Reintegration & Recovery >> Community Center
Our current Community Spotlight organization had what founding Executive Director Kevin Bradley terms "a unique start". In the mid-1980s, local mental health professionals, mental health consumers, and family members became concerned that there was no Clubhouse in Worcester, MA - the state's second largest city - and decided to do something about it.
The result was the founding in 1988 of Genesis Club, now one of 30 such facilities in the Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition. Critical to the Club's founding was the active involvement of mental health consumers themselves. According to Mr. Bradley, "At that time, this level of program development participation by persons with mental illness was unheard of. These Board members, then commonly identified as 'ex-mental patients', were instrumental in creating the atmosphere of ownership, hope, and dignity that is still alive today at the Genesis Club."
The Genesis Club annually provides nearly 500 members with a comprehensive range of services such as vocational training, employment opportunities, housing support, educational assistance, and social programs. As with virtually all Clubhouses, Genesis Club operates through an everyday working partnership between members and staff. The main operational units through which members contribute to the Club's operation are Membership and Maintenance, Business and Research, Training and Development, Employment and Education, Housing, and Food Service.
Denise Hast, a Clubhouse member who sits on Genesis Club's Board, says, "We are especially proud of our employment unit, particularly our Transitional Employment (TE) program." Through this component, more than 25 Worcester-area employers hire Genesis Club members to temporarily fill a variety of jobs within their organizations, in preparation for the members' transition into permanent employment. The list of participating employers is impressive and includes Assumption College, AdCare Hospital, Commonwealth Stationers, Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, Tatnuck Bookseller, Worcester Centrum Centre, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Worcester State College.
A look at two such institutions demonstrates the program's value to employers themselves. The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School - which partners with Genesis Club for several important programs - won the Governor's Exemplary Employers Award several years ago, due in part to its participation in the Club's employment program. And the Worcester Art Museum has for a number of years staffed its Mail Room entirely with Genesis Club members; prior to participation in the TE program, the Mail Room operation had been, according to the Museum's Director, "a revolving door."
If the worth of the program to employers is significant, its value to Clubhouse members is immense. Last year, 142 Genesis Club members returned to employment with total earnings of more than $706,242. Cheryl Stevens, MD - a former Genesis Club member and Board officer - struggled for years with serious mental illness, at times living in institutions or group homes; today she is Director of Wellness, Power, and Freedom for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. One key to her successful reintegration was the Club's TE program. Says Dr. Stevens, "Clubhouses are a way out for those who have been in institutions, and one of the main reasons is an employment program which helps people reestablish their identities."
"I originally came to Genesis Club during the period when I was wandering the streets," Dr. Stevens continues. "Someone suggested that I go there for help. It took me a while to get up the nerve, but when I finally went to the Club, I was greeted enthusiastically and was asked to come back."
Dr. Stevens eventually found her way into the Club's TE program and went to work in the Worcester Art Museum's Mail Room. The program pushed her limits, especially during those times when she really didn't want to go to work. "The staff wouldn't allow me to drop out on my bad days", she says - thus ultimately providing her with a sense of her own capabilities in the face of adversity.
Genesis Club was recently instrumental in actually proving the value of the Clubhouse employment model. Six years ago, the Federal government chose eight sites for an Employment Intervention Demonstration Project being funded to compare results of different approaches to employment for persons with mental illness. Genesis Club was chosen to be a partner in an evaluation being conducted by Fountain House, a Clubhouse based in New York City.
The evaluation compared the results of Genesis Club's employment program with those of the Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), a national clinical model in which a professional team coordinates patients' stabilization and work. The evidence-based research showed impressive results: the psychosocial Clubhouse model exemplified by Genesis Club was found to produce more days of work, longer worker tenures, and higher wages than the Federally-funded PACT model. Genesis Club subsequently participated alongside Fountain House in receiving the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Award for the project's groundbreaking research.
One of the newest programs for Genesis Club members is also one that is unique. This is the Wellness Project, which Genesis Club Executive Director Kevin Bradley describes as "a very new initiative in the Clubhouse world." The program is being funded by The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts; the Foundation's Vice President for Programs, Noreen Johnson, notes that the Project's foundation is "a wonderful collaboration" involving Genesis Club, the Foundation, Assumption College, and UMass Medical School.
