It was just another Monday at the clubhouse — Patriot’s Day, actually. We try to hit the ground running Mondays, to develop some extra momentum to carry us through the week. We’d gotten lunch served, and I was sitting at my desk when we all got an email from Beth Wike, our program director.
It was just like most emails we get from her, full of her characteristic positive energy, celebrating recent accomplishments. Meeting reminders, upcoming events. When I got to the part where the tone changed, I had to read what came next a couple of times, because there was just no space for it in my mind: Beth was leaving at the end of the month.
In my first column, I mentioned Beth Wike was the one to give me my first, fateful interview for Daybreak. My premise that a life’s history of severe mental illness made me an ideal candidate was something I was still organizing in my mind as we walked inside Disability Services’ offices. That was very nearly two years ago, and time has, I like to think, borne out that premise, but that interview is truly where it began. The way she received me, kind and open, listening to me in that rare way where you feel completely heard; it gave me the hope I needed to believe this approach could work.
That support never went away, never even diminished. It was wonderful, unlike anything I’d ever had in any job, but it began to make me feel a little sheepish. The conclusion I drew at the time was that because I’d disclosed my mental illness, she was taking extra time out of an unbelievably busy schedule just to make sure I was doing all right.
Daybreak is not part of the campus, physically, and the schedule of a clubhouse often precludes our involvement in some Community Services functions. Other than periodic meetings, I only really met with the rest of the organization when they would come to Daybreak. Even so, working with our comrades-in-arms in Disability Services, I eventually came to realize the truth of Beth Wike’s efforts. She was, indeed, making extra time for me, but she also did that with literally everyone else. She had a modified approach for every individual who relied on her, but no matter how her schedule ran her ragged, if we needed her, she would be there.
When I first ran the idea of this column past Beth, she leaped into action, helping me make this a reality. I’ll admit, in those moments after my first column, I was a little nervous. There was no putting the ring back in this bell. I wondered how many people were going to see this, and it was about that time that I saw a group email, to me and Disability Services and more; Beth had shared my article with everyone, urging them to read it.
And they did! The outpouring of support and positivity I got from Community Services from that first column was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Where I had felt exposed, Beth had transmuted it. Instead, I felt seen, like people finally had the opportunity to see all of me, instead of the select parts I hadn’t chosen to hide for most of my life.
When I first read that email, many things crossed my mind, and there was a very selfish dread amid it. It persisted for days, entering my thoughts without warning. What was going to happen to me? I knew Alicia Nicolson, the clubhouse coordinator, would always have my back, but what about the person who would replace Beth? Would they have the same sort of understanding that had helped get me here? I’ve never had a job that I truly loved, and the thought of losing it is an enduring fear.
ButI know better. It was a week or two after Beth Wike shared my column that I saw it shared again, company-wide. It was from Beth Folcarelli, Community Services’ CEO. In a staff meeting that we’d been unable to attend, Beth Folcarelli highlighted my article, and talked about it at length. And I know this because Beth Wike shared the recording of the meeting with me, just to make sure I saw our CEO absolutely getting what I had written.
I am understood here. I am safe. And it is in no small part because of what Beth Wike helped to build that I can say that. It will be difficult, going forward without her, and we all know it, but we will endure. I will not let what she helped build fall to disrepair if I have to stand beneath it and prop it up with my own shoulders. And if it comes to that, I know I will not be standing alone.
Matthew Fielder lives in West Tisbury with his wife Mari. He is a staff member at Daybreak Clubhouse, and a caregiver to his grandmother.
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 June 23, 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.