Growing together at Daybreak

Daybreak Clubhouse brings hope and happiness to Islanders living with mental illness.


Members of the Daybreak Clubhouse of M.V. Community Services — a program for adults with mental illness — flourish day in and day out through grit and a little bit of humor. Anywhere from four to a dozen people attend Daybreak every day.

Take Mary, for example.

Mary, now 44, was 30 when she was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. She believed she was communicating telepathically with people, and that all people were divided into teams. “When I was driving, I would be checking license plates to see who was on which team,” she said.

It all made sense to her. She thought of herself as an earth goddess because she saw a buck deer, an owl, and an egret all on the same day. Some days, she said, she would have racing thoughts, and only sleep two hours out of 24. Mary came to the Island approximately 2½ years ago from a hospital in Pocasset, after a serious manic episode.

“I had borrowed my parents’ car and went on a road trip around New England, and I got to be off my meds,” Mary explained. “And I was driving down a highway in a Prius doing 110 miles an hour for like half an hour cutting down the middle, and then weaving back and forth when the red and whites were behind me.” 

The “red and whites” were the police who followed her for the half-hour she sped dangerously past other cars and through two toll booths. She received a number of tickets, and was taken to a hospital where she was handcuffed to a gurney.

“What I thought I was doing was narrowing the space-time continuum of the universe. So that’s bipolar. You’re way out there. Way out there,” she said. 

Notwithstanding her difficult illness, Mary considers herself lucky. She has a supportive family and friends. Many folks with mental illness do not, she says.

Then there’s Jake.

Jake has been legally blind since he was a child, has depression, and recently suffered a creeping paralysis caused by a slipped disc in his back. He nearly died as the paralysis crept up toward his heart. Doctors finally determined that Jake had ruptured discs and a deteriorated skeletal structure. He had emergency surgery, and a titanium rod was placed in his back. It was not clear whether he would walk again. 

But Jake is tough. With the help of his family and medical professionals, and after a year of rehab, he did it. He walked three feet, and then 12, and then 21, and he kept going. Now you no longer notice that not too long ago he could not walk on his own. “Brutal therapy. Brutal, brutal. It was just intense,” he said. “You do need help. You do need others in your corner.”

Jake is always with a sense of humor. “The song ‘Titanium’ cracks me up because that’s me now,” he jokes. He adds that it would be a bit of an issue to remove his metal at the airport.

The Daybreak Clubhouse is a place of community for Mary and Jake.

Mary attends Daybreak two or three days a week. “I’m a little bit introverted. And it’s good for me to be with people, interacting with people.” Ally, a 29-year-old member, says, “I like socializing, but usually I’m shy around people. I’m getting there.” 

Jake comes in a lot sometimes, sometimes not as much. “Depends on what’s going on.” 

There are a variety of activities at Daybreak. Ally likes cooking. “A little bit of vinaigrette, mayonnaise, pepper, a little salt … stir it up. It comes out good,” she says about making coleslaw. Daybreak provides a balanced lunch every day. The day before, said Mary when we spoke, they had Reubens with coleslaw and a salad because it was a member’s birthday. 

Everyone pitches in to help with the work at the clubhouse. Usually, folks who did not help make the meal help with the cleanup. Other chores might include working at their outdoor garden — weeding and watering the corn, spinach, lettuce, and other plants. 

Recently, members made brightly colored aromatic candles in glass jars that they sell at the Chicken Alley Thrift Store. When there is enough money from the sales, they will go out to lunch or bowling.

In the afternoon, folks may go for a walk, watch a movie, or play games. 

And there are trips out of the Clubhouse. They go to the Native Earth Teaching Farm up-Island, where they throw their vegetable compost over the fence to the pigs. In the summer, they go to the beach. A few times a year, always once around the holidays, they take the van over to Falmouth to shop at places like Walmart and the Christmas Tree Shop and have lunch. “It’s a lot of fun,” says Ally.

With the help of Daybreak, Jake, Mary, and Ally have worked in the community.

Jake worked at Murdick’s Fudge folding boxes, and at the Harbor View in housekeeping, folding towels. He worked at Walmart in Falmouth as a greeter. 

Mary works at the Chicken Alley Thrift Store as a pricer. She has a big desk in the back, and stickers and tickets with string tags: “I price and price and price and price for five hours, and then go home.”

She started as a volunteer and was unsure at first. Alecia, the director of Daybreak, helped her along. “She’d say, ‘You might really like it. You should try it.’ And so I tried it and I really loved it.” 

Ally is a bagger at the Edgartown Stop and Shop three days a week. “It’s been getting busy,” she says — an understatement during our early July interview.

Mary, Jake, and Ally are thriving despite their challenges..

“I do like coming here. I find it relaxing and calming … doing candles, playing games, socializing. That helps me,” says Ally. 

Mary has to be on the lookout for manic episodes; one can pop up in 24 hours or less. There are usually signs — not sleeping, no appetite, staying out late at night, or being rude or disruptive. Sometimes she notices the signs, and sometimes not. If she is delusional, she may rationalize what is happening. She has told her colleagues at the thrift shop to call 911 if she becomes loud or starts yelling. 

She has some depression, but less nowadays. The suicidal impulses pass. She takes her meds and sees her counselor. She talks to her mother every night. She is very open with the people around her about her illness. The staff at Daybreak is very supportive, and works very hard to help, she says.

For Jake there has been an added reward to Daybreak. “I met Lissa here,” says Jake. 

Jake and Lissa have been together for 10 years. They don’t have the “annoying piece of paper,” but otherwise feel like husband and wife. She is off-Island, and he visits on weekends. 

A smile lights up his face and there’s a twinkle in his eyes. Jake cannot help himself. He jokes again — this time about his sight impairment: “It’s part of how I see Lissa every weekend. Free ferry tickets!”

About Daybreak Clubhouse

“Daybreak” signifies a new day, and the clubhouse was founded in 1978 as a place for adults with serious mental illness to receive vocational and social rehabilitation. Tom Bennett was hired to start the program by Dr. Milton Mazer, founder of M.V. Community Services. Bennett, now associate executive director of MVCS, said that Daybreak grew from the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill people from state hospitals. Most Islanders with mental illness, Bennett said, lived in Taunton State Hospital at the time. 

Daybreak is open to adults 18 years or older with mental illness. According to the MVCS website, “Members work together with staff as they overcome obstacles in their lives and work toward achieving maximum vocational and social integration within their community.”

Anyone interested in joining the Clubhouse may contact Alicia Nicholson, program coordinator for Daybreak, at 508-696-7563, or visit to find out more.