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Reintegration & Recovery >> First Person
Hazel Francis was 17 and in the 12th grade, with six months to go until graduation. "I became very emotional," she says today. "I manifested something that looked like psychological illness, and the next thing I knew I was hospitalized." Over the next nine years, she went back and forth between hospitalizations, living at home, and striking out on her own. At one point, she was introduced to Fountain House. She came for three months- and left.
"I had a few problems, psychological and otherwise," she says, "but I didn't think they were major." However, one winter night, she lost a pair of shoes and walked to Fountain House to replace them- barefoot, in the snow. "You can imagine what everyone was thinking," she laughs. " 'What's wrong with Hazel?'" She returned to Fountain House to stay, working in the Snack Bar, bussing tables and helping with other duties. She began going out on Transitional Employment (TE) placements, doing clerical and messenger work at several companies. Today she works in a group placement at The Village Voice; on her time off, she's frequently helping at the Snack Bar, serving as cashier, or assisting with the Evening/Weekend program.
"I'm now also involved with the Fountain Gallery," she comments. "The artists are exclusively mental health consumers. I'm an artist, too. It's something I've loved ever since I was a teenager. I took a course in portraiture and painting at the Art Students League, and I hope some day to get back there. Today I draw at home, in charcoal and other media, and the Gallery displays our work."
Her plans also include a return to college. "I was at City College for about a year and a half, studying Early Childhood Education and taking other courses in the humanities," she notes. "I have about 25 credits, and I'm thinking of reaching for the Bachelor's degree. The Education unit here has been very helpful, checking out my financial aid form before I take it up to the campus." Hazel served as an educator herself this summer: she was selected by Fountain House to make a presentation to a Midwestern regional conference on clubhouses. Her subject: the guaranteed rights of clubhouse membership.
"Here at Fountain House," she says, "I've grown a lot as an individual. I've had more social relationships. I'm in this health-enhancing, this stigma-free atmosphere. Things have changed drastically in my life since I came here. I've got a more realistic outlook on life, and I'm experiencing a better life. I have beautiful contact with beautiful people."
Hazel's reintegration was enhanced by her clubhouse affiliation.