MANCHESTER, NH — At 24 years old, Kaylin Samia already has a master’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of New Hampshire. She began working for Manchester Pathways in February of 2020 when started as an intern; she has since been hired on as a staff generalist. While at Manchester Pathways Clubhouse, she works with people who are disabled, and with those who are looking at trying to get back to work.
The Pathways program does this with a work-ordered day organized into several different units. Among these are the kitchen unit, the outreach unit, and the employment unit. Every Thursday a volunteer mental health professional comes to offer advice to those who are interested. At other times, an acupuncturist comes to put needles or seeds in the ears of participants as a means of relieving stress.
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Manchester Pathways Clubhouse has been closed, as have many other non-profit services. However, unlike some others who have closed down entirely, Pathways has instead moved its services online. Rather than having members come in every Tuesday and Thursday, now members can come in, they can join Zoom meetings which take place twice a day on the weekdays – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Members from the Seacoast Pathways Clubhouse location join in as well. Samia is most often there, sometimes helping to run the meetings; sometimes she is working on outreach to other members outside of the usual meeting times.
“The purpose of the Zoom meeting is to stay connected with our clubhouse community during these unfortunate times,” Samia said. “This is to help members feel supported and connected to their safe and welcoming community. We offer a variety of meetings to meet different needs whether that be coping groups, fun leisure activities, or be involved in clubhouse work units to sustain productivity.”
She remains positive about the meetings. She, along with other staff members, check-in with members regularly. One such meeting encouraged members to share their collection with one another. A member had an extensive Pez collection which, in Samia’s words, were “Wild and super fun to look at.”
The meetings were a challenge to set up at first. Assistance was needed to get the meetings going on a regular basis. A new invite code for Zoom is needed for each new meeting. The links are posted on a Google Docs spreadsheet, which is pinned at the top of the Pathways Facebook group.
Most members of the Pathways staff are still getting paid as per usual, with the exception of two volunteers, Hillary and Rob, who have been contributing a great deal of unpaid labor for the benefit of the members. While Kaylin tentatively expects the online meetings to continue while the shutdown lasts, they expect some digital aspects of their program may continue afterward, regardless.
Gina Pike is a member of Seacoast Pathways who joined the organization while recovering from a brain injury. She attends the meetings regularly, especially now that her personal situation is getting easier to manage along with the needs of her family.
While in the meetings, her experience is similar to that of the Seacoast clubhouse in Portsmouth. The morning meetings generally start with a group discussion, after which people break off into groups.
Although she enjoys her experience thus far, she would prefer to go back to experiencing the clubhouse in person. Her boyfriend went there, but declines to participate in the Zoom meetings due to his privacy concerns. Pike describes the meetings as being crucial to her recovery as they keep her focused on her personal goals each day.
“After the stay-at-home rolled out, I felt depressed, anxious, and tired,” Pike said. “I felt lost emotionally and mentally. After Seacoast Pathways rolled out the virtual clubhouse, the tools I had all this time came back. I realized I still have a place to belong even in these uncertain times.”
She concludes by saying that everyone has been nice to her. She’s had the most connection with the people of the Pathways program since she went to the Krempels Center for her brain injury.
The dedication of both staff and members to the program cannot be overstated. There is an unfailing devotion on both sides, together with an ineluctable, infectious enthusiasm present at every meeting. Everyone is committed to the process, for everyone benefits by engaging with it.