Clubhouse Hero Story #12: Amanda Rau
Amanda Rau is a single mom. Now, a homeschool teacher to her 7-year-old daughter. A coronavirus survivor. And, a member of Independence Center in St. Louis, MO since March, 2018.
In the last few weeks, she’s also been focused on Independence Center’s virtual Facebook Clubhouse group, reaching out to members, helping to introduce new members to Clubhouse virtually, a new collaboration called “Colleague Connections”.
That’s in addition to her normal roles in the Clubhouse of helping with tech support, budgeting, suicide prevention, and being connected with the coalition of behavioral health of Missouri to help guide traditional psychosocial rehabilitation programs to the Clubhouse model!
“Amanda’s determination in dealing with the symptoms of coronavirus while raising her daughter and still finding the strength to play such an integral role in the development of our virtual Clubhouse programming, is truly awe-inspiring,” said Joe Shaffer, Unit Supervisor at Independence Center.
“I have to say I’m a little cautious as to being labeled as a “hero”, namely because I just do what I think is best to help out,” Amanda said. “Taking my strengths into consideration I have placed myself into a number of working groups that essentially (I feel) connect together to bring the most basic of needs to our community.”
Amanda found Independence Center when she needed them the most. She was struggling with depression, anxiety and schizoaffective disorder. She said she was highly over medicated at the time, and the medication really wasn’t reducing her symptoms.
“I felt like a scared zombie. Come to think of it, I pretty much was a scared zombie,” she said. Amanda didn’t want to be alone all day and felt isolated because her friends were busy with their daily worklife. “I found myself wishing I could do the same. I felt as if it just wasn’t in me anymore. Or, at least, that’s what I told myself.”
She remembers the exact day she went on tour to the Independence Center. She was impressed with her tour guide’s energy but remembers thinking ‘what’s the catch?’ But the tour guide said “Just come try it out… There’s magic in these walls.”
Overtime Amanda began working in the thrift shop. She dove head first into learning everything she could about the shop, then the Clubhouse, and ultimately that led to her role working with Colleague Training at Independence Center for other Clubhouse colleagues from around the world.
Colleague training is rooted in the International Standards for Clubhouse Programs™ (Standards).
“I worked with colleague training a bit at the Independence Center before they offered me a opportunity to go to Gateway House, SC where I would study everything that made Clubhouses, Clubhouse,” Amanda said. “During my colleague training, I met quite a few friends that I still speak to this day.”
It’s all laid the foundation for how Amanda has contributed to her Clubhouse since coronavirus changed everything.
“Especially during this time of physical isolation when I know that not only our members have been pushed to their limits, but also our staff, I’ve worked…with the help of my colleagues to continue to ensure that not only my Clubhouse, but Clubhouses everywhere continue to have the same open loving environment that I witnessed at the time that they were so open and loving to me.”
But her colleague at Independence Center, Joe Shaffer, put it another way. “Amanda is the embodiment of the strength and resilience of our Clubhouse and our model: whatever challenges present themselves, we will come together (even despite being physically separated) and rise up to meet them head on,” he said. “We’re Clubhouse. That’s just how we roll.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #13: Laura Miyashiro
When Friendship House had to close its building due to COVID-19, Laura Miyashiro was the first to say, “What can I do? How can I help?”
She started right away with assisting with outreach calls, and then she took it a step further by offering her personal phone number to anyone who needed someone to talk to during this lonely time of isolation.
And when Laura learned that a committee was working on a grant proposal to get funding to assemble mask kits, she was the first in line to reserve a kit so that she can help make masks for her fellow colleagues.
She is working with another member on collecting recipes for a Clubhouse cookbook and she is once again taking it a step further by trying out new dishes at home, and then calling the member she’s working with, to dictate the recipe so it can be written down and included in the file.
Laura has been a member of Friendship House on the island of Kauai, for over 25 years. Through her participation at the Clubhouse, she was able to work on a few TEP’s before getting a job of her own where she worked full time for 10 years as a tagger at the local dry cleaning company.
