Nov. 13, 2008 Fewer than 100 yards from the bustle of Main Street, in a walled garden on Frenchman's Hill, a quiet and joyful party Thursday celebrated achievements at the Clear Blue Sky Clubhouse.
Clear Blue Sky is a day program for people who suffer from mental illnesses, but the program does not let their disabilities keep them from being productive members of the community. Rather, it encourages them to be contributors.
Welcoming the audience to the clubhouse, director and founder Arlene Monaghan explained that the clubhouse doesn't focus on a member's illness. Instead it looks at what that person can do.
Speaking about the importance of being needed and being valued in a community, she explained that the clubhouse members, who have a work-ordered day, all have jobs that need performing.
"If it is your job to sweep that day and you don't show up, then the sweeping doesn't get done," Monaghan said.
The annual open house, held in the clubhouse's spotless, weedless and well-tended garden, celebrated the achievements of the members with awards for member of the month and for clubhouse volunteers.
This month's member of the month was Patrick Charles, who was also featured in the clubhouse's newsletter.
Volunteers who received awards included Algernon Allen, Annette Nibbs, Eunice Summer, Anne Nayer, Adina Romney and Ausselita deFreitas.
The program also showcased some of the clubhouse's considerable talent, with a one-act play, written and performed by Patricia Blake, a fashion show and musical performances.
Member-models from the clubhouse cat-walked for the audience in a fashion show of outfits from what they called "Salvation" couture and the clubhouse's own thrift shop. The show was narrated by member Celma George and set to music by volunteer Algernon Allen. The chorus performed several selections including "Blue Skies" and "When You Are Smiling."
Elroy George performed "High Hopes," backed up by the clubhouse chorus. Mr. George walks with a cane, but has loads of stage presence and undeniable showmanship, not to mention a great voice. Mr. George has been a clubhouse member for two years.
Mr. George said that his illness began when he was in college. Now 55, he said that during his illness, he had been very lonely and was without friends. He told how symptoms of the illness contributed to losing his job and not being able to get along with people.
"I picked up smoking," Mr. George said, holding a cigarette. "I almost became homeless. Some police officers gave me a break and Mrs. Monaghan came. I am grateful, very grateful."
Monaghan said that mental-illness caregivers get tired and sometimes give up on the person they are trying to help. It then becomes hard to convince people with mental illness that the program is never going to give up on them.
"It is hard for them to believe that (you won't give up on them) when they have been thwarted so often. Then they are going to test you and see if it is real," Monaghan said. "The door is always open."
Monaghan spoke about the importance of developing a mental health care system in the Virgin Islands. She pointed to the lack of infrastructure for providing work for members when they can do it and when they need it.
She also noted the need for care for people with mental illness, when sickness exacerbates their syndromes to the point where police, who are not trained to work with people with mental illness, become involved.
"We need a working system," Monaghan said.
Clear Blue Sky received $50,000 this past summer from the V.I. government for administering community mental health programs, purchasing medical supplies and materials and facilities maintenance. The grant was a part of a $100,000 package approved by the legislature and the government.
I am acutely aware of the challenges facing the Virgin Islands in the area of mental health care, and my approval of this measure represents a step, albeit a small one, towards beginning to address this concern," Gov. John P. deJongh Jr. said at the signing of the bill authorizing the funding. "If additional funds come available through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2008, the government may be able to allot additional monies in the future."
Monaghan's program provides some of the needed infrastructure to community members who have mental illness, but she wishes they could do more.
"Right now, we really need a bus," Monaghan said. "There are members who could come more regularly if they had a ride."
In the absence of a bus, Monaghan hopes that volunteer drivers on St. Thomas will come to the aid of members who aren't ambulatory enough or live too far to walk to the clubhouse. Anyone who would like to offer a ride on a regular basis can call Monaghan at the clubhouse at 774-9668.
For more information on the clubhouse, visit the organization's website.
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