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A place for purpose: Acceptance is hard to find with mental illness – but not here

The clubhouse focuses on wellness rather than illness by creating structure, reinforcing routine and teaching people how to advocate for themselves.

RICHARDSON, Texas — A diagnosis of severe mental illness often results in a life of isolation, without friends, focus, or a job, but a non-profit in Richardson is offering hope and purpose in a first of its kind facility in North Texas.

The organization is called the PLAN Clubhouse @ 1121 Rock. PLAN is an acronym for People Living Active Now.

“One of our big goals is to fight stigma. It’s about letting people know, just because you’re fighting mental illness, you still can accomplish major things,” said Ruth Josenhans, of Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas, which operates the clubhouse.

JFS is quick to explain what the facility is not.

“It’s not a place where you’re going to go shoot billiards and hang out with your friends. It’s where the members are active and involved in doing something,” said Cathy Barker of the Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas.

It’s also not clinical or counseling either.

Instead, this place is geared toward real-life; teaching individuals how to prepare healthy meals, find jobs, interact, and keep each other in check.

It focuses on wellness rather than illness by creating structure, reinforcing routine and teaching people how to advocate for themselves.

For Teri Hitchcock, 56, the clubhouse is a need finally being fulfilled.

“I have had a lot of diagnoses. I don’t like labels at all,” she said.

Hitchcock was here the first day the clubhouse opened on Aug. 1, 2017.

“You don’t have to wake up in the morning and go ‘My God, I’m still here. Wow. What am I going to do?’" she said. "I used to wake up and say ‘Shit, I’m still here.’ Now I don’t. I get up and good to go."

But to understand where she is, the 56-year-old voluntarily shares where she’s been.

“I was brutally raped in college and stabbed five times," she said. "That was another thing that perpetuated the depression."

The clubhouse helps people make decisions, gives them responsibility and members even call each other on the phone if they don’t show up after a day or so.

“Most people think that the Clubhouse is run by the staff, but it’s actually member run," Barker said. "What it does for a person with persistent and severe mental illness, it gives them purpose and meaning."

For the last three years, they’ve even taken a vacation together, to a ranch outside Gainesville.

That sense of belonging brought Teri to tears.

“It’s something I don’t get anywhere else, the acceptance, the ability to be myself completely, the love,” she said wiping away tears.

The PLAN Clubhouse @ 1121 Rock is free and open to anyone with a diagnosis such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression. Barker said it’s not for individuals with an intellectual disorder.

Members here are active in their own recovery, able to remain independent and don’t have to escape their own illness.

It’s a revolutionary way to help people with mental illness, said Barker.

She and Josenhans said the clubhouse keeps people out of hospitals and out of trouble. Until now, nothing really existed to help North Texans day-to-day with mental illness.

Donations and grants currently keep it open but organizers say the public benefits and that’s why they’re asking state lawmakers to help fund the facility, as well.

The clubhouse has about 20 people now. It’s free to attend and there is room for a lot more participants, organizers said.

Sarah Epstein, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, found a job at a restaurant through the clubhouse.

“I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it. It’s so exciting to go everyday there,” the 34-year-old said.

Now, Hitchcock said she wants to be the next one to find work.

“I take responsibility for my illness I don’t use it as an excuse to not work. I want to work. I can’t wait – I’m going to be the next one to get a job. I am. I swear it,” Hitchcock said, with hope. “I don’t want to be limited. I’m capable. I’m so capable. My illness is managed. I’m capable just like anyone else.”

The clubhouse, located at 1121 Rockingham Drive in Richardson, is one of five accredited across the state.

To learn how to attend, call (972) 379-9904 or email: info@planntx.org

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