POSTED ON NOVEMBER 30, 2011:
At A Crossroads
Clubhouse concept transitions the mentally ill back into the workplace and life
Terrence Lowe doesn't stop in as often as some other Crossroads Clubhouse members. He told me this with a shy, friendly smile as he showed me around.
Terrence also suffers from debilitating depression. Venturing out of his apartment to chat, make lunch, or work in the garden at Crossroads is a huge step for him.
Today, he is rewarded. The clubhouse's director, James Wineinger, shows off the morning's find: a fresh pumpkin grown in the clubhouse's new garden.
"We just cut it off the vine," he said.
The small pumpkin patch -- as well as the rest of the cozy garden -- is well-tended by Crossroads' members and by a weekly visit from an Oklahoma State University master gardener.
Wineinger has directed the course of Crossroads for six years. He said he's been intrigued with the clubhouse concept program of managing mental illness since he was an undergrad.
The first clubhouse, Fountain House, was started in New York City in the 1940s. Since then, organizations like it have sprung up all over the world.
The Fountain House's goal, according to its website, is "a high quality of life for all members, ongoing improvement and the ultimate elimination of stigma against those with mental illness."
After members of the Tulsa Chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found out about the clubhouse concept, they decided to give it a shot here. Crossroads opened its doors in 1995.
Tulsa NAMI is a support group for the "parents, children, spouses, brothers and sisters, and friends of people with serious mental illness," according to the non-profit's website. The group remains active today.
Places like New York's Fountain House and Tulsa's Crossroads are a much-needed middle ground between a medical or institutional setting and being at home.
"It's also a partnership model. We partner staff and the members who come here," Wineinger said. "They partner in all the work that happens, whether it's lunch in the kitchen or typing articles for the Crossroads Gazette or planting pumpkin seeds. We're doing that side-by-side."
New members aren't approached as patients. They're approached as people. "It's not like at the clinic where we'd ask them if they slept well or if their meds are working," Wineinger said.
"We say, 'Hey, it's great to see you. What do you feel like helping us with today?'" he said.
Crossroads focuses on what people can do, not what's wrong with them. And in the process of appreciating people on a more personal level, well, "That's where the real beauty of the program happens," Wineinger said.
Take Terrence as an example. Just showing up at the clubhouse a few times a week is a "huge victory," Wineinger said. "Sometimes he won't leave his apartment for weeks. Just the fact that he's here...We don't even have him do anything."
They celebrate small, valuable milestones. Leaving the apartment. Tending the garden. Filling out a job application. Making lunch.
Lunch is a big deal at Crossroads. The menu is the most popular section of their printed daily update. Each day, members work together -- cooking, preparing and serving food for the rest of the crew.
The clubhouse isn't exclusive, but you need to have a diagnosed mental disorder. The "big three" illnesses at Crossroads are major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
But the illnesses are just as diverse as the people they affect.
"Mental illness does not discriminate," Wineinger said. "It affects people of all backgrounds and age ranges."
Oftentimes a social worker or clinician at an in-patient facility -- like Laureate or Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health -- will refer a person to Crossroads for less regimented care. Family members also refer loved ones to Crossroads.
A clubhouse works in conjunction with great psychiatry and medication. "I think Crossroads is really helpful for people who want to stay productive but have not been able to be employed or find other volunteer activities in the community," Wineinger said.
"We're not a drop-in center or a soup kitchen," he clarified. "It's a mutual help concept -- not necessarily self-help and not a medical approach. We help each other and in the process of helping each other, people get better."
Wineinger is always looking for new community partners to help improve the services Crossroads can offer. Marshall's offers transitional employment opportunities. ONEOK led the charge on a demolition project during the United Way's Day of Caring.
"ONEOK really stepped up and took on what was one of the most ambitious projects done on the day of caring as a volunteer effort," Wineinger said.
Despite a few great community partners, he said the clubhouse concept is still not well-known in Tulsa. They place members in mostly entry-level positions -- dusting and light janitorial work at Marshall's, for example -- but more opportunities are needed.
Crossroads recently celebrated its 16 birthday with a "Sweet 16" party. More than 50 members gathered to eat cake and a special dinner.
Wineinger said his work at Crossroads is all worth it when "I see people get better, and I see that all the time."
He said one of their young members spoke to those who assembled for the Sweet 16 party about the changes in his life. "It's powerful to see people transform like that," Wineinger said. "This place has given him a purpose and gotten him back amongst the living."
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