Reintegration & Recovery >> First Person
A Member's Responsibility to Pass it on
Walter Dunn hadn't worked in 20 years and was living in a single-room-occupancy hotel. Through Fountain House outreach, Mary Smith, who was a retired staff member, connected with him at the Clubhouse. "I was successful in convincing Intake that I didn't need the program, " says Walter with a smile, "and I joined. I went to work in the members' bank. Mary was my inspiration." That was a quarter-century ago.
"I needed more money, and went on some Transitional Employment (TE) placements. At the same time, I worked at the Clubhouse in the Evening/Weekend program and Thrift shop. Staff worker Susan Riemenschneider supported my going to a trade school, with government support, and she also worked with me to get me a job at Con Ed as an electrical technician.
"On weekends," Walter says, "at High Point, after the farm chores were done, John Beard and Jim Schmidt [both former executive directors] helped me learn about the Clubhouse idea, and about stewardship- a member's responsibility to both the Clubhouse and other members."
Walter, who earlier had moved from his SRO into a Fountain House residence, soon got his own apartment near the Clubhouse. There he began helping with the Clubhouse's community relations, including, he says, "making friends with neighbors, the police, the hospital and community organizations." Over the years, he has made strong contributions to other Clubhouse programs as well, taking part in building the Independent Employment unit, helping to form and train the staff for the Warm and Hot Line unit, and taking a leadership role in advocacy efforts. "At one point," he remembers, "I decided I was OK and didn't need my medicine. I got sick. Both the Warm Line and Independent Employment units activated a plan I called Catch and Save, and I went back on my medications."
In recent years, Walter has needed four operations, including replacements for both knees and a hip. "My own apartment is a walkup," he says. "Each time I had surgery, Fountain House found me a bed in a residence with an elevator in it." With an eye to his future, the Education unit helped him get into Empire State College, where, this past June, he obtained a B.S. in Community Service and Advocacy.
"The Clubhouse units helped me with the use of computers and mentoring, and the college gave me life experience credits for advocacy, peer counseling and administration, all because of what I was taught at Fountain House."
Retired from Con Ed earlier this year, he is now volunteering full-time at Fountain House, in the Employment unit. "It's part of my right to return," he states, "and, as part of the idea of stewardship, it helps to serve a need to repay the Clubhouse. "Walter volunteers his time at Fountain House, a Clubhouse in New York City for people with serious mental illness.