By Bill Parry
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Citiview Connections Clubhouse, Director Russell Roten opened the doors to community leaders who are dedicated to de-stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness. The Long Island City center for adults with psychiatric disabilities held its open house last week to generate interest about its mission to help those suffering from mental illness reclaim their lives and realize their potential through work and the support of a caring community.
“It was zen-like to see our community partners mingle with our members,” Roten said. “That kind of interaction helps our members build confidence and self-esteem while the community gets a better idea of what goes on inside here.”
Citiview is operated by Goodwill Industries, one of the oldest and largest providers of vocational training and employment services in New York City. The goal is for 114 members with chronic mental illness to learn new skills, forge friendships and access employment and educational opportunities.
Members also participate in educational, recreational, social and vocational activities, and take work-related roles to carry out daily operation of the clubhouse.
“It’s a community of people who really understand each other,” Roten said. “Everything is voluntary, it’s not like a treatment program. These people have been told all their lives that they couldn’t succeed because of their mental illness or be productive members of society. Being a member of this clubhouse is very empowering for them. The clubhouse offers a place for someone to come and be a part of a team with no head coach, and no longer isolate themselves.”
The center features a business computer lab, a transitional employment unit, a cafe where the members prepare and eat their own meals three times a day, and a living room. The four staff facilitators assist the members, who are age 18 and up, with job searches, resume writing and practice interviews. Members are then placed in part-time positions in the community for six to nine months earning minimum wage or more.
“It allows a person who on their own would not be able to get a job because they don’t have the support system that we provide,” Roten said. “The fact that employers don’t want to let them go at the end of their stint really says a lot.”
Guests including City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl of the City Department of Cultural Affairs and Richard Hinojosa, the Educational Director at Queens Theater, talked with the members of the clubhouse at the Jan. 29 event and came away with a better understanding.
“Most social services are so protective, but Russell sees the benefit of inviting people in,” Chocolate Theater Executive Director Sheila Lewandowski said, “people who are doing things in the community that can be a benefit to his members. It opens up a connection with the community going there and seeing firsthand what they do.”
Citiview member Tommy Radman called the evening a “bright and festive affair, nothing like the ominous portrayal of the mentally ill you see so often on the news. It was an evening where ‘mentally ill’ was no more a barrier between people than their taste in hors d’oeuvres.”
Radman watched a performance by the Village Playback Theater, a company dedicated to telling the stories of people who struggle to be heard, about a woman on a heroic quest.
“There are many stories like this passing through the doors of Citiview,” Radman said. “People who refuse to be stigmatized and herded into a life of meek complacency by a society, for the most part, that does not understand them. People who want to reach out towards a future of their own and who expect to find it.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4538.