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Farmington Mayor Larry Forsythe enjoyed a meal last month with members of the Friends in Action Clubhouse.

His visit was part of a program designed by staff at the clubhouse to create a sense of familiarity and education between the members of Friends in Action and local leaders in the community.

“I think the public ought to have more participation,” Forsythe said. “I’m really glad I went. It opened my eyes to a whole different world that I did not know existed until I went there and spent the hour with them.”

Clubhouse Case Manager Devin Goldsmith explained that the program was about creating awareness.

“We formed the advocacy committee about a year and half ago,” he said. “The committee was formed to help educate everyone on legislative issues and policies that affect the mental health community and clubhouse and our members as a whole.

"The committee meets twice a month to go over these topics and we outlined a goal this year that we were going to try to meet most if not all of our local representatives to form a relationship. We had (State) Rep. Dale Wright visit us and we’re thrilled to have Mayor Forsythe visit us.

“One of the main things why we formed advocacy committee was to help our members be able to self-advocate. We want them to be informed of what is going on, to be familiar with their representatives, to be familiar with policies and legislation, so that they can advocate on their own behalf.”

According to Goldsmith, those who use the clubhouse are called members so that a sense of community and belonging are fostered using the standards and accreditation of Clubhouse International.

“Of our members, we’re lucky enough to have several people that have stepped up and are leaders here in the clubhouse, and will help mentor other members on how to get involved,” he said. “The clubhouse is really member-run throughout the day.”

Explaining that these are meet-and-greets, Clinical Supervisor Anna Portell said the clubhouse is not asking for anything, the members just want to develop relationships with community leaders.

She also pointed out that the clubhouse system is different from other mental health treatment programs.

“[One of our members] said staff are limited because the work of the clubhouse gets done with members and staff together,” Portell said. “That shared ownership is with staff and members to make sure that lunch got out at noon. To make sure that someone is manning the floral shop, because it is open to the public.

"Most of our floral shop is for members themselves. All of the work within clubhouse is for the clubhouse to run, but it can’t be done with just staff. That’s the difference with mental health treatments. [Others] have staff and clients. We are a community together and work side-by-side together with members."

Noting that "everyone has a recovery plan," Portell said, "It is a mental health evidence-based practice and as a recovery program, it’s that mental health-behavioral health treatment, but it’s so different. Clubhouse is a voluntary program, so some folks are here once a week, some five days a week and some twice a month.

"It’s whatever support they need during whatever is going on with them. [It’s about] giving people a purpose to wake up of a morning, and come and do something, come and be a part of something, and take the lead of something.”

Portell went on to explain that Friends in Action Clubhouse is part of an integrated healthcare campus that includes the Friendship House Apartments and BJC Behavioral Health on Maple Street. There is a bridge over the creek that connects the clubhouse to the clinic on Maple Street.

“We serve three counties: St. Francois, Washington and Iron,” Portell said. “Because our auspice agency is BJC Behavioral Health, everyone that comes to clubhouse is enrolled in BJC Behavioral Health Services, because clubhouse is a program through the Department of Mental Health.”

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Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com.

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