“I couldn’t handle the reality of how our world had changed,” says Clark, who lost his job and was unable to pay for the medication prescribed for his anxiety and depression. “Months of battling ‘Your life is over, you’ve messed everything up, you’ll never have joy, you’ll never have peace.’ It’s draining and debilitating.”
Clark had been in that dark place before.
“You try to self-medicate before you understand the problem,” he says. “I was chronically homeless. I’d get depressed and just give up and the pattern kept repeating itself.”
This time was different. As a member of Gateway, Clark had found housing, meaningful work, and a community of people who understood. Even though the Clubhouse facility was closed due to COVID-19, the staff and members were still checking in with each other. Executive Director Randy Redlinger visited Clark’s home and helped him get his medication.
“He lovingly helped me back,” Clark says. “I’m very grateful for Gateway. When you’re so weak and vulnerable, daily stuff feels like climbing a mountain. Here, you can grow and learn as a person. It’s what we do every day – mentoring or being mentored. We all play both roles.”
Orlando Wright agrees. Because of a perceived taboo surrounding mental illness in the Black community, he had tried to manage his anxiety, alone, while facing devastating personal losses.
“I was scared to talk about it so I would keep it deep inside. I hid it in drinking and drugs,” he says. “I was losing friends, I lost my kids.”
A member for almost two years, he credits Gateway with helping him open up and manage his anxiety so that he can enjoy a full life.
“I have good conversations here with people just like me. Everybody works together as a team,” he says. “My confidence is high. I’m even taking on the challenge of learning how to play piano.”
Gateway’s program builds confidence through social interaction and a workday model. Members check in daily then either serve various roles within the Clubhouse or go to transitional jobs with partner businesses or independent employment. Members who don’t check in receive a call.
“Members support each other—it doesn’t all fall on staff. When faced with a crisis, it didn’t change who we are,” Redlinger says. “At first we were helping with food, medication, or getting set up for telehealth visits. Later, we reached out via Zoom, created a Facebook virtual group and dropped by Gateway housing for porch visits. By May, members started coming back in limited numbers.”
In August 2020, Gateway’s new 20,000-square-foot Clubhouse was completed, allowing more members to safely gather. Now, membership is around 110 and Redlinger estimates 80–85 people pass through daily. At capacity, the building will be able to serve 200.
“Mental illness is the number one cause of disability, worldwide—more than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease,” Redlinger says. “There are simply not enough Clubhouses for those with mental illness.”
Funding for the construction of the new Clubhouse came from many generous donors including the Community Foundation of Greenville, Greenville Women Giving, The Charity Ball of Greenville, Greenville Health Authority, and The Leon Levine Foundation.
“May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to talk openly and dispel misconceptions,” says CFG President Bob Morris. “Gateway has provided a place of hope and community for more than 1,451 members and is one of only 12 training bases for the Clubhouse model, worldwide. Greenville is fortunate to be home to this unique resource.”
Director of Development Martha Armstrong invites anyone interested in seeing Gateway’s program to set up a tour. For more information, visit https://gateway-sc.org/