About 8 years ago, Laura went completely blind, but that didn’t limit her involvement in the Clubhouse in any way. Before the stay-at-home order was in place, she attended the Clubhouse 3 days/week and assisted with various tasks which included (but in no way was limited to), grant writing, washing dishes, prepping food, cleaning the bathrooms, writing articles for the newsletter, doing presentations in the community and making leis for Clubhouse visitors. She is also currently serving as a member on our board of directors.
“Nothing stops this ball of fire! Laura has been through a lot of trials in her life, but she always moves forward with optimism, perseverance, hard work, dedication, commitment and hope.”, said Iris Ijima, staff member at Friendship House. “And using this same approach, she is doing her part to make sure that Friendship House will make it through these challenging times, too.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #14: Sheryl Browne, Culinary Unit Member, Fountain House NYC
“Not all heroes wear capes” yet these days, several do in fact wear masks. Sheryl Browne is one such hero. She joined Fountain House in February 2019, and left after a day or two, not to be seen or heard from again for several weeks.
Her experience walking through “the big green doors” and spending time in the Culinary Unit, was unlike anything Sheryl had ever encountered before. It was strange that people took an interest and attempted to make a connection with her.
After some reach-out efforts, Sheryl returned, became heavily involved and hasn’t looked back since! She has become a prominent member of the unit and throughout the house, someone whom many other members and staff rely upon after 12pm, when her TE placement at a major NYC law firm concludes for the day. That might seem like a full plate for most but not for this mother of five children, who still made time to design this year’s 5K t-shirt.
As Fountain House made plans to close its doors for the first time in 70+ years her Unit Leader, Raj, began putting together a list for his skeleton crew. Sheryl simply gave him her familiar and comical side-eye, as if to say, “man, you already know.” And he did, she’s been part of the team ever since.
Sheryl is among a handful of members and staff who come in every other day to make over 500 meals, which are then delivered to Fountain House’s members throughout New York City. Sheryl was among the first to come to tell him she didn’t want to switch out, that she’d be willing to come in everyday “until the world turns back on.”
She’ll be the first to tell you how much she detests a mess, so her superpower of organizing has come in handy, especially when needing to play “food-tetris” with the walk-in refrigerators to store everything properly. Before, Sheryl asked herself “why me?” in regards to her illness. Now, she states it’s not just her… entire communities such as ours are affected, and Sheryl is happy to help as much as she can.
Clubhouse Hero Story #15: Elliott Madison
For over 20 years, Elliott Madison has dedicated his expertise and skills to further the Fountain House mission of empowering people with mental illness to thrive in society. Currently, he is the Senior Program Director, overseeing more than a dozen Fountain House programs and health initiatives.
His experience as a supervisor coupled with his outstanding community organizing abilities, enabled him to lead the members and staff through the safe and efficient transition from physical to virtual clubhouse. The virtual clubhouse practices put in place are being shared through Clubhouse International webinars and implemented by clubhouses worldwide. Elliott embodies the role of social practitioner and leads the members and staff with wisdom and patience. For that, he is a clubhouse hero to all.
Clubhouse Hero Story #16: Virginia Simpkins
Virginia Simpkins has been a source of inspiration and support for members of The Meeting Place, a Clubhouse in San Diego, CA, USA, all of whom had to quickly adapt when the state of California issued a stay at home order in response to coronavirus. Her contributions to the transition of managing physical distancing while still being socially connected have been invaluable.
“In an effort to raise membership morale during this strange and difficult period, Virginia is always the first one posting in The Meeting Place’s private Facebook group, greeting the Clubhouse community at the crack of dawn daily with a bright smile, a cup of coffee, and a motivational message,” said Chris Rull, staff generalist at the Clubhouse. “Throughout the day, she remains available and responsive to other members in need of emotional or technical support and assists staff in doing weekly outreach to the membership.”
In keeping up with the Clubhouse’s Work-Ordered Day, Virginia attends virtual Unit Meetings each week and volunteers for work that contribute to the running of the Clubhouse from her own home. She consistently attends Clubhouse virtual activities where she provides both honesty and positivity to the conversations, showing a deep interest to encourage, advocate and support her fellow members.
What is extra special about Virginia’s role is that she does it while taking on a full-time load as a college student. Her laser-sharp focus on reaching her educational goals and steady participation in The Meeting Place are truly inspiring to all in the Clubhouse community.
“Many of the members have mentioned how Virginia’s support has boosted their optimism and made them feel more at ease during this difficult period,” Chris said. “Her morning posts have even led some to wake up earlier and start the day with a positive outlook. Her warm interactions and overall presence have changed many attitudes for the better. She is our hero.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #17: Timo Teeäär
Food is normally a big part of the Clubhouse day. Members gather to eat a lunch that may only take 30 minutes to consume, but that food has to be shopped for, prepared and cooked for in order for members to enjoy their lunch.
Food is even more important during this pandemic, when members cannot come together. Delivering food to members in need has now become part of the Clubhouse day for many clubhouses, including Haabersti Klubimaja in Tallinn, Estonia. That’s where Timo Teeäär has found a way of supporting his fellow members during this COVID-19 crisis.
“In this particular time , I have been helping our clubhouse staff to deliver food and organize our food bank,” said Timo. “I wish to do different tasks and to morally support everyone, who is in need of that [encouragement].
“I like to tell jokes, should the situation require, but mostly I try to be supportive in my attitude.”
Timo has been a member since 2001, and is very active in all the units, but his talents really shine in the kitchen.
“He often bakes cakes and pies for various events and desserts,” said Sander Valk, on staff at Haabersti Klubimaja. “He is a very active participant in all kinds of activities and a great asset in building our community.”
Timo can often be found serving as barbecue master during grilling parties, or cooking for birthday parties. You will frequently hear him sing as he cooks.
“I do all this in the meaning of our health, so that everyone has a good time,“ said Timo. “I mostly get peace from it and happiness from it, so I can do even more.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #18: Miriam Sushman
When we’re in the middle of a pandemic and trying to ensure the basic essentials – food, healthcare, housing – it can be hard to appreciate the value of something artistic. But often, art provides vision, inspiration and often, hope.
Members of Grand Avenue Club (GAC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin can look forward to be welcomed back someday by one such project: the mural that was built under the direction of Miriam Sushman.
It was a collaborative project. Miriam met with members and staff to brainstorm options for the mural, which was designed by the Clubhouse community with Miriam’s guidance. It depicts the fish and plants of Lake Michigan, which is located just blocks from GAC. Colleagues found working with Miriam powerful and instructive.
“I taught members how to cut plates with tile nippers and how to adhere to a surface. Members worked in pairs or alone on the eleven fish,” Miriam said. “Once the fish were complete I adhered them to the board. Then we worked on the plates and lastly the background. Volunteers from the community helped to complete the background.”
Rachel Forman, Executive Director of Grand Avenue Club, said of the project and of Miriam, “Because of her skills and her long-term commitment to GAC, Miriam has reminded us that in the midst of the most challenging circumstances, it is critical to maintain our pride in our Clubhouse home. The mural expresses our pride in our beautiful Clubhouse, pride in our city, and is the result of talents that we did not know we had before we embarked on this project.”
“Undoubtedly social distancing will end,” Rachel said. “There are many reasons we look toward to the time when we can return to daily life at Grand Avenue Club. The mural is one more reason we look forward to returning to our Clubhouse.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #19: Mike Coppinger
Ruth Osterman hesitated a bit when she was asked to nominate anyone for recognition. “All members at Clubhouse step up in the way that they can step up and all are important,” she said recently, “but Mike has been especially helpful with some really key aspects, so that’s important to talk about.”
