The calming and productive environment of Granite Pathways clubhouse

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At 60 Rogers Street in Manchester, the Granite Pathways clubhouse for adults sits on the second floor of an oddly-shaped building full of sharp edges. A person can approach on foot from the intersection of Lincoln and Valley streets to pass the police station and the city’s water treatment plant. The building is on the right side of Hayward Street near a road barrier that prevents through traffic disrupting plant operations. They are open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30  a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Up a single flight of stairs, the clubhouse can be found behind a large white door. Once inside, an expansive area opens up to a front desk, a computer room, a series of tables, a kitchenette unit, and two refrigerators. Almost immediately upon entering, a new person will be greeted with smiles by any number of friendly female staff. During lunchtime, an aroma of delicious, often improvised, food wafts through the air. Convivial conversation is almost always occurring at any time of the day.

The term “clubhouse” was coined in 1948 when a group of men recently discharged from a mental health facility in New York decided to help each other get back on their feet and integrate into society. When they proved effective at doing so, the men from New York decided to expand their model in a more organized way. Thus, the Pathways Clubhouse system was born.

With over 200 similar facilities all over the world and two in New Hampshire, Pathways seeks to help unemployed and underemployed people find the motivation to work and advance themselves once again. They do this by utilizing Dr. Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory. The theory, in a nutshell, states the more a person does any activity, the more competent they will become doing it . Practice not only makes perfect, it makes confidence as well.

Inside the Granite Pathways clubhouse on Rogers Street. Photo/Winter Trabex

The basis of Granite Pathways is to improve each person’s mental health, first and foremost, by having each member leave their diagnosis at the door. No matter what struggles a person may have had before coming in, once they come in, they are treated like any other person as though nothing was wrong with them to begin with. Members must be clean and dry; sobriety is required for anyone who participates. The staff act as recovery coaches to support individual well-being.

Ann Strachan, the Mental Health Director for Granite Pathways, explains that the clubhouse’s ultimate goal is to help people with co-occurring disorders achieve the best quality of life possible. She was there to start a clubhouse in Portsmouth in 2014; she’s held her current position since 2016. She comes across as an intelligent, resourceful, and capable woman. When she arrives at the Manchester clubhouse, her indefatigable presence provides enrichment and edification to all who come into contact with her.

The Manchester clubhouse previously operated out of Brookside Congregational Church at 2013 Elm Street for a period of five years. At the end of five years, they could not secure funding to move to a new location despite serving 275 people at one time. Until May of 2019, a clubhouse in Manchester did not exist. Granite Pathways, a subsidiary of Fedcap, was able to open in Manchester once more under as part of the $45 million State Opioid Response Grant, and they administer the Doorways in Manchester and Nashua.

The clubhouse in Portsmouth intends to apply for accreditation in 2020, which will allow them to bill Medicaid for services rendered. If they are approved, members will be able to fill out papers describing which activities they participated in and which they didn’t. Every activity is voluntary. Membership is free.

Not fancy but functional. The Granite Pathways Clubhouse in Manchester. Photo/Winter Trabex

Activities are divided into work units. Members volunteer to perform various duties through the day. These include: making lunch, working at the reception desk, cleaning (which is colloquially called germ warfare), running meetings, and working on their computer skills. In the afternoon, an acupuncturist will sometimes come to provide ear acupuncture. This is has been clinically proven to relieve anxiety.

The clubhouse also provides free wi-fi as well as help with employment services. People with co-occurring disorders often live on low income through Social Security, or no income at all. Helping members get back to work is intended to facilitate personal independence and autonomy.

Each month, a meeting is held in the clubhouse to determine how everything is done. During this time, specific issues can be brought up for consideration. Members are encouraged to participate. Decisions are made by consensus. Each member’s ideas are taken into account. Policies are shaped by what people want and don’t want. These are often what to serve for lunch, what snacks to stock, what events might be of interest.

Taken as a whole, the Granite Pathways clubhouse is a safe, nurturing environment in which people can become their best selves. Members who come in are well-fed. Their voices are heard, their concerns addressed. They aren’t treated as people with disabilities or illnesses. For a short time twice a week, they’re just people. There is, it turns out, emotional abundance to be found in routine simplicity.

Winter Trabex is a freelance writer from Manchester.