Local group fights the stigma of mental health

COURTNEY HAYDEN/Sun-Gazette Center right, Diane Walashunas, left, and Karen Grentz work at a computer desk at the Commerce Park Clubhouse. Below, Clubhouse staff and members hosted an open house on May 23, offering tours, and cakes and cookies, top right, made by the Community Service Group bakery. Paul Bubb, bottom right, mans a thrift shop.

A local health organization’s community involvement has grown since 2005, as members and staff work together to stomp out mental health stigma.

After outgrowing its previous location, the Commerce Park Clubhouse, 1020 Commerce Park Drive, Suite 14-A, recently held an open house at its new, larger building.

Since June 27, 2005, the clubhouse has grown alongside its members through a feeling of ownership between staff and members, developing work habits and behaviors through various tasks and participation in activities and socials, said Karen Retorick, program director.

The organization serves people in recovery with mental health disabilites.

“The members are not a client, they’re not a patient, they are a part of a club,” Retorick said. “It’s a voluntary program for members — it’s nice because it’s a place for them to come, return to, get and make relationships and learn skills and do it at their pace and working side-by-side with staff.”

The clubhouse is a part of the Community Service Group a statewide group that creates communities and services for mental health and developmental/intellectual disabilities through.

The local clubhouse is one of five that the service group provides, Retorick said. The Community Service Group is in 19 counties, providing servies in over 22 in the state.

By focusing on recovery versus mental health, members can work, learn and gain skills through different tasks that can be used in the community, whether that be for jobs or to upkeep their own place, Retorick said. Members can sign up for tasks in the morning and afternoon, whether that be running sales at the snack bar, working with weekly media productions for the weather, upcoming socials and menus, cleaning and working as the receptionist, among many more tasks.

“If there is a task they don’t know, they can sign up to shadow somebody or just observe, or watch or be mentored, and we find once a member gets engaged and gets involved in clubhouse, they start to blossom and get involved in more things,” she said.

Members create their own goal plan and can work at their pace, allowing them to focus on their needs, creating the Clubhouse’s “strong and engaging community,” according to a Commerce Park Clubhouse flyer.

These skills can transfer into community jobs and the clubhouse works with members if they are ready for, or seeking, employment — they want members to be successful,

Retorick said. A thrift shop is available for those getting an apartment or in need of clothes for an interview.

“I think what’s very important is the way in which they integrate the members of the clubhouse into the overall community and to give them a sense of belonging and … a sense of accomplishment,” said Robert Larson, a Clubhouse parent representative and member of the advisory board.

Larson’s daughter, formerly of Williamsport, now lives outside of Philadelphia and proudly works for Wegmans, recently receiving her five-year pin, he said.

“She’s very proud of the fact she’s able to contribute to the community,” Larson said. “She is able to make a contribution to herself and that gives her a sense of belonging and a sense of being worthwhile, and the Clubhouse here has done a lot to help her when she first started working. And through the clubhouse, got training and support.”

There are more members than staff at the clubhouse and through tasks they help upkeep the space. The staff cannot do it all on their own, Retorick said. The staff and members work together equally, creating a sense of ownership.

For example, Retorick can sign up to clean just like one of the members. No one asks or tells a member to do something; they do it voluntarily.

“Without the members, the clubhouse wouldn’t run because it takes us all to run it,” Retorick said.

To help eliminate the mental health stigma, staff members do not wear badges, so people cannot tell who is staff and who is a member, Retorick said. Staff and members train together. There are five training bases in the United States, the clubhouse members goes to U.S. trainings for a week, and there are international trainings lasting two to three weeks.

The clubhouse also offers more than tasks. On Tuesdays, it often holds a social, and on the first Saturday of the month fun activites, like going on the Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat, may be held, she said.

Members also have the chance to get involved in Newsletter Club, Wellness Club and Fundraising Club, among others, Retorick said. Fundraising in and outside of the organization offers a way to keep prices lower for members when they go places together like the Hiawatha Riverboat, Knoebels or the movies.

The clubhouse is “interesting and fun at the same time. I learn a lot,” said Diane Walashunas, the Pennsylvania Coalition representative. She’s learned how to “communicate with others well.

“Part of the clubhouse is relationships and it’s good for me so I don’t isolate myself,” she added.

On Sept. 27, 2017, the group moved to its new space in Suite 14-A because the clubhouse outgrew its former space and celebrated with an open house and tours Wednesday, Retorick said.

It is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is open all holidays, having traditional holiday dinners, so no one is left alone, Retorick said.

It’s “a real force in fighting the stigma of mental health and it shows the community that everyone is a part of the community and contributes in one way or another,” said Julie Weaver, vice president of Mental health Services at the Community Service Group. “Everyone has their own individual battles, and we just need to embrace everyone as individuals and a contributor to society.”

For more information, call 570-601-0631.

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