A Place to Belong provides an outlet for people with serious and persistent mental illness to socialize and develop relationship and problem solving skills.
Earlier this year, A Place to Belong started offering services in Perham, and is actively looking for a permanent clubhouse.
Executive Director Sue Wilken said Perham is the perfect place to reach people on the east side of Otter Tail County.
“Why not Perham?” Wilken said in a phone interview last week. “The obvious town is the one moving forward and growing.”
Providing a haven
When Wilken started at A Place to Belong 10 years ago, the club didn’t do any advertising or promotion.
“We were a little part of the world for people with serious mental illness,” Wilken said. “This was their haven, they wanted to be unseen.”
Now club and staff members frequently engage with the public by attending rallies, workshops and performing community service, but the club’s ultimate goal is to help people succeed.
“No matter what you do, mental illness shows its ugly head,” Wilken said. “Recovery means they got out of their house, they have new friends, they’re managing their medications.”
Wilken says A Place to Belong affects the entire community, not just its individual members.
“Even if 20% is languishing, because they’re so isolated and lonely, by providing them a place and sense of belonging, we’re encouraging civic involvement and helping the whole community get healthier,” she said.
Since starting in Perham eight months ago, A Place to Belong has 18 total members that meet weekly at the Perham Sportsman’s Clubhouse.
Roxann Marcus, activities director for the Perham club, says she’s praying for a homebase in Perham.
Marcus says a permanent home in Perham would make it easier to draw in new members, while taking a weight of stress off her.
Marcus is quick to point out a permanent location would also help to reduce the stigma of mental health.
“It’s about getting the community to understand it’s not mental disease,” she said. “We’re all in recovery, and are all being treated for one thing or another.”
A Place to Belong frequently brings club members on field trips and other outings. Each year, a camping program culminates with a group trip to Cass Lake.
On these trips, members learn survival skills, and how to work together to achieve a goal.
Wilken said these trips improve member’s mental health by allowing them to enjoy the healing elements of nature.
On Monday afternoon, club members from Perham and Detroit Lakes were treated to a fishing trip on Detroit Lake provided by Let’s Go Fishing.
Throughout the afternoon, members gave each other advice and worked together to catch dozens of fish.
Wearing an American flag life jacket and sitting on the front of the pontoon boat, club member Sheila Hanson says she finds help at A Place to Belong.
Club member Peggy Osterman agrees.
“I would just isolate,” Osterman said. “We do events we would never be able to do ourselves.”
Wilken said she frequently asks members where they would be without the club, and they often respond it’s the reason they get out of bed.
One man told Wilken he was so suicidal he would have succeeded if it weren’t for A Place to Belong.
It’s no wonder Wilken says she believes in what the club does.
“Some days you go home and think that was a hard day, other times it’s about progress, really making a difference,” Wilken said. “Satisfaction is something you can’t put a finger on.”
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