By Jim Charles (a member of the Seattle Clubhouse)

     I anticipated the trip to Norway. What would it be like to tread my feet on foreign soil? I planned all aspects of the trip and packed my bags of belongings. I left Seattle on a long flight to Norway with more than a few questions. Keeping close tabs on sleep and medications, I pressed forward toward the unknown Norwegian country. What would Norway be like? Would the people be friendly? Where would I get electrical adapters for my phone to plug into and for my camera battery to recharge? Soon the long trip was over and I was in Norway! Where had all the first day on this trip gone? I was in another day and many time zones away from familiar places.

     The very first night in Norway left me isolated and weary. I had left all the Bellevue group of fellow travelers without knowing their room numbers…but sleep was easy for me. I collapsed into my bed and slept soundly. I would tackle the isolation problem in the morning… Without my phone I didn’t know what time it was when I woke up and headed for the Lobby. I had left my phone at the front desk so that they could charge it for me. (I had no way to charge it because the electricity was different than back home). When I got my phone I saw that it was only 6:15 AM, and I made a startling discovery: the group from Bellevue was gathering together by the hotel’s front door. They told me that they were heading to Sweden for the day. I was surprised to hear that mostly because they had talked about Friday as a free day… I wished that I could have gone with them, but soon realized that I needed more sleep, so I went back to my room for a few more hours of sleep in my comfortable bed.

     When I woke up again I had two pressing issues to deal with: one needing adapters and secondly needing food for lunch. A lady at the front desk rescued me from both of them. She gave me a map of the town and marked on the map a place to eat. I found the restaurant and then the mall which had a store to buy adapters, all the time using the umbrella from my room on that rainy day. I succeeded in venturing out on my own and returning back to the hotel named, “Thon Hotel Arena.”

     As the seminars began I was ready to listen and watch stories of people’s lives that had been changed by simply finding a clubhouse near their homes. Individuals with severe mental illnesses and also many with suicidal tendencies spoke life into our own beings, bringing messages of hope and success to all in attendance. One Plenary topic caught my eye, “The restorative power of giving back: contributing your talents and strength to your clubhouse community.” This session included presentations from four clubhouses of the world including Norway, Florida, California and Canada.

     In an earlier plenary session, Kailey Fiedler-Gohlke, the CEO of Hero House Northwest, gave an electrifying power point presentation of the Hero clubhouses in Bellevue, Seattle, and Everett. The name of the plenary was, “New Clubhouse Development: International Clubhouse Community growth and Innovations.” In her speech, Kailey represented Washington’s clubhouses very well, talking about growth and development. Other speakers in this session were from Norway, and Estonia. Jack Yatsko from Clubhouse International was the moderator. Larry and I met Jack at breakfast one morning.

     Another topic was, “Mental Health: a Global Priority.” I attended a workshop, “Collaborating With Community Organizations, Auspice Agencies and Individuals to Influence Change and Grow the Clubhouse (standard #36),” presented by a Norway clubhouse and two Michigan clubhouses. One of the Michigan clubhouses was from Traverse City where I lived for a year, long ago. Jack Yatsko was the chair of this workshop. We were told that members have the ability to have full decision making power. Transitional employment (T.E.’s) were discussed. Members are encouraged to speak. Jack expounded about becoming a “Partner in the Community.”

     Two of my favorite workshops were 1st: “Recovery of the Whole Person: How Clubhouses Can Integrate Supporting Members’ Mental and Physical Health,” and 2nd: “Bringing New Creative Energy into Your Clubhouse Units.” In the first of my favorites we learned about physical activity and W.H.A.M. (Whole Health Action Management). Walking groups, running groups, other physical activities such as Yoga were discussed as well as Zumba (online videos), Healthy meals including salads, Health & Wellness dinners, recipes on Google… Questions: Are you (the member) connected to a primary care physician? Do you have concerns about your physical health/exercise regularly? If we had primary care /dental care/exercise groups would you use it? Statistics show evidence growing that “food insecurity” due to poverty and lack of access to nutritious food leads to increased risk for chronic disease and poor health outcomes. A large proportion of the city of Cleveland is considered a “food desert.” A clubhouse clinic was opened by the Magnolia clubhouse in Ohio so that they could meet members’ needs outside the clubhouse. See pics!

     My second most favorite workshop on Clubhouse creativity was presented by people from Denmark, Canada and Florida. The Food-N-Fun unit was a subject covered by a woman from Pathways Clubhouse in Canada where she mentioned having four entrees being offered. Collaboration (working side by side), Invite, Consistency & Variety, Hype – talking about lunch and socials, Making it Special – Creativity and Fun (including humor), was her main emphasis. Someone from Florida – Academy at Glengary, said there are no bad ideas and it’s okay to make mistakes. She showed a video called, “How NOT to” instead of a “How To” video. She also discussed an Idea Box and Brainstorming to tap into members’ creativity, and constantly re-evaluating their progress.

     The Seminar was a blur of stories, testimonials exemplifying the clubhouse model. It took great effort on my part to get to the 9 AM meetings, but it paid off and was a lot of fun. Two things stand out to me from the Thon Hotel Arena – the magnificent breakfasts and lunches, and the Gala dinner and dancing which was very fancy and scrumptious. Also, the people were very friendly and spoke English, so I didn’t have to work hard to learn their language. I’m a lazy American!  Away from the hotel were two exceptional trips: one to an Oslo Clubhouse and the other to Oslo’s famous Town Hall.