“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
― Jean Vanier
This quote by the great humanitarian Jean Vanier succinctly captures what the Clubhouse movement is all about.
My name is Mark Stoeltje, and I am the founding executive director of the San Antonio Clubhouse, a nonprofit organization that helps people living with serious mental illness to escape isolation and despair, and to regain what was taken from them by their illness – their dignity and sense of self-worth. We adhere to a strengths-based model of mental health recovery that has been around for over 70 years, and is global in its reach (today there are over 330 clubhouses located in over 30 countries around the world). We are not involved in treatment. Our strengths-based model is built on two simple but profound principles – meaningful relationships and rewarding work.
People who are living with serious mental illness are misunderstood, judged, and ignored. Nearly 2/3 of people living with mental health conditions do not seek treatment, primarily due to stigma. It seems we are afraid or unwilling as a society to accept an illness that is the number one cause of disability in the United States, and effects one of every five people in a given year.
At the San Antonio Clubhouse, lives are being transformed. Our members are getting well, re-connecting with family and friends, and are finding meaningful employment in the community – some for the first time.
We are an evidence-based recovery program, and our core belief is that meaningful work is a critical part of the healing process. The Clubhouse is not just a place to hang out and socialize, but a place where members find structure, routine and responsibility, in contrast to the chaotic nature of their illness. Visitors to the Clubhouse are struck by our members’ sense of hope, belonging and usefulness. For many club members, this is the first place in a long time that they have felt comfortable, accepted and valued.
During the Clubhouse day, our members work with staff and volunteers as colleagues, conducting all the tasks necessary to operate the Clubhouse, developing confidence and skills for independent living and, eventually, a return to employment. By taking small steps to operate the Clubhouse, members learn that they are needed and wanted. Daily tasks include administrative work, outreach and tours, janitorial work, computer work, culinary work, and groundskeeping.
This overall approach has decreased psychiatric hospitalizations for our members by as much as 80%. In addition, the jail recidivism rate for our members is about 6%, compared to over 60% for people with mental illness in the general population who have had encounters with law enforcement. Moreover, over 100 of our members are working today, some for the first time.
The Clubhouse model is considered by many psychiatrists and other clinicians to be the best practice in mental health recovery. It has been in use and proven to be effective for more than seventy years. According to the federal agency SAMHSA, The Clubhouse model is an “exemplary practice,” which has been “extensively documented, validated, and replicated to improve the quality of life for severely and persistently mentally ill consumers.”
As a person who has lived with mental illness myself, I know first-hand that the Clubhouse approach to recovery works. And it’s not rocket science. When people are treated with dignity and respect, when the focus is on what is right with a person instead of what is wrong, and when people have a safe, inviting, productive community where they can grow as human beings, miracles happen.
Starting in the basement of a downtown San Antonio church 14 years ago, the San Antonio Clubhouse today is one of the largest Clubhouses in the southern United States. We have become the thought leader for Clubhouse development in our state, and are leading efforts to bring more Clubhouses to more communities in Texas.
I am blessed to be a part of a wonderful organization that is more than a mental health recovery program – it is a human rights movement that is profoundly improving lives.
6851 Citizens Pkwy, #100
San Antonio, TX 78229