Daniel Sellers’ severe bipolar disease and depression may not be as “in your face” as the Masonic tattoo in the middle of his forehead, but his mental illness has left an equally indelible mark. His violent temper, a symptom of his disease, has led to incarcerations, multiple suicide attempts, and homelessness, but today Sellers has turned his energy into positive and productive endeavors that include a landscaping business, volunteering at local bird and animal rescues, and a continuing membership at the Fresh Start Clubhouse, where he found support for his recovery and employment. “Everyone has something to offer,” he says. “They just need to find out what it is.”
The Ann Arbor clubhouse (see listing in Counseling & Recovery) is one of over 300 around the world based on the belief that “members are partners in their own recovery … and that work and relationships are integral parts of their recovery.” Operated by Touchstone Services under contract with the Washtenaw County Health Organization, the clubhouse is open to clients of Washtenaw County Community Support and Treatment Services with a mental illness diagnosis who are able to independently take care of themselves. (Medication and counseling are not part of clubhouse services.) Medicaid provides most of the program’s financing. Additional dollars come from fundraising activities that include members parking cars for U-M home football games, putting on comedy shows, and donation nights at restaurants.
Aaron Cook, the former vocational coordinator (Fresh Start plans to name a new coordinator), oversaw three clubhouse employment programs. One of these, the Transitional Employment program, creates six-to-nine month employment at the Arbor Brewery or Corner Brewery, City’s Pizza, Old Navy, Simon Property Group, or T.J. Maxx with training, coverage and support from Fresh Start staff. He proudly shows the facility’s spacious kitchen where members learn culinary, teamwork, and retail skills as they prepare lunch five days a week (the public is welcome to visit at noon to dine) and staff the register at the adjoining Fresh Start Café, where some of the produce comes from the members’ own garden. Social and recreational activities may include volunteering, visits to the zoo, or attending Tigers games.
Cook believes that isolation, a hallmark of mental illness, serves as fertile ground for the disease, convincing sufferers that avoiding the company of others gives them safety and wellness—a dangerous denial that can lead to hospitalization, legal entanglements, or suicide. Instead, Cook says, “Our members learn to focus here on their strength, abilities and recovery goals as they work, stay employed, and find and maintain relationships.”