Daybreak Clubhouse. I have heard many honest guesses as to what it actually is. A daycare is the most popular guess. A ritzy social club, that’s one of my favorites. The list goes on, but that’s just the people that’ve heard of us. For those of you who haven’t, let me start from the beginning. And no judgments here. Before I began my work, I hadn’t heard of Daybreak, either.
In 1943, something interesting happened in New York City. The patients of the Rockland Psychiatric Center came together and formed a support group that went beyond those walls, into the streets. They would meet recently discharged patients on the steps of the NYC library. They called themselves WANA: We Are Not Alone. They started this; not a doctor or social worker. Under their own initiative they bonded together, so they stood a better chance of making it on the outside.
Eventually, WANA would go on to obtain a little brownstone in Manhattan with a fountain. This would eventually become Fountain House, the first clubhouse. A place for the neurodivergent to support one another in their journey to wellness. At Fountain House, they were not “patients,” but “members,” a clear delineation and declaration of purpose that we adhere to to this day. Though Fountain House later established a formal staff in 1955, its member-driven approach remained, and became the foundation for today’s International Clubhouse model.
Today, at Daybreak, we work with our members, neurodivergent adults of varying ages and diagnoses, in their pursuit of their personal goals. From kitchen skills to paying bills, we cover a domestic curriculum that I wish I’d learned in school. Housing, heating, appointments; more, we help them get out into their communities, be it for job opportunities or volunteer work.
I’d like to talk about what first brought me to Daybreak. I have struggled tremendously with my mental health all the years of my life. I ran the full gauntlet: substantial lapses in medication, homelessness, drug abuse, crime. It was a work of decades to get myself to a good place, and by the time I got there, my prospects for entering the working world seemed grim. One’s wellness journey isn’t the sort of thing you get to put on a résumé, even if it was hard work. I saw that Community Services was having a job fair, and after a few unsuccessful applications around the Island for any sort of work, I thought it was worth looking into. I only really saw Community Services as the Island Counseling Center — ignorant, as many are, of its far wider scope. My assumption was that it was job placements for people with mental illnesses.
In fact, that wasn’t the case at all, and I stood there, feeling foolish, reading the positions being advertised and their descriptions. It was then that I read the position of staff generalist for Daybreak Clubhouse. Close work with adults with mental illnesses.This wild notion came to mind as I reread the description. At this point, I had nothing to lose. So when Beth Wike, program director for MVCS disability services, met with me for my interview, I was set on my course of action.
Any job coach or employment specialist I’ve ever worked with has advised me to play my cards close to the chest. Unless absolutely necessary, you shouldn’t disclose your mental illness. I’ve lived by that advice for years, but this time, I did something different. Instead, I told her everything, presenting myself with total transparency. The stormy history of mental illness, the rough background, all of it. My thought was this: These lived experiences gave me a perspective that most candidates couldn’t provide, regardless of schooling or training. Beth’s warm reception had me immediately at ease with my gamble. She clearly didn’t want to seem definitive too early, but I left the interview feeling hopeful.
I had my second interview with Alicia Nicholson, Daybreak’s facilitator. I kept to my strategy, and it wasn’t long after that I was reporting to her as the newest staff generalist for Daybreak, working alongside J.P. Hitesman, my senior in the position by a couple of months. That was almost two years ago. In that time, my history, which had once been a source of shame and regret, has been transmuted into good. It has helped me connect to our members in unique and meaningful ways. My struggles have been given new purpose. This job is nothing less than a gift.
If you’re reading this, and you know someone in a position to benefit from Daybreak, please reach out. And to those of you who feel like you might need this help yourself, the pledge remains: We Are Not Alone.
Matthew Fielder, who lives in West Tisbury with his wife Mari, is a staff member at Daybreak Clubhouse, and a caregiver to his grandmother and great-aunt.
Here to help
Daybreak helps run Serving Hands, a monthly food distribution where food is donated by Island businesses, including Cronig’s Market and Island Grown Initiative, as well as ordered through the Greater Boston Food Bank. The next one is Feb. 24, starting at 1:30pm at the First Baptist Church Parish Hall, 66 William St., Vineyard Haven. Visit daybreakclubhouse.wordpress.com for more information on M.V. Community Services’ Daybreak Clubhouse.