I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe there were that many mental health consumers in the area with that much interest in the Austin Clubhouse. Basically, my wife and I were stuck outside the clubhouse waiting to get in like it was a sold out show at the theater or a local Austin music venue. There was a flyer on the side of the wall that had footsteps on it and a phrase that read, “Step outside your house into ours.” I thought about what the phrase meant to me for a minute. This was Austin’s new place or destination for the mentally ill. But what did that mean exactly?
Suddenly the line started to move forward and within moments we were inside. The place was jammed full of people. There were folks munching on snacks and carousing around the tables in the kitchen and anywhere else they could find a little personal space. People were chatting, sitting, and standing just about anywhere and everywhere. It was standing room only by the time my wife and I arrived in the main room. But fortunately, we did find a comfortable place to stand.
A friend of mine who I had met through a different organization showed up and started talking to us. He was doing quite well. He was working as a peer specialist, going to ACC, and had moved in with his girlfriend. I was truly happy for him and glad to see someone I knew.
As my friend and I wrapped up our conversation, the Austin Clubhouse kicked off its grand opening presentation with a short film. The film consisted of a series of personal accounts. Evidently, the ICCD clubhouse model was finding success through out the world. Individuals were volunteering themselves into healthier and happier places. One individual stated how he had felt like he wasn’t even a real person until going to his local clubhouse and getting involved with his recovery. I took a deep breath as a tear collected in the corner of my eye. I thought of all the failure at work and the lost hours at college. I thought about the idle times of being a couch potato. The years I had lost. I took another deep breath to compose myself more fully.
As I regained my focus, I noticed the decorations throughout the room. One flyer read, “They let me play chess here.” Directly to the right of it the next one read, “Hope, Dignity, and Respect.”
After the film, a couple of members of the clubhouse spoke elegantly about how the clubhouse was changing their lives. Through member support and the program, they were solving problems and reaching goals. Similarly, the individuals and the organizations they represented who were responsible for funding the Austin Clubhouse made adamant and sometimes emotional speeches. They spoke about why the ICCD model had been chosen, why Austin needed a clubhouse, the development process, and the future of the Austin Clubhouse.
After the speeches, things started winding down. My wife and I were leaving. I glanced over again at that one particular flyer pinned to the wall. Hope, dignity, and Respect. That’s what the Austin Clubhouse is all about I thought to myself.