Fresh Start, Washtenaw County’s clubhouse for those living with and seeking to recover from mental illness, is in transition, and Executive Director Summer Berman hopes to find the program a permanent home soon.
Berman, an Ypsilanti resident, says the county has had a clubhouse of some kind for nearly 30 years. Historically, community mental health has contracted with a third-party provider of some kind to provide these services. A group called Trail Blazers ran it for a while, and for the past 12 years it was run by an organization called Touchstone Services.
“During the [COVID-19] pandemic, Touchstone decided it no longer wanted to hold onto this contract to provide clubhouse services … but it is still a necessary service,” Berman says.
After Touchstone relinquished its contract with the clubhouse, Berman and members of the clubhouse spent two months examining their options.
Fresh Start Clubhouse Executive Director Summer Berman.
“We decided the best thing for existing members, and in large part for Washtenaw County, would be for us to incorporate independently, become a nonprofit, and operate the clubhouse ourselves,” Berman says.
Berman explains that the clubhouse is based on an international model designed for people who live with serious mental illness diagnoses like bipolar disorder or depression.
“It basically helps people live the life they want to live by helping them with their life and recovery goals,” Berman says. “That might look like helping them find employment or get an education, but it also provides support around housing, transportation, and case management needs.”
Each member creates a personalized action plan about where they want to go in their lives. Ypsilanti resident Michelle Ford began attending the clubhouse in 2008 and has experienced various levels of employment support. For one job, she received the highest level of support through the clubhouse’s employment transition program, which provides a job coach who trains the clubhouse member and helps them to succeed.
Berman says employers get many benefits from the transitional employment program, including spending less time training new staff. If the clubhouse member has to call off sick, the employment coach might even cover that shift.
Ford also found other jobs with lower levels of support from Fresh Start, like help writing resumes or conducting mock interviews. The clubhouse also helped her go back to school to work on a degree.
Beyond helping members with issues like employment and housing, the main benefit of the clubhouse model …….