Genesis Club members participate in a program of structured fitness work and balanced, healthy meals; the fitness component entails supervised workouts at either UMass Medical School or a local YMCA. The Project - which grew out of findings from the Massachusetts Mortality Report that persons with mental illness in the 25-45 age group have a cardiac death rate seven times higher than those without mental illness - is intended to help members pay increased attention to their health, become more aware of their own bodies, and move toward improved general wellness.
"Physical health has a great impact on mental wellness," notes Ms. Johnson, "and for this reason, we're delighted to be the funding partner for the Wellness Project. The credit for the project goes to Genesis Club; if you could have heard the enthusiasm of the Club's members for this program from the very beginning, you would understand how easy it was for the Club to develop it."
Begun in January of this year, the Health Foundation grant provides for a Wellness Project Coordinator, an exercise physiologist, and formal evaluation by UMass Medical Center and Assumption College. According to Ms. Johnson, "The evaluation component will begin soon - process measures will be studied after the program's first six months, and outcome data will be evaluated after one year."
One of the underlying reasons for the Wellness Project, of course, is to provide participants with a sense of empowerment. And Genesis Club emphasizes this concept in other ways, as well. As Kevin Bradley puts it, "Our members feel an absolute right in the operation of the Clubhouse and in development of its programs."
Nowhere is this more evident than in the workings of the entity ultimately responsible for Genesis Club, its Board of Directors. Says Mr. Bradley, "We pioneered the consensus model of decision-making in the Clubhouse world. We feel strongly that this model is the most participatory and the most truly inclusive for members, staff, and Board alike."
Largely through the work of Dr. Cheryl Stevens, Genesis members are now not only on the Board, but for several years have also served as Board officers. At the Annual Meeting in 2000, the By-laws were amended to state that at least one Genesis member will always serve as an officer on the Executive Committee.
Genesis Club member Denise Hast is currently the Board's Vice President. "I know the pulse of our community," she notes. "Through me, members can participate in the decision-making process at the ground floor level, rather than after the fact."
"I can tell which ideas won't fly," Ms. Hast continues, "and let everyone know. In that way, I'm sort of a 'reality check'. For example, a Yard Sale was recently being considered, but the majority of the Club's members didn't want it, and I told the Board that. Folks later made a point of coming up to thank me."
Kevin Bradley makes the point even more strongly. "First Cheryl, and now Denise, have forged very powerful relationships between the members and the Board through their part in some really tough decisions. Denise is now helping us deal with an upcoming 5%-10% budget cut from a major funder, as one example. A number of Clubhouses are beginning to push the envelope with this type of member empowerment, and through this and other such initiatives, it is becoming clear that the Clubhouse model is actually a human rights movement that is starting to change the traditional systems of mental health."
Whether it is Board inclusion of members, a strong employment component, or innovative new programs such as the Wellness Project, Genesis Club is clearly doing something right. A founding member of the International Center for Clubhouse Development (ICCD), the Club has received ICCD certification continuously since 1994. As a testament to its expertise, the Club has served as an ICCD "Clubhouse Training Center" since 1991, helping professionals and consumers become fully oriented to the Clubhouse model and develop advanced leadership skills. In May 2002, Genesis Club partnered with the ICCD to provide a leadership training program to all clubhouses in Australia and New Zealand.
Other awards also attest to the effectiveness of Genesis Club in helping those with mental illness. In 1995, the US Center for Mental Health recognized the Club as a national model, and in 1999 the Club received special recognition from the US Congress for outstanding service to persons with mental illness. It is little wonder, then, that the Genesis Club was selected to host the 7th International Seminar on the Clubhouse Model, an event that brought together nearly 800 clubhouse colleagues from 14 countries.
These honors serve to underscore the value of the underlying Clubhouse model. Cheryl Stevens, MD - herself an impressive success story - notes that Clubhouses such as Genesis Club perform three functions that are critical to the recovery process. First, she says, "They value people, primarily through their actions - such 'brass tacks' things as making lunch together." Next, she says, Clubhouses go beyond simply "treating an illness, to enabling members to deal with the rest of their lives, of which symptoms may sometimes be a part." Finally, Clubhouses "build bridges, helping society learn to accommodate people with differences."
Dr. Stevens goes on to add an eloquent summation of her feelings about the Clubhouse concept. "The worst label is the one we give ourselves", she asserts, "and Clubhouses overcome negative labels by substituting positive ones." These positive labels ultimately help members of organizations such as the Genesis Club successfully achieve long-term recovery and reintegration.
Visit the Genesis Club online at www.genesisclub.org.