Hope by helping themselves
Club Cadillac recognized for help it provides to its members
By Rick Charmoli Cadillac News,
CADILLAC — Club Cadillac saved Joanie Rodgers’ life.
While that is a bold statement, the 50-year-old would say it is not a far-fetched one. Her story is not unique in that Club Cadillac has and is helping Rodgers and other people in similar situations. For that reason, Club Cadillac recently was given an accreditation from Clubhouse International.
Clubhouse International is the parent organization overseeing more than 300 clubhouses throughout the world. Clubhouses like the one in Cadillac offer people living with mental illness opportunities for friendship, employment, housing, education and access to medical and psychiatric services in an environment that is caring, safe and nonjudgmental.
The end goal is to allow those who attend clubhouse the chance to recover so they can fully participate as valued and respected members of society.
The accreditation Club Cadillac earned involved an evaluation in terms of fidelity to the international standards for clubhouse program and concludes with several outcomes.
Accreditation with a three-year return review like what Club Cadillac received is awarded to clubhouses that operate in an effective manner, providing excellent opportunities for members and provide a strong and rehabilitative environment.
Like many who deal with mental health issues, Rodgers said she didn’t have any issues until there was trigger or catalyst that sparked her problems. Prior to her mental health issues surfacing, Rodgers said she was a productive member of society.
She was a skilled welder who worked at a nuclear power plant but after suffering an injury at work that smashed her left arm and her husband left her, mental health issues started to surface.
“I started doing the self-harming, suicide attempts and drug overdoses,” she said. “This all has happened in the last 10 years and the last five years were the worst. I was in the hospital 76 times three years ago, and that was before I started coming to the clubhouse.”
About two years ago, with a little nudge from the Assertive Community Treatment team, or ACT team, at Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, she came to the clubhouse. Although Rodgers was reluctant to come at first, she said she quickly learned it was exactly what she needed. Since coming to the clubhouse, she has not been self-harming, no suicide attempts and no drug overdoses. She also has not had to go to the hospital for any mental health-related issues.
“Before my first day, I thought this was a place you came to sit and play games,” she said. “I was worried about being around people because I was totally secluded in my house and had limited family visits. That has all changed.”
Cadillac Clubhouse Director Andy Ulrich said signs of a mental illness typically come out when a person is in their early 20s but it can surface at any time. He said everyone is one car accident away from becoming a very different person.
Prior to working for Club Cadillac, Ulrich said he was an outpatient therapist and success typically was based on whether a person could get a job or if they were homeless when they found a place to stay. He said clubhouse takes that to the next level.
Michael Sebren, 36, also started coming to the clubhouse after the ACT team gave him the nudge he needed. Sebren is a Navy veteran and he said he didn’t start having any of his mental health issues until after he left the service. Again, a significant life event is what sparked his mental health issues to surface.
“My parents got divorced while I was in the service, and after I got out that is when the mental illness started from all the pressure to conform to different ideologies,” he said. “It was really confusing to know what was true. I started imagining everything was horrible.”
Unlike Rodgers, Sebren said he didn’t isolate himself but he was extremely paranoid and felt as if he couldn’t trust anyone. As a result, Sebren started to self-medicate and said he was being his own “guinea pig.”
Then he was introduced to the clubhouse, but he didn’t really utilize it until Ulrich offered him a job. Sebren said he hadn’t held a steady job, before coming to clubhouse two years ago, since 2010. So when Ulrich offered him the chance to be a driver paid through community mental health, he took it.
Colleen Leifker is another success story from Club Cadillac.
She recently was hired by a local retailer to work, but how she got there and in Cadillac is a very different journey.
Leifker originally lived downstate. She has a social work degree and also owned her own business but she started to struggle with her mental health issue after a family member who was an alcoholic started drinking again.
Things fell apart for Leifker and she eventually lost everything and was left to live in a bus for a couple months. The conditions were unimaginable.
“It was hard because I was the only educated person I knew who was like this,” she said.
She eventually had enough and called one of her stepchildren who offered her a place to stay in the Cadillac area. It was that move that got her connected to the clubhouse. While she said she would try it, Leifker had extreme amounts of anxiety about it and cried her first week at the clubhouse.
She quickly found, however, that clubhouse was the right place for her. Although she really didn’t have any connection in the area, Leifker said it is because of Club Cadillac that she is thinking about setting her roots here.
“They encourage me to do things and try new things,” she said.