Submitted by: NorthStar Clubhouse

We all know someone with a mental illness. We all have heard myths regarding mental illness.

One of the most harmful myths is the belief that once a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, they probably won’t be able to get much better – if at all.

Myths generate cultural stigma against those with mental illness. Research has shown that how people views themselves, and act, is greatly influenced by how others view them. Cultural stigma can be very debilitating.

Some individuals retreat and isolate themselves. Navigating a complex world while dealing with the manifestations of mental illness is daunting. These courageous people must put themselves out into a world which may not recognize their strengths, their talents, or indeed, even their humanity.

Absent a support system to encourage developing their full potential they may not believe there is hope for their future.

Many years ago a group of people in New York City decided to do something about this. Fountain House was founded in 1948 with the belief that people living with mental illness can be active participants in their own and each other’s recovery.

The Clubhouse model has grown since then and has become an international organization in over 34 countries. For over five years now, Portland has had its own Clubhouse called NorthStar.

This recovery community includes people who are peers with experience of mental health  recovery, offering multifaceted support.

NorthStar at 5600 NE Glisan St., follows the Clubhouse model, creating a culture that transforms lives.

The members in partnership with staff, operate employment, education, and nutrition/wellness programs. Beginning with a daily morning meeting, they decide on the work of the day. They decide on the day’s activities, including advocacy, administrative support, and building maintenance.

Each member signs up for jobs and begins their work. This “work of the day” is the guiding principle of the program. Members are involved, valued, and gain self confidence as they learn new skills and take pride in the meaningful work offered. Membership is free and open to all adults with a mental illness diagnosis.

The group’s newest activity is the Nutrition/Wellness program. Grants, fundraising, and local community support allowed NorthStar to expand its space to add a kitchen and dining room for members.

Under the guidance of the Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator, members plan meals, determine and volunteer for tasks, and prepare daily lunches for members.

Cooking meals together at Northstar

Not only do the members learn about skills involved in making meals, they learn what makes for healthy, nourishing, low-cost meals.

These skills and knowledge can improve the health and well-being of members and lead to employment in the community.

Under the guidance of the Employment Coordinator, members who are ready for employment begin the work of developing resumes, making contacts, developing interview skills, and preparing for work.

The organization works with companies in the community to place people in rewarding positions. Walgreen’s, New Seasons and Elephants Deli are just a few of the local companies who have hired NorthStar members.

Members hold jobs, graduate from schools, develop social networks and experience fewer hospitalizations and improved overall health.

Increased fulfillment, sense of purpose, and stability inevitably follow. Many members have written  or recorded their stories of mental health recovery. Common to many of those stories is a person who believed in them.

“I’ve been in and out of the hospital 18 times between 2014-2015, half of the time on a hold, sometimes dragged out of the hospital when I felt I still wasn’t stable to leave.

“Not having worked for 20 years, I had no place in the community. I wasn’t safe at home so I came here to find a safe place, something to do.”

NorthStar receives targeted funding from Multnomah County, Spirit Mountain and the Collins Foundation. Like many places,  they are facing budget cuts to staff and hours.

NorthStar is also seeking new members to their Board of Directors.

See northstarclubhouse.org for more.