Ruth is Program Director at Genesis Club Inc., a clubhouse in Worcester, MA, and one of Clubhouse International’s twelve global training bases. She’s worked closely with Clubhouse member Mike Coppinger in recent weeks.
In his late twenties, Mike is a newer member, joining Genesis Club in October 2019. He had a career in construction management before experiencing his mental illness. As part of his recovery, he’s decided to pursue a career in fitness. He just completed his personal trainer certification thanks to a Baer Scholarship and he used the Supported Employment program to obtain a position at a fitness center, as well. He also has a position waiting for him at the local YMCA when thestay at home orders lift.
When Genesis Club needed to adjust operations to respond to coronavirus, Mike stepped up to help. “Right from the beginning, Mike was willing to come in and help,” Ruth said. “Mike comes into the Clubhouse twice per week to do data entry, which is critical for service evaluation as well as billing.”
Ruth also shared that Mike has taken a leadership role with their young adults, getting the group communicating via Slack, an online channel. He works regularly in Partnership Outreach, Genesis’ approach to Reach Out where they partner a member and a staff person to do outreach contacts via telephone. Mike has been instrumental in developing virtual tours for potential new members, and recently co-presented with Ruth a WANA Webinar on the Work Ordered Day During Coronavirus.
“Mike shows us what we see every day, that every member has a variety of talents and skills that can be used in very real and beneficial ways to keep the Clubhouse open and running for all members,” Ruth said. “We’re so glad he’s a member here, at Genesis, and one of our Clubhouse heroes!”
Clubhouse Hero Story #20: Joanna Arnold
When Joanna Arnold accepted the Director position at New Hope Clubhouse in Brownwood, TX, she knew it was possible that instead of becoming the full-time job as planned, her part-time position might not continue if the funding didn’t come through.
She accepted that challenge, said Christy Cox, a Board member with the Central Texas Clubhouse Initiative.
“Joanna wholeheartedly immersed herself in the Clubhouse experience, learning about the Clubhouse model and forging relationships with members,” Christy said. “She quickly assessed the high level of need for services in our rural community and focused on empowering the leadership roles of existing members while expanding the Clubhouse’s reach to new members.”
When Covid-19 restrictions struck, Joanna’s efforts were just starting to produce strong results, but under the unexpected new conditions, the timeline and availability of funding became even less certain.
“Rather than falter or walk away, Joanna continues to lead our growing Clubhouse community in creative ways throughout the crisis, ensuring members stayed connected and cared about,” Christy said. And it’s why Christy wanted to nominate Joanna as their Clubhouse hero.
“For showing incredible commitment to New Hope’s members in the face of adversity: Joanna’s strength and faith are an inspiration and anchor for our young clubhouse project. Despite the stress and uncertainty of Covid-19 closures, we know that, with Joanna on our side, we can emerge even stronger than before.”
Clubhouse Hero Story #21: Mashood Kamal
When the call went out for stories about members who stepped forward to assist with their Clubhouse’s response to the pandemic, Tanya Wheatley, Program Director at Pathways Clubhouse in Richmond, British Columbia immediately thought of Mashood Kamal.
Tanya said that Mashood usually volunteers before being asked and always says ‘Yes, I would like to do that’ whenever he is asked to help.
“When we had to close our physical doors due to Covid-19, Mashood took it upon himself to go out every morning rain, or shine, to tape himself giving the daily weather report,” Tanya said. “He also researches and is careful to announce what online meetings, or activities we can expect that day.”
“If there is something happening, you can count on Mashood to be there virtually,” she added.
Mashood participates in Zoom unit meetings up to three times a day. He works on documents shared on Google drive and does mailings and birthday phone calls from his home. But it’s his weather reports that Tanya especially loves. You can see a montage of his reports on Facebook here.
“He manages to do all this while going to school as well,” Tanya said. “We all appreciate his dedication and willingness to help out in the work ordered day to make our Clubhouse the best it can be!”