Walking into the main office of Hale o Lanakila in Wailuku, I was surprised at how ordinary it seemed. Sitting behind a desk, a pleasant woman with short wavy hair and freckles greeted me. “How can I help you?” she asked.
I told her that I was there to meet with Lisa Darcy, the organization’s director. The woman told me that they were expecting me. “I’ll be giving you a tour,” she said, “but I’m going to be reading a script.”
As the woman prepared to show me around the Clubhouse, I noticed three people nearby sitting at computers or quietly reading. A few more were outside under a tree smoking. I found it difficult to tell who worked there and who was a member.
Telling me her name was Susan, my tour guide read to me in a controlled voice as we walked through the facility. She explained how all members and staff collaborated to create every section of the center. She showed me the clerical unit, employee office, advocacy center and snack shop. “There are a large variety of snacks,” she read to me. “Please feel free to help yourself.”
She broke from her script just once to tell me that today they would be having spinach salad and garlic bread. When the tour was done, she led me into the employee office and introduced me to Darcy. I thanked Susan for the tour, and she responded with a shy smile.
Hale o Lanakila is Maui’s most unique, comprehensive program for adults struggling with mental illness. It emulates a long running, self-help program in New York City called the Fountain House, where Darcy once worked.
The Fountain House is based on the Clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation. A Clubhouse is a place where mentally ill people can go to rebuild their lives. The format of a Clubhouse is revealed in its lingo. Participants are called “members” instead of “patients.” And membership is voluntary, without time limits.
It’s an environment that’s all-inclusive, with an atmosphere full of feelings of community and support. The focus is on recovery, where each member’s strengths, abilities and goals are more important than their illness, symptoms or history. Members and staff work together to cultivate the tools necessary for recovery. This distinct approach to rehabilitation has been shown to change people’s lives and gives hope to those families struggling with overwhelming obstacles.
We sat down, then Darcy invited everyone else who happened to be in the center at that time into our meeting. I was confused until she explained the organization’s “open door” policy allowing members to be a part of every aspect of the Clubhouse.
A woman named Nina joined us at the table and flashed me a huge grin, appearing happy to be included. While I interviewed Darcy, she continuously involved Nina into our conversation. Darcy began by explaining the name Hale o Lanakila (or The Hale, as Darcy liked to call it) which means “House of Victory.” She told me how all of the members and staff had wanted to work together in naming the club while staying true to the culture of Hawai’i.
“When you are involved and you can contribute,” she said, “then you feel like you have ownership, and that is rehabilitation.”
Employment is an essential part of the clubhouse philosophy. “Once you have work, everything else makes sense,” was a statement I often heard.
Work is a universal component of accomplishment and empowerment. Hale o Lanakila helps each member get back into the community through different work programs. They have the Transitional Employment Program (TEP), Supported Employment (SE), and Independent Employment (IE) programs along with Supported Education for those members who wish to further their education.
TEP is a program in which Hale staff trains members for part-time jobs. If a member isn’t able to make his or her shift for some reason, then a Hale staff member will take over. The SE program follows more traditional job placement lines. IE requires the member to do virtually all the work in finding and obtaining a job.
The staff is well aware of the challenges members brave each day, so they try to create a relationship with companies where success is possible. These companies—like Wal-Mart, Maui Quality Cleaners, Cafe Marc Aurel, the Salvation Army and Alamo—provide a vital service to the members by allowing them to gain the confidence and self-worth that comes from having a job.
The general public often underestimates mental illness in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in four adults experience a diagnosable mental disorder every year. That’s about 57.7 million people. One in 17 suffers from serious mental illness and many battle more than one disorder at a time.
Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for people aged 15 to 44. These numbers are higher than those afflicted with cancer. Many people diagnosed with a mental illness also suffer from addictive disorders. In total, 28 to 30 percent of the population suffers from a mental or addictive disorder. When you consider Hawai’i’s Ice epidemic, you start to see why people like Darcy and Hale o Lanakila are so crucial to our community.
Darcy is a loquacious woman who is clearly dedicated to the members of Hale o Lanakila. She spoke to me of the recent shift in our culture and how we now think of recovery.
“There have been so few resources in the past that people just survived,” she said.” Now we are actually implementing structures that work and that empower people to get better.”
I made a comment that this type of thinking was progressive for the mental health community.
“It’s actually normal,” said Darcy. “The psychiatric community has gotten away from normal for so many years and things have gotten so over-thought. So we talk about what it looks like when someone is getting sick and we do what it takes as a community to help that person.”
We talked about the misconceptions of mental health and the stigma associated with mental illness. Often, feelings of shame lead people to shun help for family members. Mental illness is a condition, just like diabetes, that can be treated.
“Recovery is possible,” said Darcy. “And recovery looks different for everyone. People are people before they are an illness.”
I asked if I could meet with some of the members and ask them what the Hale did for them. Six members then sat around a table with me. Their stories varied and yet all were woven with threads of inspiration and hope.
One by one they told me about their jobs and how they made them feel like a part of society. Ventura, who spoke deliberately, told me about how he was an advocate for community issues. Every month or so, he and Darcy go to Oahu for the Hawai’i Clubhouse Coalition meetings.
“The program has helped me to grow in areas where I did not know how to go about doing it,” he said. “It has fulfilled me by helping me become a coalition representative for the island of Maui.”
Others spoke of their housing challenges and the few options available for the disabled. Dylan talked about the confidence and motivation he felt. “I have met astonishing people and I am very glad to be affiliated with the people that I know here,” said Donna, speaking in a thick Queens accent. “It’s also been nice for me to stay with certain things so that my consciousness is active in different ways.”
Mark, an eccentric and colorful character, spoke persuasively of the love and support he felt from everyone at Hale o Lanakila. Then he joked about his duty of the day. “Today I have the job of resurrecting my team’s chairs,” by which he meant reupholstering them.
“What do you feel the public misunderstands the most about you?” I asked the group at the end of my visit.
They all agreed that people thought they were dangerous. Mark teased that because they had an open house “people could see that we’re not walking around with knives.” Susan, my tour guide, said, “They think we are monsters.”
Darcy then asked the group how they all felt when they came to the Clubhouse. Everyone agreed that they felt supported and not judged.
“All we really want is to be treated normal,” one member, Patricia, told me a few days after I left the center. “People need to remember I may be a little bit crazy, but I’m not stupid.”
For more information about Hale o Lanakila, call Lisa Darcy or Ginger Spining at 984-2156. MTW