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New drop-in center supports adults with mental illness

Isolation can be a problem for adults diagnosed with mental illness. An informal drop-in center, dubbed "The Cottage," now offers a sorely needed place of solace and companionship. "It's a comfortable place to sit. You feel more at home," says Pa...

Members say they relish the homey atmosphere and meaningful friendships they're forming at The Cottage. Spike Wellman (back) is director of the facility. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)
Members say they relish the homey atmosphere and meaningful friendships they're forming at The Cottage. Spike Wellman (back) is director of the facility. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

Isolation can be a problem for adults diagnosed with mental illness.

An informal drop-in center, dubbed "The Cottage," now offers a sorely needed place of solace and companionship.

"It's a comfortable place to sit. You feel more at home," says Paul, a Cottage member. "You probably don't feel quite as bad when you're in here, talking to each other."

There is no admission charge and activities are member-driven.

In addition to building long-term relationships and improving their quality of life, members hope to eliminate the stigma of mental illness within the Park Rapids community.

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Lake Country Associates purchased the home in April, intending to convert it into an office for its community-based staff.

The Cottage quickly morphed into a cozy, part-time community center. It is open to adults with Serious and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI). Membership is free of charge, but adults are required to bring a recent diagnostic assessment and fill out a short intake packet.

"We want it to be as open as possible with the least amount of paperwork as possible," co-owner Shawn Anderson said.

Alterations were made to make the space handicapped accessible.

Cottage members and staff have chipped in various ways: sanding and staining a picnic table, clearing grape vines, splitting ferns and other perennials around the yard. Tomato plants flourish on the back porch. Art projects dangle in the center's nooks and crannies.

"It's kind of slowly developed into a place that we want people to be comfortable here and provide opportunities. The folks that come determine the activities - gardening, art," explained Spike Wellman, Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) treatment director.

Recently, members held a garage sale to raise funds for pottery classes, art materials, trips to Itasca State Park, berry picking, fishing, mini golf, cookouts and other social outings.

"We're trying to be self-sustaining and not rely on large funds from the state, although Hubbard County Social Services is collaborating with us," Wellman said.

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Cottage staff help members obtain employment (paid or volunteer), education and housing.

Members use art classes to manage anxiety and stress. Hubbard County's University of Minnesota Extension office co-facilitates a nutrition class with a CHI St. Joseph's Health dietician.

Wellman welcomes additional community partnerships at The Cottage.

"We're all about people being able to gain their independence and not feel uncomfortable in the community as opposed to being isolated in their home," Wellman said.

The clubhouse atmosphere is intentional - and restorative. The center "provides psycho-social rehabilitation based on the philosophy found in the clubhouse model," explains Anderson. This evidence-based practice focuses on creating daily structure, consensus-based decision making, recreation and a community of people trying to achieve a common goal.

Anderson worked at Vail Place in Minneapolis - Minnesota's flagship clubhouse-style community support program - for a few years after college.

"So their vision and philosophy has been ingrained in everything I do," Anderson said. "We've taken the spirit of it and applied it to what we're able to do here. The spirit of it is really about building meaningful relationships, working together to help each other. We do as many social activities as we can."

"I think this is what we've lacked in this area," said Sandy, another Cottage member. "I think this is our God-send."

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"It allows someone to be vocal by coming here and knowing they're not going to be criticized or put down because they have certain issues. You want to create a self-efficiency where people can come in freely and talk because where else in the community can you do that? You can't gather at the local coffee shop," says Tom. "It's where you're empowering yourself and others to life a normal life as much as possible."

Tom also sits on the Hubbard County Local Advisory on Mental Health.

"Just because you have a mental illness, doesn't mean you're crazy," he said. "'Crazy' comes in different forms. You know, we're all crazy at one point."

Wintertime is a particularly difficult time for those with mental health issues.

"I think one of the most beneficial things we're going to see about The Cottage that we haven't seen yet is in the winter, when things get drab and dreary and mental health starts falling, typically, with most people," said Sandy. "I've run into the situation where my mental health is down, but not down far enough that I need hospitalization. It's on the downslope, and I could use more help. There hasn't been anything in between. Now we have The Cottage."

Peer support specialists are available at The Cottage to work alongside ARMHS workers or therapists "to boost our mental health," she said, rather than forcing hospitalization.

"In the winter is worst for me. During summer, I'm here, there and everywhere. During the winter, there's a lull and the walls are starting to come in," agrees Dawn.

Within a few times of meeting each other, Dawn found that she and other members began to tease and joke.

"We can come here. We can play games. We can have coffee and sit outside," she said.

"You walk in and it feels so comfortable. You can kick back."

"After talking about his for so many years, it was really refreshing to start," Anderson said of The Cottage. "We're on a shoestring budget, but I think it's important enough for the community."

Located at 516 West First St., adjacent to Casey's on Hwy. 34, The Cottage is open Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays noon to 4 p.m., and Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Related Topics: PARK RAPIDS
Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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