Most days Glenda Carlson can be found slicing and dicing vegetables in the kitchen.
Ray’mon Cole greets members as they enter the clubhouse while keeping a sharp eye on the concession stand for customers.
Over in the common areas, Jay Johnson put together a jigsaw puzzle between working on his latest art project.
The three friends are regulars at A Gathering Place in Red Deer, a safe place for people living with mental illness ranging from mild anxiety to schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
It is where Carlson, 50, has added new meaning to her day.
Four years ago, Carlson had a breakdown while working as a trader in the markets.
She lost her mother, two sisters and father all within a short time frame. She moved to Red Deer from Sundre after losing her mother, with whom she lived on an acreage in 2013.
Carlson said she doesn’t feel as depressed or as isolated as she did before becoming a member in November 2013.
“I found a very safe place,” she said. “It has given more, so much more direction and self-confidence. I don’t feel lonely. I don’t feel depressed. I have made so many friends here. My anxiety levels are right down.”
The clubhouse is based on models that operate internationally to ease people back into social opportunities and employment.
Mary Roy, a mental health worker, said Carlson is a wonderful asset to the clubhouse. She is one of the members who delivers presentations about the clubhouse at Unit 34 and Unit 36 the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and other places.
“That’s really a sign of how far Glenda has come because she is perfectly comfortable sharing about her life and the things that she has experienced,” said Roy. “Because of the stigma with mental health, individuals are really reluctant to come forward or to speak up about their lives.”
Cole is one of the longest members of the clubhouse. He joined in 2007 when the club was run by the Canada Mental Health Association. Employment Placement Support Services has been running the centre for the last four years. The clubhouse is funded by Alberta Health Services.
Cole, 59, said his job is to keep the premises clean, run the concession stand and ensure the membership are respectful of one another and use appropriate language.
Part of the function of the clubhouse is to give members a place to learn new skills for their resumés and update their workplace skills. Through a “work-ordered day” members can volunteer in reception, clerical, cleaning and maintenance duties. There’s even a couple of fish, Bob and Doug, who are cared for by the members.
Emmanuel Anigbogu, clubhouse manager, said the members find it difficult to secure employment because of their mental illnesses. Some members have gone on to work at places like McDonald’s or Superstore after learning skills at A Gathering Place.
“It gives me something to do,” said Cole. “It’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning. If you don’t have a job, you don’t have anything to get up for in the morning.”
Cole said the clubhouse adds structure to his day, something that was missing. In the past, Cole had difficulty keeping regular jobs because he could not handle the pressure.
“Many people come and go here,” said Cole. “It’s like a second family. It gives me something to do, and for anybody it’s good for their overall health.”
Jay Johnson, 30, has been a member for more than a year but he has already felt the positive impacts of the clubhouse.
When the clubhouse is closed, members sometimes meet for coffee, play cards or go to a movie.
“Coming here I made lots of new friends,” said Johnson, who has paid employment with the Clean Team. “It’s a really friendly place because a lot of the members like to sit down and have a lot of friendly conversations. They treat me with a lot of respect as I for them.”
But the main goal of the clubhouse is not to help the members find a job.
Anigbogu said the main goal is to provide a safe place for them to socialize and give them some confidence. He said the members take the lead on running the clubhouse while the two staffers support them.
The clubhouse encourages “active participation in clubhouse programs, community inclusion, sustainable employment for members, self advocacy, personal growth and empowerment,” according to its website.
He said they encourage the members to socialize outside club hours to develop and strengthen friendships.
There are an estimated 46 active members out of the registered 147 members. About 70 per cent of the membership is male. The members are between the ages of 18 and 65.
Anigbogu said some statistics suggest one in five Canadians are living with a mental illness.
“It’s difficult to measure the money value that we are doing here,” said Anigbogu. “Listening to the members and creating a structure in a life is what they may need right now. That keeps them out of the hospital … Without this program, I think there would be lots of members who would end up in the hospital or worse.”
The clubhouse has faced some challenges spreading the word about its work in the community and removing its perceived reputation since moving to the 5012 Ross St., from 48th Street in 2009. The clubhouse is located down the street from the Buffalo Hotel.
Anigbogu said some people think the house is full of “druggies or drunks.”
“That’s why we want to keep our doors open,” he said. “Come down and talk to our members. They are just like us. Because of that, we don’t get that many members given the population of Red Deer that this clubhouse should get. We want people to know who we are.”
Looking to the future, the clubhouse has considered moving to a new location. Recently it applied to the Bell Let’s Talk program but did not receive any grant funding. Anigbogu said relocating the clubhouse is not a priority right now.
To find out more about A Gathering Place head to Facebook or www.epssreddeer.com/services/gathering-place