Austin Clubhouse is a 10-year-old organization in Austin, Texas, providing community-based, nonclinical, peer-supported mental health recovery. MissionBox CEO and co-founder Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks with Sharon about how the organization is fulfilling its mission to empower adults who are experiencing mental health issues.
Could you describe the organization’s mission and how its members work together?
The mission of Austin Clubhouse is to welcome and empower adults experiencing mental health issues. Our goal is to ensure that our members can play a significant role in the lives of co-workers, family members, neighbors and friends, all while pursuing their personal goals. We aim to create a community of hope.
There are no hierarchies and decisions are made by consensus at the Clubhouse. Members work side-by-side with staff to operate the clubhouse as a business and as a nonprofit—in every aspect from fundraising to the work-ordered day. Members work in groups to create support for themselves and each other, run the clubhouse and contribute to healing. It is mostly about creating meaningful relationships and meaningful work. We offer lifelong membership with no time limitations and no expectations.
At this stage of the pandemic, we have just reopened two days a week, for full eight-hour days, and started lunch again. Lunch is just a delight. Members and staff work together to plan meals, shop, cook and serve. We have about 35 people who come in for lunch on a regular basis. We will re-open full time on June 1.
How did Austin Clubhouse get started?
Austin Clubhouse was founded by a group of concerned Austinites who were connected with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Texas, NAMI Austin, Integral Care and other groups related to mental health. They saw a real need for nonclinical and peer-based support.
Austin Clubhouse is accredited by Clubhouse International, an organization founded 70 years ago. It was radical for its time and I think it remains radical. The Clubhouse model is founded on a theory of equity and inclusion in the mental health process. It started when a group of former patients from a mental health hospital started meeting and realized that they support one another, and that healing comes through creating profound relationships. There is no "us and them," just us. The Austin Clubhouse "walks the talk" of true inclusion and true community.
What are advantages of the Clubhouse model?
Everyone is included and diversity is respected and encouraged. We all have a special gift to give to the world and I think the Clubhouse model honors the belief that people are not defined by their illness. Our members come to the Clubhouse for support in defining their lives and to discover and use their unique talents.
Could you share a success story?
I think every member of the Clubhouse is a success story because they each have taken the first steps toward building a better life. Many are already working full time. Our members are published writers, artists, filmmakers, homemakers, medical professionals and more. I have been with the organization about eight months; initially, I could not differentiate between a Clubhouse member and a staff person. They are all just wonderful, supportive people.
How large is the organization?
We have about 1,200 members, currently. People come and go as they need to. They come in and out of the workforce. Employment can be an important step on the path to recovery. Our programming offers opportunities for supported, transitional and independent employment, education, housing, other public benefits and health and wellness.
What are you trying to achieve and what are the challenges ahead?
We are always trying to find a way to try to make systemic, positive impact for those with mental illness. We want to educate the community regarding the needs of our members. Making the changes needed in attitudes, beliefs and inclusion means really caring about one another, as both philanthropy and as an investment in the community. Mental illness is the most prevalent illness in the world and most people are impacted in some way by this illness. We are eager to find ways to reach out to more people and I think that is our upcoming Austin Clubhouse challenge: to connect with more people in order to educate and to become financially sustainable.