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A Michigan nonprofit provides ‘Fresh Start’ for people living with mental illness

Jamie Simmons
Michigan Radio
Fresh Start Clubhouse member Frank Diaz helping create the daily schedule.

In 2023, the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Fresh Start will open its doors to more people experiencing mental health illnesses in Washtenaw County.

Fresh Start uses a “clubhouse” model to provide non-clinical services to people needing, or who have needed, mental health services. It was a part of the extended services offered through Washtenaw Community Mental Health services.

Fresh Start will be one of the first clubhouses in the state to offer services independently from a community mental health agency. It expects to start accepting clubhouse memberships from folks outside of CMHs in the next few months.

Summer Berman is the director of the nonprofit. She says expanding their services beyond Washtenaw CMH will help fill a gap in mental health services.

Jamie Simmons
Michigan Radio
Summer Berman at the Washtenaw CMH office.

“We know that there are far more people in Washtenaw County who live with mental illness than just people who are on Medicaid and come through the public mental health system. So our goal in this separation is to be able to serve people outside of that as well.”

Fresh Start will also continue to service those who are serviced through the CMH.

What is a mental health clubhouse?

The mental health clubhouse model was created in 1948 by a New York based group called Fountain House. They created the community-based social recovery program that came to be the international social practice model now used in the state of Michigan.

Alexander Baldassare is the director of network services at Fountain House. He says the social practice model is what fuels the work within a mental health clubhouse.

“Essentially what we do is we employ our model of social practice to be able to provide folks living with serious mental illness a place to not only recover, but also to pursue different opportunities, such as resuming work or pursuing education, all through the use of intentional community, because we utilize community as a form of therapy.”

The model offers community, routine, and life skills for those who might have experienced isolation due to their mental health.

Today there are over 200 clubhouses across the U.S. Forty of those are across Michigan.

Click on the image or this link to view the map.

Each clubhouse can be slightly different due to the county budget, location, and resources offered. But all share the same goal: to help build brighter futures for those experiencing mental health illnesses.

Fresh Start 2023

Fresh Start’s journey to serve more people in Washtenaw County is something their staff and clubhouse members are also excited about.

Shebra Miller is a member of the Fresh Start Clubhouse. She has been with Fresh Start for about ten years. She says that the clubhouse helps build community.

“It's a good social atmosphere where there's people that care about you; that you can make friends with the people with the same symptoms you suffer from.”

Webb Lucas is one of the staff members at Fresh Start. He says the clubhouse helps people regain or develop skills to achieve their life goals.

“The type of work we do here is not fixing somebody's illness. We're just helping people achieve goals to do things that they want to do in life. People are people and everybody wants to make something of themselves.”

Summer Berman says the reorganization will allow them to serve more people experiencing mental illness in Washtenaw County – and will make a real change in a lot of people’s lives.

“You know, I always say that that clubhouse works for people with mental illness because it works for people.”

Jamie Simmons
Jamie Simmons
Summer Berman and Fresh Start Clubhouse staff.

This story has been corrected. The original caption misidentified Frank Diaz. It has also been updated to clarify the timeline for when Fresh Start plans to accept non-CMH members.

Jamie Simmons comes to Michigan Radio as a new Community Engagement Reporter for the station’s Enterprise team. She is a macro social worker with a strong background in community engagement and communal dialogue.