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Fellowship Place Returns Home
by Allan Appel | Oct 19, 2012 8:13 am
Posted to: Social Services, Dwight
A professional kitchen where twice as many trainees can learn to bake chocolate scones. A light-filled gathering place that raises dignity and aspirations. A “quiet room” that is truly quiet. And a bathroom, finally, with multiple stalls.
These were some of the improvements, concrete and spiritual, celebrated Thursday morning as clients, officials and staff gathered at Fellowship Place on Elm Street.
They joined together for the long-awaited grand reopening of Fellowship Place, New Haven’s pioneering clubhouse and rehab center for adults with mental illness.
Old-timers in the festive crowd remembered Fellowship Place’s origins in the then-Jewish Community Center on Chapel Street across from the Hotel Duncan: the brainchild of Arthur Murray’s daughter Phyllis McDowell, who just wanted a place for adults with mental illness to be able to gather, socialize, have an ice cream cone, maybe even dance, without stigma or discrimination.
Some $1 million came from state bonding and about $250,00 from private donations. The only hitch in the project was the discovery of a huge oil tank that had to be removed, and the contaminated soil removed, under what is now the patio area of the campus.
Verrier said she uses the clubhouse to socialize and to make friends. She also loves the quiet room. Thanks to the renovation, done on budget and on time, the quiet room is truly quiet, and set apart from the bustling main clubhouse.
Architect Eric Epstein said renovations also included solid vinyl plank floors that look like bright wood. Light, furniture, colors, and sound-attenuating panels give a feeling of home and warmth, he said.
As the festivities got under way, Verrier held the door open for her mom, Helen Rohne. Rohne, also a member of Fellowship Place, is the president of the clients’ own self-governing group, and a member of Fellowship Place’s board of directors.
“We didn’t add so much in terms of square footage, but lighting and glass makes it seem large, warm, nurturing, where people feel good,” said Executive Director Mary Guerrera.
On rainy days, the complex could feel depressing, and that’s the last thing you want for people struggling to overcome depression and other mental illnesses, Guerrera noted.
The new spaces will enable new groups to form, like a new young adult gathering, she said. The number of people using the facilities is already rising to between 125 and 140 per day, six days a week.
Officials praised the public/private partnership that the renovation represents. Added 14-term New Haven state Rep. Pat Dillon: “It stabilizes the community and it stabilizes people. If you’re in isolation, you’re more likely to be hospitalized. It’s a very powerful place. This was never a bureaucrat’s dream. It grew from the community up.”
Some 60 percent of Fellowship’s budget comes from the state. About 600 clients come to Fellowship place every week to get job training, re-start their educations, or just for a meal or to chat.
U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal said that given the grim faces in Washington, D.C. these days, it makes him smile to come to Fellowship Place. He praised not only the new facilities, but the professionals and activists who make Fellowship Place “a kind of society we can all be proud of.”
“We all share in the human condition that brings people here. This place makes me feel good.” he said.
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