BANGOR, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage, Penobscot County health care officials and individuals undergoing treatment for mental illness on Friday celebrated the opening of a new facility that will help mentally ill Bangor area residents find work and transition to employment.
The Unlimited Solutions Clubhouse, part of Penobscot Community Health Care, held its ceremonial opening Monday, about two weeks after it opened its doors to members. LePage has been a supporter of similar facilities in Waterville, Augusta and Lewiston-Auburn.
“It’s a win-win,” the governor said during Friday’s event. “It’s a win for the community, it’s a win for the employer and it’s certainly a win for the members who have jobs.”
In 1997, LePage, who was general manager of Marden’s, joined the advisory board of High Hopes Clubhouse in Waterville. The next year, he offered to have Marden’s become High Hope’s first transitional employment site, giving jobs to mentally ill club members.
Since then, 53 club members have worked at Marden’s.
“I will tell you this about Clubhouse, it is inspiring to me to have participated,” LePage said. “It is just one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”
Since opening its doors in mid-October, the Bangor Clubhouse on Summer Street already has attracted 30 members, according to Carrie Lemos, Clubhouse executive director. Another 32 people have expressed interest in joining in the near future.
Robert “J.R.” West, a Hope House resident, said he joined the club two Mondays ago in order to keep active. On Friday, he led LePage on a tour of the facility while his fellow club members showed other visitors around.
“It’s something to do instead of sitting at home,” West said, adding that the Clubhouse has put him to work answering phones, attending meetings, making lunches and cleaning up.
Clubhouse member Garry Duncan of Corinth said he makes the trip to Bangor two or three times per week to help out at the Clubhouse.
“I’m actually coming to work, in a sense,” he said, adding that he waited anxiously for about a year for the facility to open. Duncan, who said he has a bachelor’s degree in French, said he would like to end up with a job doing research behind the scenes for a law firm or university department.
LePage said members who have worked at Marden’s in the past made the store a better place for employees and managers.
“They inspire the entire workforce; that’s the beauty of the clubhouse model,” the governor said. “They come in, their attitude is superb, their work ethic is second to none.”
Trip Gardner, chief psychiatric officer for Penobscot Community Health Care, said he visited his first Clubhouse while he was in medical school in North Carolina.
“I learned my most important lesson in medical school,” Gardner said. “I learned that people are people.”
During his remarks, Gardner talked about how important it is for every person to have purpose and meaning in life. He quoted English poet Joseph Addison, who wrote, “Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”
“Work defines who we are in the community as people,” said Lisa Soucie, director of High Hopes Clubhouse. “Every Clubhouse member deserves that opportunity to work in their community.”