TOPSHAM — The recently opened Village Clubhouse aims to live up to its name as a place that welcomes people with mental illness and helps integrate them into the community.

“The common thread is that members feel like they’re needed and wanted and respected, and this is a safe environment for them to participate, and feel good about what they’re doing with their time throughout the day,” Director Candy Lessard said Feb. 22.

She recalled one woman who started as a founding member in December 2018, and evolved from a quiet person focused on her symptoms to someone filled with enough self-assurance to want to tell others how the Clubhouse model impacted her life.

“For her to feel confident enough … to be able to go out and do that, and share her story and her accomplishments with the greater community, is kind of huge for her,” Lessard noted.

The Village Clubhouse opened late last year at 119 Main St. after extensive renovations to what had been Bubba’s Hairstyling. Named for Topsham’s middle village area, it’s the latest in a series of facilities opened by Kennebec Behavioral Health. Others include Looking Ahead Clubhouse in Lewiston, Capitol Clubhouse in Augusta, and High Hopes Clubhouse in Waterville.

The Topsham Clubhouse, which is taking referrals for new members, offers employment, social and educational opportunities as members work toward recovery.

Clubhouse International has been around for about 65 years and was founded to help people who’d been released from institutions return into society, Lessard said.

“We’re a community of people working together to help folks navigate and improve their lives through a structured environment,” she explained. “… We’re a very non-clinical model, so members come to the Clubhouse and they don’t have to focus on their diagnosis or what their barriers are; they really can focus on their strengths and their interests, and really feel like part of a community.”

Members can meet with case managers and counselors outside the Clubhouse, but inside the venue they work alongside staff on daily operations such as event planning, providing tours, transportation and food services, building maintenance and budgeting.

They learn driver education and literacy skills and improve their social, vocational and emotional skills.

The Clubhouse Transitional Employment program allows members to work at a paid part-time job, at which they can spend six to nine months gaining skills and experiences in an actual work environment, according to the organization.

Village Clubhouse is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Those wanting to become members or learn more can reach Lessard at 837-6260 or [email protected] for a tour. More information is available at villageclubhouse.org.

Local employers interested in providing entry-level transitional employment opportunities to members are also encouraged to contact Lessard.

“Here at the Clubhouse, being engaged in really meaningful work and being treated as a person, and not their diagnosis, is essential with helping break some of that stigma around mental illness as well,” Lessard said.

A person must have MaineCare coverage and a mental health diagnosis to qualify for the Clubhouse’s services. The organization is primarily Medicaid-funded, and partners with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to receive grant funds for under-insured people, according to Lessard.

“The only other requirement is the desire to be an active part of the clubhouse community and to work on areas of their own career development as part of their journey of recovery and success,” a recent Clubhouse press release states.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Candy Lessard is director of the Village Clubhouse in Topsham, which provides a community for people with mental illness.


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