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#OTGYpsi: A local clubhouse for those living with and seeking to recover from mental illness

This week for "On the Ground Ypsi," our weekly partnership with Concentrate Media giving voice to one of their online stories about the Ypsilanti area, WEMU's Lisa Barry and On the Ground Ypsi's project manager, Sarah Rigg, talk to Summer Berman of Fresh Start Clubhouse. They talk about what services they provide and help they offer to Washtenaw County residents in need of mental health support.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsilanti resident hopes to give local people living with mental health challenges a Fresh Start

Fresh Start Clubhouse


Lisa Barry: You're listening to 891 WEMU and this is On the Ground Ypsi, our weekly conversation with Concentrate Media's Sarah Rigg about one of her online stories about the Ypsilanti area this week. I'm Lisa Barry, and we're joined now by Sarah to tell us about what she wrote about, and we're always excited to be joined by a special guest. So who else is joining the conversation? 

Sarah Rigg: Hi, Lisa. So, this week, I wrote about a clubhouse that is for those living with mental illness and seeking to recover. And it's in a little bit of a transition right now, and I have brought with me executive director Summer Berman. 

Lisa Barry: Hi, Summer, thanks for talking to us. 

Summer Berman: Hi Lisa. 

Lisa Barry: I'm curious about the term clubhouse. How does that fit in with what you're doing? 

Summer Berman: Yeah. So, the clubhouse is an international model of psychosocial rehabilitation in the United States. It's recognized as an evidence-based practice by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the basic idea is that it is a membership organization. The model, actually, originated in the late forties, early fifties around the time when social clubs were a thing. So now, we might have a golf club or tennis club or something like that. But this was around the time when sort of community social clubs were happening, and that's really where the sort of basic model of the clubhouse comes out of. But it's a program for people with serious mental illness, so adults with diagnoses like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia. And we help them live the kind of life that they want to live. So, we support people with employment and education and housing and all kinds of different things. We're a non-clinical program, so we don't do med management or traditional therapy. But what we do do is help people sort of set life and recovery goals and work towards those goals, so that they can experience a socially satisfying and vocationally meaningful life. 

Lisa Barry: I know you're in transition, but is this a process where people come and stay, or do they just visit you, or do you go visit them? How does it work? 

Summer Berman: It's a nonresidential program, so people do not live at the clubhouse, but we do sometimes visit people at home. Right now, we are in a transition, so we're in a temporary space. Right now, we're going to be looking for a new building soon, ideally either between Ann Arbor and Ypsi or maybe in Ypsi, because most of our members are from Ypsilanti and the Ann Arbor area. And people come at their choice. It's a voluntary program. People can come as frequently as often as they want and stay for as long as they want. Kind of the way the program is set up is that we have two main work units right now. We have a culinary unit, which operates our kitchen and our snack bar and does some of the around the house maintenance and a business clerical unit, which does our Medicaid billing and new member orientation and enrollment, and all of the clerical kinds of things that need to happen. And members can participate in any of that activity alongside our staff. We purposely have a small staff, so that members are genuinely needed in the operation of the clubhouse, and it's through being part of a team, being part of meaningful work and sort of a structured, productive work day that members begin to build their self-esteem, their self-confidence, their sense of self-efficacy around being able to kind of control their own lives. And, as we build on that work within the work day, then we also help connect people with outside community resources and help them reach goals outside of the clubhouse as well. Like I said, employment, education, housing. We like to talk about the clubhouse as a launch pad rather than a landing strip. So, we see the clubhouse as a step in people's recovery, not necessarily the place where their recovery ends out, right? It's like we're going to help you get where you want to go, wherever that is. 

Lisa Barry: Sounds like a very integrated program.

Summer Berman: It's really..I think one of the interesting things about it is that our staff are in some ways kind of considered generalists, and that the staff who are working in the units with our members are the same staff who are providing the evening, weekend, and holiday program and the same staff who are providing employment support and education support. So, we really get to know people in a lot of different areas of our life and build trust and build relationships, so that we can when we're recommending someone for a job in the community or where we're helping someone, you know, maybe we're writing a letter of recommendation for for school or something like that, that we know them really well, and we know what their strengths are and we know what the areas of support that they need are and that we can provide support in those areas.

Lisa Barry: Sarah Rigg, what else will we read about in your online story this week? 

Sarah Rigg: I thought it was really important to not just talk to the clinical staff, but to some of the members to see why they keep coming back to Fresh Start and what they get out of it. So I talked to two of them, one named Bill, and one named Michelle. And Bill talked about how he enjoyed writing for the newsletter and he actually, even though the strength of the program really is in-person community building, he enjoyed the remote then virtual programing because that was easier on him transportation-wise coming from Ypsi. And then, Michelle talk to me about the supportive employment services. They have a range of sort of three levels. One is super intensive help, and the other is just basically, you know, we can help you with the resume or, you know, running some mock interviews. But she took part in the transitional employment program, where, actually, a staff member goes and gets trained by, like, say, the restaurant, and then that person trains the Fresh Start member, and they'll even cover a shift for the clubhouse member if they can't make their shifts. So, Michelle was really grateful for the employment help and help going back to school. 

Lisa Barry: I'm assuming that the need we hear about it from a lot of different places, but especially for your organization, that the need continues to increase, especially due to the pandemic. 

Summer Berman: Absolutely. Absolutely, it does. We're always looking for these, like, silver linings, right? And one of the things that I think has been interesting about the pandemic experience is that it has allowed people who maybe haven't had direct exposure to mental illness to have a little bit of a view into what that might looks like, whether that is because their own anxiety or depression or sort of symptoms of those things have increased somewhat, you know, as we were all, especially, at the beginning, kind of in lockdown, couldn't go to work, couldn't see friends, uncertainty about what life brings that has sort of raised our collective level of anxiety, right? But then what Clubhouse really, really focuses on with people with mental illness is the social isolation that they face. So, whether that is because of symptoms that they're experiencing, maybe negative self-talk or voices that they're hearing telling them they're, you know, they're no good you're not good enough, nobody likes you, don't bother, or because of friends and family members who maybe turn their back, due to the social stigma that is still connected to mental illness, that a lot of people living with serious mental illness are facing a higher level of social isolation, and that social isolation is really what can cause a lot of problems in people's lives. And so, we all experience that in this last year, right? How truly damaging isolation is. And we know that research studies have shown that high levels of isolation--social isolation--can have a negative impact on the mind and the body equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. So, social isolation is a very bad thing for all of us, but, particularly, for people living with serious mental illness. 

Lisa Barry: Summer Berman, director of Fresh Start Clubhouse. We look forward to hearing and seeing where you end up, and thanks for all your good work. And Sarah Rigg. Same to you. Thanks for joining us here On the Ground Ypsi here in 89-1 WEMU.

Sarah Rigg: Thanks, Lisa. 

Summer Berman: Thanks so much, Lisa.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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