keyclubhouse_web.jpgFrom running with gangs to lobbying before the Miami-Dade legislative delegation, Stephanie Barker marvels at the ways she’s changed since joining the Key Clubhouse three years ago.

“I bottomed out in a trailer park,” she said. “I was running with gangs and then I was running from them.”

The Key Clubhouse helps people with severe mental illness to reintegrate into the community and workforce. The no-cost program works to enhance participants’ lifestyles and burst the stigma of mental illness.

“The clubhouse assists individuals to gain the skills and strengths to believe in themselves,” said Stephanie Solovei, the program’s executive director. “They choose what tasks they are going to do for the day. We provide the avenue for their eventual reintegration.”

The South Florida program is one of 341 clubhouses across the globe. It’s based on a treatment model that treats psychological issues in the context of people’s social environment.

Lisa Spencer has belonged to the Clubhouse for 11 years, initially in Michigan.

“I’m big into clubhouses and I was lucky to find this one down here,” said Spencer.  “I have PTSD so coming to the clubhouse structures my time, gets me out of the house and gives me a purpose.”

Clubhouses help members combat such demons as PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression by what’s called the “Work Ordered Day.”

Clubhouse staff and members work together on the tasks necessary to run a non-profit organization — cashiering, cooking,  computers, math, social skills and the like — all of which helps boost self-esteem and can lead to jobs.

Key Clubhouse is unique in that it offers but doesn’t demand anything from its members. Its main grants come from the National Institute of Mental Health and South Florida Behavioral Health Network. It’s a place where people with mental illness can get together and be involved with helping one another.

“You’re not a client, you’re not a patient, you’re not sitting around talking about medication and symptoms,” said Barker.

The Key Clubhouse of South Florida is located in the Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler Manor, 400 NW 54 Street, Miami. For information call 305-374-5115.

Contact Matthew Sampedro at