If you come to Minneapolis – and bring a warm coat if you come in the winter – you’ll see a lot of big, old houses like the one pictured with this blog. Though it looks like a lot of the others, this house is actually quite different from the rest. It’s the home of Vail Place Uptown, a clubhouse for people living with mental illness.
Instead of staying home alone, watching TV, and snacking on processed food – you can go to Vail Place, hang out with friends, sign up for a movie or some other form of social recreation, have a nutritious meal at a minimal price, and enjoy life as a valued member of the community. There are over 290 such clubhouses worldwide, including our sister clubhouse in Hopkins, a suburb of Minneapolis.
In addition to being a clubhouse, Vail Place is also a social service agency, a one stop shop for people living with mental illness. With a trained and diverse staff, Vail Place helps people deal with issues of housing, education, employment, access to physical and mental health services, as well as access to the myriad of government programs for which they might be eligible.
Every morning at 9:30 and every afternoon at 1:00, there are two “work ordered day” meetings. At the downstairs meeting, members divvy up the jobs that need to be done in order to maintain the physical clubhouse and to provide meals. At the upstairs meeting, members volunteer to help with all the administrative and clerical tasks necessary to keep the clubhouse running smoothly.
The culture of Vail Place is open and easy with members always free not to volunteer for a job at one of these meetings. That’s OK – you’ve already accomplished a lot just by leaving home and coming to the clubhouse, and Vail Place respects your right to say no. But some of the jobs are very easy, and you have the daily encouragement of watching other people volunteer. Besides other members and staff are always there to help you. So it turns out that over time most people volunteer for a job.
For some members volunteering for a job at Vail Place is the beginning of returning to work out in the community. Through a program of transitional and supported employment, Vail Place offers members the opportunity to gradually rejoin the work force. This isn’t possible for all members, but for some returning to work is a milestone in their recovery.
At Vail Place people living with mental illness are not patients, but members who have a stake in the future of their clubhouse. There are regular decision making meetings where members and staff meet together to make the decisions necessary to run the facility. This process extends to hiring new staff, where members have huge input in the interviewing and selection process. Member involvement, member input, member governance of their own clubhouse – it’s the day to day practice of Vail Place.
This practice expresses an understanding of recovery from mental illness that includes the recovery of agency, the right and the ability to make the choices that determine one’s life. A therapist can tell you that your life makes a difference, and you can try your best to believe that’s true. At Vail Place you experience your life making a difference, and you know it’s true.
If you are or a loved one is recovering from a mental illness, I encourage you to check-out the website for Clubhouse International to see if there is a clubhouse close to where you live. If so, I urge you to call and arrange a visit. The membership process is easy, it’s free, and the benefits for recovery can be enormous.
Ordained in 1973, Bob Griggs has served UCC churches in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Minnesota. He is an Advisory Council member at Vail Place, a club house for people living with mental illness. He is also the author of A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies and Recovering from Depression: Forty-Nine Helps.