In my past columns, I have spoken on Daybreak Clubhouse, its roots, its purpose. But, really, I haven’t even gotten started, because Daybreak is nothing if not for its members. It is our membership that brings the clubhouse to life, filling it with whatever energy they bring in that day. They come from all walks of life, united by the path they and I share — that long, uncertain journey that is mental health.
Some of them have been attending Daybreak for years, a few long before Alicia Nicholson’s time — our Daybreak veterans, who all greatly predate me. For them, Daybreak is interwoven into their lives. Many rely on the clubhouse as a cornerstone of their greater support structure to varying degrees. They have a certain quiet command of the clubhouse, a little more certain of their place amid our gentle chaos.
It was these Daybreakers who showed me the ropes when I began at Daybreak. There was a way of things, you see. A pattern to the days. Word had spread, prior to my start, that I could cook. This was very exciting, because the established clubhouse pattern revolved around food. They demonstrated that the day was often shaped in no small part by lunch. An army marches on its stomach, after all. Alicia is, I should say, a phenomenal cook. I’m no slouch, but I’ve picked up some great tips from her. After a couple of years at Daybreak, I’m definitely a better cook.
I’m not the lunch lady, mind you. I won’t pretend some of the cooking that comes out of the clubhouse kitchen isn’t mine, but for the most part, my role is instructional, demonstrative. The members pick the meals, and a recipe to follow, and I only step in to help when they make it clear they need it. I’m usually the one who cuts the onions, as we only have a few chefs with those seasoned kitchen eyeballs. I try to be as hands-off as possible, a knack I initially struggled with. Once our members get into the groove, packed into that kitchen together, they rarely need me, except for assurance.
And we do have chefs, particularly among our longtimers. I’ve actually picked up some tricks from them, too. Just today, I learned a better way to make yucca fries in the oven. The internet is great for recipes, but exchanging them in person, showing someone your method, I feel I learn it better.
Food is something of a running theme at Daybreak. When we’re not cooking, one of our more common out-in-the-world activities is volunteering at various Island food charities. When it comes time for Serving Hands, we can do three in a week. Our members do us proud out there, let me tell you. Even some of our less frequent members often make an appearance to volunteer. And they work hard. When we roll up with a van full of Daybreakers, we always get a warm reception. And staff isn’t just there in a supervisory role. Like in the kitchen, we’re right there with them, shoulder to shoulder.
To tell you the truth, I love the work. And it helps that many of the members do, too. For some, food scarcity is a very personal cause, while others simply like to help. One of my guys, a real philosopher, was hauling frozen turkeys with me, and mopped his brow, saying “Man, this is hard work. But, y’know, it’s like every turkey I carry is a whole family’s Thanksgiving. That’s pretty cool, right?” I had to agree.
I won’t pretend life in the kitchen half of Daybreak is a bed of roses. Our membership generally finds the cleanup substantially less entertaining than the cooking itself, an opinion I’ll admit to sharing. On our low-energy days, sometimes volunteers are a bit scarce. We generally do a little nagging at that point, but once the work is framed as working together, they often get to it. They might hate the dishes, but they’ve still got one another’s backs.
While we’ve our share of longtimers, we’ve gained members since I began. And it’s been largely the same approach. They’re introduced in the other half of the clubhouse, but it’s in the kitchen where they’re truly welcomed. They close ranks around the newcomer, showing them where to find what, introducing them to the day’s pattern, exactly as they did with me.
We don’t always get along. We have our low-energy days. There are days where the lunch fare is grilled cheese sandwiches, because that’s all they’ve got to give. But those days where the kitchen bustles with activity, and a batch of golden brown homemade biscuits emerges from the oven? That moment where they realize they did it themselves, that they were capable all along? That moment is the best part of my day.
Here to help
There will be a Family-to-Family Food Distribution on April 7 at 1 pm; check in first at St. Augustine’s Church, off Franklin Street
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 April 28, starting at 11:30 am, 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.
Matthew Fielder, who lives in West Tisbury with his wife Mari, is a staff member at Daybreak Clubhouse, and a caregiver for his grandmother and great-aunt.