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Galilee to Grand Avenue, support clubs forge links
May 27th, 2005
Israelis Yuval Taler and Ronit Schuster are pioneers in the clubhouse movement in Israel a community-based support network for people with mental illness. And they wanted to see what a really good clubhouse is like, Taler said.
So they came to Milwaukee this week for their first visit to the Grand Avenue Club, which helps prepare people to enter the workforce and provides them opportunities for paid employment, education and housing.
When I told people [in a New York clubhouse] that we were going to Milwaukee, they said, Wow, thats really the place to go; its a great clubhouse, Taler said.
Taler and Schuster came from Nazareth Illit in the northern Galilee at the invitation of Rachel Forman, the Grand Avenue Clubs executive director and a friend and mentor since she met Taler almost a year-and-a-half ago.
On May 23, at the home of Barbara Stein, Taler and Schuster told some 25 members and supporters of the GAC about their struggle to establish what they said is the first such clubhouse in Israel, called Amit Clubhouse, which opened in Nazareth Illit last November.
It takes a community
The dream was born about five years ago when Taler traveled with a delegation to see lots of places that offered mental health programs, Schuster said.
On that trip in March 2004, Taler met Forman at an International Center for Clubhouse Development (ICCD) training base at Fountain House in New York City.
And Forman who said she had always wondered where the Israelis are when she attended the ICCD meetings was thrilled to meet Taler. They started an e-mail correspondence that has blossomed into a strong bond.
Rachel has helped us so much. Sometimes I asked her why, Taler said.
In part, Forman said, it is because she has relied on people with experience to help her over the years with GAC; and now that she has experience, she is able to assist others.
And I have to admit that tears came to my eyes [when Amit Clubhouse opened] because I knew it had been a long struggle, Forman added.
For his part, Taler said, We came to Milwaukee because of Rachel [Forman] she has so much experience and she wants to help so much with Israel and mental health. She has so much to give us.
The idea of clubhouses for people with mental illness began with Fountain House in the 1940s.
Since then, according to the ICCD Web site, more than 300 clubhouses in 30 countries have been founded on the belief that recovery from serious mental illness must involve the whole person in a vital and culturally sensitive community.
A clubhouse community offers respect, hope, mutuality and unlimited opportunity to access the same worlds of friendship, housing, education and employment as the rest of society, according to the ICCD mission statement.
With 17 members from four northern Galilee towns, including one Israeli Arab member, Amit Clubhouse will become the Fountain House of Israel, its founders and supporters hope.
While open to all Israelis, Taler said that one goal is to have more Israeli Arabs. Maybe people with mental illness can teach that Arabs and Jews can live together.
But Amit Clubhouses future is uncertain. Funding is limited, mental illness is not yet openly discussed in Israel and the government is resistant to change, Taler said.
Taler and Schuster work for Amit Clubhouse without salaries, relying for income on their day jobs. He is a social worker and owner of a housing program for the mentally ill; she is an occupational therapist and director of a similar housing program. Taler said that we give our brains to the day jobs while giving their hearts to Amit Clubhouse.
In addition to the Monday evening reception, Taler and Schuster met with people at the Helen Bader Foundation and Foley & Larder law firm to learn about funding sources and transitional employment programs.
And they spent a good part of their three days here at the GAC. We have to know; how do we tell [prospective members] what a clubhouse is how do you start with them? Taler said.
We have been talking to members about how they grow and how they feel and their dreams, and it is a lot for us. We are only at the beginning and we need to know where we are going, he added.
Forman said she invited Taler and Schuster to come to Milwaukee next year and every coming year in May. First comes Yom HaAtzmaut and then a trip to Milwaukee, she said.