Ann Arbor organization serving those with mental illness creates independent nonprofit

Fresh Start Clubhouse, an Ann Arbor-based organization that provides education, employment, housing, and wellness programs for Washtenaw County residents living with mental illness, is looking for people to join its board of directors.

 

"It's an opportunity to join a group of people who are sincerely committed to changing and improving the lives of others," says Clubhouse director Summer Berman. "It's also a chance to get involved in the governance of the Clubhouse and help build the myriad components of our business."

 

The organization has been serving Washtenaw County for 20 years, operating for much of that time from 2051 S. State St. in Ann Arbor. This year the organization is spinning off to operate as an independent 501(c)(3) after its former parent agency, Touchstone Services, temporarily laid off all Fresh Start Clubhouse employees except Berman and ended its contract with Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Berman explains that the organization incorporated in December, but has struck an agreement to be temporarily operated by WCCMH while it transitions. While the new incarnation has the benefit of being able to expand the Clubhouse's service population, the change also resulted in the loss of the organization's office space. A new brick-and-mortar location may be secured in the future, but the Clubhouse is operating virtually for now.

 

"We're currently working on finalizing our by-laws, and at that point we'll apply to the IRS for tax-exempt status," Berman explains. "We're expecting a busy next six months and need some good people to help us build and plan."

 

Berman says the organization is particularly looking for people with skills in financing, marketing, housing, and the criminal justice system. She stresses that potential applicants needn't have a background in mental health. They should, however, have a strong interest in the subject and in community growth. This is especially important given that one of the organization's top goals in the near future will be to build employment partnerships.

 

"All of our transitional employment placements closed down due to COVID," Berman says. "So once we have more staff support we'll be angling towards building relationships with local employers to help get people to work."

 

The Clubhouse is also strongly encouraging people of color and other marginalized identities to apply. Berman says the goal is to have a diverse and inclusive board that is reflective of the population Fresh Start Clubhouse serves.

 

"We really want people from all kinds of backgrounds to come to the table to help us get off the ground, because it is going to take a village," she says.

 

Anyone interested in the program is invited to attend a monthly Zoom meeting for more information. For details email events@freshstartclubhouse.org

 

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Fresh Start Clubhouse.