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There's plenty of fun at the Clubhouse

Gathering spot for those with mental illness or developmental disability proves to be a success

Like any good clubhouse, there's a lot going on at 48 Hawthorne St. when friends get together.

On Wednesday, Jay Millard was playing cards with Jill Redelf and Lisa Barnard at one end of the big table that fills the middle of the main room. At the other end, Glenn McMillan and Glenn McKinney were talking politics and munching veggies. A woman in a wheelchair was working on a computer in a corner office, and a man on a big soft couch was busy sawing logs.

Everything looks pretty ordinary, but there's something that sets this group apart ' everyone has some kind of mental illness or developmental disability.

I'm proud of what we have for people here, said Saga Sandberg, who works as a host several days a week at the Hawthorne Street Drop In Center.

— I like coming here, McKinney said. I get tired of staying in my foster home. I've got friends here. I can come down here and relax.

The drop-in center initially organized about two years ago when Jackson County mental health clients wanted a place of their own, where they could function independently. Local volunteers from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill helped them create their own nonprofit organization to run the place.

During the past few months they've started to implement a model known as Clubhouse, based on the premise that people with mental illness can still work productively and have socially satisfying lives. Clubhouse members and staff work side by side in the daily operations of the clubhouse, and people choose tasks that use their strengths.

The Clubhouse model was developed in New York in the late 1940s and gradually spread across the United States and around the world during the 1980s and '90s. The International Center for Clubhouse Development provides training and assistance for people who want to start their own local treatment centers.

Clients with a variety of abilities work together, said Andrew Axer, a program manager for Jackson County's mental health services. For some of them it's the first time they started to believe they could do something for themselves.

Axer noted that one man who formerly could hardly talk is now working as one of the hosts at the center. What they really have is a sense of empowerment that they haven't been used to.

Members of the drop-in center are responsible for its daily operations. They organize classes for other members, prepare food for each other, arrange outings and try to help each other function in the world.

They also raise money for the center. A rummage sale in June brought in more than &

36;700, Sandberg said.

Jackson County provides &

36;8,000 to &

36;10,000 per year in rent, food and other support.

Many regulars at the drop-in center are struggling with some kind of psychotic disorder, Axer said. They may hear voices. They may feel fearful of other people, or persecuted by others, or feel that some larger power is controlling their actions.

Some must also cope with the side effects of medication (drowsiness, difficulty in concentrating) and the lack of motivation that often accompanies mental illness.

They go against a lot of odds in trying to do this, Axer said. This is a real challenge for someone with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The center also gives people a place that feels like home, Sandberg said. If we didn't have this place, people would be out on the street doing whatever. Drinking, or doing drugs, or wandering around and not knowing what to do.

Drop on in

The Hawthorne Street Drop In Center is open Monday through Friday across from Hawthorne Park.

Anyone who is struggling with mental illness or developmental disabilities is welcome. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except Wednesday, when the center closes at 4 p.m.

For more information about the drop-in center, call 494-4303. For more information about the Clubhouse movement, see the Web site at:

Jay Millard of Medford enjoys a joke during a card game at the Hawthorne Street Drop In Center, a clubhouse for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell