In an era where mental health services are often increasingly difficult to access and jobs sometimes seem elusive, a situation which can lead to frustration and isolation, the Crystal House Clubhouse offers a place for adults to gingerly re-enter society at their own pace.
“We bridge people back into the community,” said director Tamela Deveikis, noting the Gardner-based organization serves simultaneously as a social club, health, education and employment advocacy site, skill-training center and more.
What makes Crystal House unique is that members are deeply involved in the day-to-day running of the club, answering phones, planning and preparing meals, serving up to 40 daily, and helping clean up afterwards, all the while following action plans designed to help them participate more fully outside the Clubhouse doors, including finding full or part-time jobs or attend school. Deveikis said through the years, there have been Winchendon businesses which have reached out to hire Crystal House alumni. In addition, a Crystal House member is interning with Rep. Jon Zlotnik, who opined, “Crystal House is a great organization. Tammy and everyone there do great work. They really care.”
Some 30 or more members show up every day. While attendance is voluntary a three-day-per-week schedule is encouraged, and Deveikis said she’d like to be able to have more participants from Winchendon.
“We understand travel is an issue for some people, so we’re working on being able to provide transportation which will enable more people to come,” she remarked.
It all began more than 30 years ago when a handful of mental health workers at North Central Human Services joined with a few clients, all of whom were looking for healthy, upbeat activities. Together they formed “Crystal House Friends”, named for a nearby lake.
A decade later, the state Department of Mental Health gave NCHS seed money to open a new location in the old Goodnow’s Pearson building in downtown Gardner and to launch a vocational program. The development of what would become today’s Crystal Clubhouse on Lake Street was underway.
By 1997, the DMH was funding building expenses and a small job training program. Within five years, Crystal House Clubhouse was certified by the International Center for Clubhouse Development and is now a member of the Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition, which consists of 33 such Clubhouses throughout the state.
Seven years ago, Alternatives Unlimited took over NCHS mental health contracts but Deveikis said she’s focused both on short and long-term goals.
“We have people getting here by 8 some mornings. It’s a place where they’re not judged, where they can develop a comfort level with other members and at the same time learn skills” by volunteering in one of four work areas: the kitchen, snack shop, employment/education center or business unit.
Deveikis was drawn to the field by a counseling course she took at Mount Wachusett Community College and after that class, her interest was piqued enough to parlay a single class into a career. She’s been at Crystal House Clubhouse for a decade.
“Every day here is rewarding. That’s not to say there’s no stress, of course, but when I see people making progress in their lives, going back to school, getting jobs, using things they learned or developed here, that’s the most rewarding thing of all. It’s exciting to think there’s room to grow the program, and we keep trying to do that every day.”
“Seeing the success stories, that’s the best thing,” she stressed.
Crystal House, located at 55 Lake Street (Suite 100) in Gardner, is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and schedules events on Saturdays as well, including tomorrow, when they’ll be holding a pancake breakfast from 8 until noon. More information in available at (978) 632-2794 or at CrystalHouse@AlternativesNet.org.
By Jerry Carton