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When one Clubhouse closes, another opens
Community Corner Clubhouse, which helped those with mental illness find connection and help, closed last year; its former director is ready to launch a new version, sooner than you think
Sometimes a service is so important to a community it seems like a no-brainer to keep it around.
That seemed to be the general consensus when North Central Health Care announced it would be closing the Community Corner Clubhouse, a popular destination for folks with mental health concerns. Left and right-wing politicians locally said there needs to be a way to save the clubhouse.
This reporter spoke to several of those members. It’s clear that Clubhouse served a very important need in the community — one that couldn’t be replaced by shuffling its members off to different programs with ancillary similarities.
One young man with anxiety issues told me clubhouse was the first place to get him out of the house after living in isolation for years. And even then, it took months of coming to Clubhouse, with its supportive work staff and other folks in similar mental health concerns, to bring him out of his shell, so to speak.
One needed to actually go to the building and speak with its residents to understand why it mattered to those people beyond the sum if its parts. NCHC said it needed to close the clubhouse as it shored up its faltering finances (which The Wausonian broke news of in the wake of COVID). And though many county board members of both sides of the increasingly wide political divide in local politics voiced support for the clubhouse, last October it closed.
But Mike Frankel never gave up. While the headlines about Clubhouse disappeared, Clubhouse’s director didn’t. He has been working on a new project, Granite House, building support for the program and figuring out how to make it work as an independent non-profit. He’s been keeping his former clubhouse members informed as they await the opening of the next version.
Remarkably, the wait might be nearing an end. If all goes according to plan, Frankel says Granite House could open as early as April 1 - a fitting day because that’s the day the original Community Corner Clubhouse opened.
This is the story about what happened in between; after clubhouse closed and right as the new version is slated to open.
Remarkably, it all started a bar in Edgar.
A new vision
As Frankel tells it, one night after Clubhouse has been closed he and his wife went down to Cassel Bar in Edgar to have a fish fry and drink. Also at the bar was Dr. Chad MacMillan and his wife Christina, the owners of Arbor Mental Health Center. Frankel told them all about his plans for a new private entity to replace the services lost when Clubhouse closed.
MacMillan listened with interest.
By the next day MacMillan invited Frankel over to his house. He could see Frankel’s passion, he said, and the MacMillans wanted to do everything they could to help.
That got the ball rolling. Frankel registered Granite House shortly thereafter.
North Central Health Care held on to some donated funds that Clubhouse had received; if Frankel ever started a new version of Clubhouse, that money was available. Before Clubhouse’s closure, it held a fundraiser at Pizza Ranch and another fundraiser called Evening of Jazz.
Mort McBain, who had been the interim director of North Central Health Care prior to Gary Olsen taking the role, said they could hold the funds for 12 months. So time is of the essence.
And, many of the foundations have expressed interest in the project. Getting the non-profit status is key to getting those foundations on board.
A new home
Frankel started working with realtor Karen Hocking to find a space. That’s when they discovered the former Knights of Columbus property on First Avenue. It’s located on a bus line, it’s centrally located and has a kitchen. It’s everything the Clubhouse needs.
No decision has been made on the property, Frankel says. It does need a lot of work.
And that relocation could happen soon. Frankel says Clubhouse originally opened on April 1, 1996; “What would it look like if we could open on April 1, 2023?” Frankel asks rhetorically. It’s ambitious, Frankel says, and it might not happen by that date.
A member of Clubhouse is working on securing donations from area businesses. Frankel is working with the city’s entrepreneurial center to develop a business plan. And they’re working on doing some of the minor repairs to the place, or finding folks who can help.
Frankel says he’s received a ton of support from the community. Mayor Katie Rosenberg has been particularly helpful, he says.
Rosenberg told The Wausonian that securing mental health services for everyone who needed them in the county was one of her driving missions. “I am so excited and optimistic about the work Mike and his group are doing to continue building this supportive community in Wausau,” Rosenberg says.
Rosenberg told The Wausonian that she considers Clubhouse — and now Granite House — to be part of the area’s mental health ecosystem. “This is a special community,” Rosenberg says. “There is a lot of independence in how members use the services – they can get referrals from skilled staff for other programs or they can show up for camaraderie or anywhere in between.”
Marathon County Board Member Ron Covelli set up a listening session for Clubhouse the summer before its closure on Oct. 17. Covelli has stayed in touch with the project and continues to support the new version of Clubhouse.
Covelli said he was compelled by what he learned from the listening session.
What we found during that session was that there are many of our community neighbors that struggle with mental issues including suicide, depression and just being able to fit in with our community. The members poured out their hearts to us about how disappointed they were to hear of the closing. These are members that are not necessarily able to speak in public, but are very passionate about the Clubhouse and what it provided and that passion poured out in rivers to us that day.
Besides being a place for those with mental health issues to feel welcome and supported, members can learn real skills there including “nutrition, how to cook, computer skills and how to keep a checkbook and do finances” Covelli says.
So Covelli is very supportive of the efforts to relaunch Granite House. “After personally knowing a young man that passed away due to suicide, and the struggles that he went through, it is important to me that this place succeeds for the long haul.”
Frankel worries about his members without Clubhouse. That’s why he wants to get Granite House open as soon as possible. Frankel right now is working in human resources at Kolbe and Kolbe, and getting the new clubhouse up and running is his passion project.
He created a Facebook group to stay in contact with clubhouse members. They are anxious for the new place to open. Some members are going to the Marathon County Literacy Council, which opened their doors to some members in order to help. Others, Frankel says, are just sitting and waiting to see what is next.
“There are a chunk of our members, I don’t know what they’re doing right now.”
Frankel hopes that many of them learned enough skills while at the former clubhouse to maintain until the new clubhouse opens. April 1 is ambitious. He’s not even 100% sure the former Knights of Columbus building will work.
But he knows the sooner he can get the new version of Clubhouse open, the better.
Want to help? Frankel says anyone interested in helping, either by donating or by volunteering, should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.