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How a unique program supports Centre County residents struggling with mental illness

Centre Daily Times - 9/3/2019

Sep. 3--COLLEGE TOWNSHIP -- A "unique form of psychiatric treatment," the Opportunity Centre Clubhouse helped Tammy Driver build confidence, make friends and enhance skills. Above all, she said, the clubhouse gave her a family.

The clubhouse is a social and vocational rehabilitation program of Skills of Central PA that aims to support those who struggle with mental illness. Offering working, learning, wellness and education services, the program is licensed by the office of mental health and substance abuse services and is certified as an evidence-based psychiatric rehabilitation program by the International Center for Clubhouse Development.

"It's family-oriented," Driver said. "It's like having an extended family."

Driver has been a clubhouse member for 19 years. While there, she gives tours and does clerical work but said it's fun and gets her out of bed in the morning.

"I didn't come here today because I had to," Driver said. "I came here because it's fun."

The facility, located on East College Avenue, was formerly stationed in Bellefonte, but due to an increase in participants, it relocated in 2011. Over 200 residents have participated in clubhouse activities since its start. The building includes office space, a snack bar, kitchen and recreational activities. Members are able to learn hospitality, management, culinary and organizational skills. Its operations are funded in part by The International Center for Clubhouse Development and county funding.

At a spaghetti dinner and open house on Thursday, community members were invited to tour the clubhouse and hear from members who have benefited from its services.

"It's a really unique form of psychiatric rehab," said Associate Director Nicki Tice. "It's a very comfortable -- absolutely not clinical --format which a lot of our members find really valuable because they have a voice. They don't feel pressure, and they're very supported to pursue whatever their goal might be."

There is no real time limit or constraint when participating in clubhouse programs, Tice said. Members are usually referred to clubhouse by another treatment program, but Tice said individuals are welcome to tour the facility and learn about potential treatment options. Program members must be 18-years-old and have a mental health diagnosis.

"We get a different crew in every day, and the fact that the staff members work side-by-side is a really unique piece instead of us directing them," Tice said. "We are there in the trenches with them to teach every step of the way."

Opportunity Clubhouse has 23 facilities in Pennsylvania, a number across the country and expands internationally. Next month, Driver plans to visit a location in Colorado while she visits family.

"The best way to describe clubhouse culture is to participate day-in and day-out," Driver said.

Members often go on outings and volunteer at community events. Through clubhouse, Driver said she was given the opportunity to share her story of mental illness and recovery with Penn State students. She works part time at Hoss's but said she learned how to operate a cash register through the clubhouse program.

"There is stigma out there, and it's a shame, but one thing clubhouse does is help someone advocate for themselves," Driver said.

Clubhouse helps break down stereotypes associated with mental illness by creating a community and fostering a collaborative environment, Driver said. Without it, Driver said she wouldn't have been able to build strong relationships in the community.

"Everything is all about the clubhouse members," Driver said. "There is no members-only, no staff-only. It's open to everybody."

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