I HAVE HAD THE PRIVILEGE of being part of several exceptional communities. One of the more remarkable is Club Nova. In case you have never heard of Club Nova, it is, in technical terms, a psycho-social rehabilitation clubhouse for people with severe and persistent mental illness. That doesn't make it sound like that much fun, does it? Well, it is.
Despite having "illness" prominently listed in its mission, Club Nova is a very healthy place. Club Nova focuses on members' strengths and potential rather than their illnesses. Club Nova is, among many other good things, a loving, caring and accepting place.
What makes Club Nova a great clubhouse? That's simple -- community. When you belong to a club, any club, you are a member. If the club really works like it should, it belongs to you. Club Nova works like that. Club Nova is a community of members: club members, staff members and board members who belong to Club Nova and to whom Club Nova also belongs.
The people Club Nova serves are club members -- not its patients, its clients or even consumers of its services. That distinction is especially significant for the members, since in large part at some point they have been disenfranchised by larger society.
Many people know Club Nova from the pretty purple Club Nova Thrift Shop on West Main Street in Carrboro. The Thrift Shop operates as a place where club members can help develop or re-capture job skills, where the public can see Club Nova at work while finding remarkable bargains in everyday items -- and at the same time support the work of the clubhouse, just like the volunteers who work alongside the club members there do.
The clubhouse is the little white house next door. While Club Nova has a clubhouse, it is not a building; it is an organization of people. It's a membership club. And like with American Express, membership has its privileges. Club Nova follows the successful clubhouse model pioneered by Fountain House in New York City.
Part of that model is what is called a Clubhouse Community Bill of Rights. These rights are simple, and sometimes mystifying to those who don't understand the devastating impact that mental illness can have on a life. These rights are to a Place to Come, Meaningful Work, Meaningful Relationships and a Place to Return.
Where mental illness has so displaced someone that he has no place to go, a place to come is essential. Where mental illness has destroyed someone's job, career and even prospects for work, a place where she can do meaningful work and reacquire lost job skills is key to regaining independence. Where mental illness may have broken social ties and even family bonds, meaningful relationships with club staff and other club members fill the gap in a person's life. And, when an episode of mental illness strikes again, for a member to know that he has a place to which he can return gives hope.
The people who are part of Club Nova make it the therapeutic community that it is. Like in any family, love starts at the top. From Club Nova's executive director Karen Dunn to the newest staff member to the long standing members each help make it a healing place by caring for each other
Perhaps you may think that my praises of Club Nova are a little over the top. But consider this, according to someone who may be the best positioned individual in the world to make such a judgment, Ralph Bilby, Program Director of the International Center for Clubhouse Development: "Club Nova has long been on the short list of the best clubhouse programs in the world."
Or you could take the word of former Carrboro mayor Mike Nelson, who says, "Club Nova makes Carrboro a better place to live." Carrboro understands that you don't make a place better by excluding those who don't quite conform to social norms but by including them.
Founded in 1987 to address the needs of Orange County citizens living with mental illness, Club Nova has done just that for 20 years, providing a holistic, caring environment designed to promote rehabilitation and reintegration of people with mental illness into the community. So now it's time to celebrate.
Friends, supporters and neighbors, please join Club Nova for our Grand 20th Anniversary Celebration on Friday Sept. 7 at the Carrboro Century Center. Entertainment starts at 9:30 p.m. with music by Jay Miller, Lise Uyanik and friends to follow. Put on your dancing shoes, and come dance with us to celebrate 20 years of community. It should be fun.
For more information, call Club Nova at 968-6682 or email Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary D. Gaddy serves on the board of Club Nova.
This article was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday August 30, 2007. Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy