Recipient Spotlight: Austin Club House

What's the origin story of Austin Clubhouse?

In early 2008, board members from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in Austin began researching the Clubhouse Model- a worldwide mental health movement that originated in New York in 1948 (clubhouse-intl.org). The model offers people living with mental illness opportunities for friendship, employment, housing, education and access to medical and psychiatric services in a single caring and safe environment – so they can recover and fully participate as valued and respected members of society. By the summer of 2009, a board of directors was formed and Austin Clubhouse Inc. was incorporated in August, 2009. In early 2010, Austin Clubhouse’s application for nonprofit status was approved by the Internal Revenue Service and with that, we opened our doors. We started small and were only open two days a week for about a dozen members. By 2014, we were able to be open five days a week as well as expanding to extended hours once a week for social events in our space. By the end of 2014, Austin Clubhouse received its Clubhouse International Accreditation, which demonstrates that we meet the highest standards of service a Clubhouse can provide. In June 2015, Austin Clubhouse moved into our current location at 610 E. 45th St. (inside Hyde Park Christian Church) - a larger space to better accommodate our membership growth. 

What are the main functions and resources provided by the organization?

Austin Clubhouse exists to provide acceptance and empowerment so adults living with mental health diagnoses can pursue personal goals and play a meaningful role as co-workers, colleagues, family members, neighbors and friends. Our main purpose is to provide a community where people from all walks of life can come together and support each other while participating in meaningful work that helps their community thrive. We are able to help our members look for work or continued education opportunities, practice job skills in a low pressure environment that allows them to regain confidence in themselves and their abilities and perhaps most importantly feel connected to a community that cares. Clubhouses around the world fill in the social aspect of mental health recovery that while being of the utmost importance, is so often omitted in traditional, clinical approaches to psychiatric treatment.

How many members do you currently have?

We are just a few dozen new members away from our 1,000th member! We'll hit this milestone in under eight years from opening our doors and we're so very proud of that growth. As with all Clubhouses, membership is free and lifelong, so sometimes we won't see a member for a few years and then they can come back and be welcomed in like they were just there the day before. On a day to day basis, we serve a healthy lunch to an average of 30 people a day as well as see and support at least a dozen more. These members, who are all residents of the greater Travis county area, come from all over the world and all walks of life. The diversity and wide array of experience our members bring to the Clubhouse is our greatest resource. What do you think are the most important programs provided at the Clubhouse?

Austin Clubhouse strives to be a launching pad for our membership. We want people to come here to empower and better themselves to move forward with their goals and improve their lives. A solid majority of the people that join are seeking assistance with employment so we do put a large emphasis on getting people back to work if that's something they are interested in. If traditional employment is not something they are interested in at this time, they are still offered the chance to participate and help out in all aspects of the day-to-day operation of the Clubhouse. The self-worth and confidence that comes from being a part of and working in a group of your own is not something that can be given to anyone, it is earned. This opportunity is what lays at the very heart of the Clubhouse model and why it's work is so powerful.

Do you have any positive outcome stories that stand out that you can share with us?

The impact of Austin Clubhouse cannot be measured by raw numbers, as the positive effects that are imparted on the lives of hundreds are impossible to quantify. Through our various supported employment programs we've gotten members with no previous work experience their first jobs ever which in turn gave them the experience they needed to enter the workforce on their own. Many members come to the Clubhouse with the preconception that they can't cook meals for themselves or their families. Then, through voluntarily participating in our daily preparations in the kitchen, over time they gain the knowledge and confidence to do just that which allows them to take more of their personal health into their own hands. While we do not have the resources to be case managers for people in crisis, we can offer our help in getting people that are in crisis set up with critical services here in Austin. These are just a handful of the ways that we help our members every single day here at Austin Clubhouse. 

How does KAF make a difference in your community?

Keep Austin Fed makes an enormous difference to the Clubhouse community in two main ways. First of all, it saves our kitchen unit substantial resources through the donation of fresh meats, produce and fruit that we use to make our rather large daily lunches. This allows us to redirect these valuable dollars to our many other various programs and initiatives. It also has improved the food that our membership is able to eat in their own homes. Unfortunately, in our society, the cheapest food available is generally the most unhealthy and because of that, a lot of our membership can't afford to eat healthily at home. With the fresh food we get from KAF, folks are able to take home free and healthy alternatives to cook for dinner. There is a proven link between physical and mental health and the positive effects that a healthy diet can have on our continued mental well-being. These foods that would otherwise be thrown out, can instead heal of our bodies and minds.

Andrea Duty