Daybreak provides contact, work opportunities

On a recent mid-week morning, the Daybreak Clubhouse on State Road in Vineyard Haven was a hive of activity.

Each of the large one-room center’s three computers was occupied; in one corner, which was set up as a small office with multiple white boards, a man was engaged in plowing through a full workload; a crew was busy preparing lunch in the kitchen area and a few people were engaged in friendly conversation.

The Clubhouse is a place for socialization and occupation for those coping with mental illness, and the overall first impression is of a bright, busy, open office space with an attached cafeteria. The emphasis at the Island’s Daybreak Clubhouse, which is one of a worldwide network of similar operations, is on a work-ordered day, and from all appearances the members enjoy a full, industrious morning.

The Daybreak Clubhouse, which is operated through Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Disability Services program, began in 1978 as a day treatment program. It has become a facility that offers a social setting, a productive environment, employment opportunities and support, wellness and education initiatives, and housing assistance. There are 28 active members, who frequent the Clubhouse and who are also involved in a variety of Clubhouse-sponsored outside activities. Other members drop in occasionally and avail themselves of the services that the program offers.

One of the regulars, Jonathan Halperin, moved to the Vineyard seven months ago from Long Island. He spoke with a reporter and explained that facilities where he used to live were more in line with “the traditional therapeutic model.” He said that mental illness centers that he visited in Long Island featured “mostly talking and listening — mostly listening.” He didn’t find those experiences very effective or enriching.

“I think this is probably a much more powerful model.” he said. “If you didn’t know this was a mental health unit you’d never suspect it. The idea of feeling useful — feeling indispensable — is empowering. It’s more dynamic. We never bring up the topic of being sick. It’s a very healthy place in that respect.”

A typical day at the Clubhouse starts with a morning meeting at which members and staff figure out what their duties for the day will be. There are three work units — business, kitchen, and employment — that members can join.

The daily tasks are shared equally by staff and members. Included in the business unit duties are putting out a monthly newsletter, applying for grants, and taking surveys and compiling the statistical updates that are required to maintain accreditation with the International Center of Clubhouse Development.

The employment/education unit is responsible for facilitating the transitional employment initiative. A number of Island businesses (including The Martha’s Vineyard Times) provide part-time jobs that are rotated among the clubhouse members who are interested in transitioning into the workforce. There are two other categories of independent employment that Daybreak supports.

The Clubhouse offers many services to its members. As a team, they look for educational opportunities and help people apply for scholarships. There is a Wellness program that promotes healthy living with health club passes, nutrition education, yoga and other on-site classes, and including spa meals in the lunch menu. And Daybreak members engage in frequent “socials” — gatherings and outings, both on and off Island.

Last year the Clubhouse members and staff put in a vegetable garden and a greenhouse on their property, growing produce for their daily lunches and periodic dinner socials. With the help of maintenance manager Dick Marshall, the members recently built a shed for storage, and they plan to continue the shed-building project — offering finished products to individuals who make donations to the Clubhouse.

There are some talented musicians among the members. A large area of the Clubhouse is dedicated to a rehearsal/performance space with a keyboard and drum kit. Members rehearse or jam, or just sit down and play during lunch. An informal group called “The Daybreak Jammers” performs at Windemere and at local gatherings.

David Gray spends the day at the Clubhouse when he’s not working at his part-time job at the Gannon and Benjamin boatyard. He likes working with his hands and has been very involved in the Clubhouse construction projects. He calls himself “Dick’s right-hand man.”

Through Daybreak, he was able to secure the job at the boatyard, which he has held for a number of years. “Transitional employment has engaged a lot of the clients here to move along and find jobs. We don’t want backwards progress. We want to stay as busy as we possibly can,” he said.

Mr. Gray stays extremely busy himself. He is a poet and an accomplished artist, and he plays the drums and sings. He attends a watercolor class at the Featherstone Center for the Arts, for which he received a full scholarship. He also acts as liaison between Clubhouse members and the Friends of Daybreak committee.

“I have an influential role in that,” Mr. Gray said, “I bring people’s ideas to the board.”

Another clubhouse member, Jakob Burton-Sundman, is an aspiring writer who will be taking a creative writing class through ACE MV next month — also on a scholarship. It was his idea to add a page to the monthly newsletter in which members can share their thoughts on any subject. Mr. Burton-Sundman regularly supplies this feature himself, but he also encourages others to contribute.

“I just like to have something to do.” Mr. Burton-Sundman said. He has worked at many of the transitional employment positions. “I enjoy the general atmosphere of this place and the socials.” He is on the social committee, helping to plan, among other things, trips to off-Island restaurants, museums, and activities such as bowling.

Daybreak director Caroline Eddy emphasized that staff and members contribute equally in every initiative. “The great part of the Clubhouse is that everyone does everything so people feel raised up by the work,” she said. “It’s action that lifts people up. The very existence of the clubhouse depends upon everyone pitching in to keep the operation running.”

So, when the clubhouse got news of a recent proposed cut of $3 million dollars to Clubhouse funding statewide, the members and staff took shared responsibility for addressing the issue.

On Tuesday, March 1, Ms. Eddy and several clubhouse members traveled to Boston participate in a Clubhouse Legislative Education Day at the State House. In a letter to the editor that appears on page ______ of today’s Times, Ms. Eddy details Daybreak’s impact on the Island community, and asks Islanders to write their state representatives to urge them to vote against the cuts.

Sharon Clauss-Zanger, director of Disability Services at MVCS, explained that the Clubhouse is only partly funded through a contract with the Department of Mental Health. The balance of funding for the three programs of Disability Services — Daybreak, Island Employment Services, and the Family Support Center — comes through fundraising and donations which, she said, account for a substantial part of the programs’ support.

The Clubhouse is in need of a new van. The current eight-passenger vehicle, which is used for grocery shopping and outings, as well as to drive members to and from work, is in desperate shape. Daybreak staff and members hope that someone in the community will donate a “gently-used” van.

Any weekday from 8:30 to 4:30, visitors will find at least a handful of Daybreak Clubhouse members busy carrying on with the business of staying afloat and remaining as self-supporting as possible. And, while the staff and members have a lot of fun on the job, the day-to-day running of the Clubhouse involves a lot of hard work. For that, there are plenty of hands to help and enthusiasm and energy as well.

For more information on the Daybreak program, call 508-696-7563.