Friendship House gives hope to mentally ill

Friendship House honored 19 Kaua’i employers, the Social Security Administration and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Thursday night with their fourth annual awards dinner at Kauai Marriott Resort.

Friendship House is a clubhouse-modeled program for adults with serious mental illnesses – most of their 68 active members are diagnosed with schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

The clubhouse concept is used statewide and across the country. There are five other Friendship House-type programs in Hawai’i, four on O’ahu and one on the Big Island, which belong to the Hawaii Clubhouse Coalition.

“We help them achieve their goals, whether it’s getting back into the workforce, going back to school, or living independently,” said Iris Ijima, interim director. Jack Yatsko, the immediate past director of Friendship House, is now the training director with the International Center for Clubhouse Development.

The mission of Friendship House and others in the ICCD is that clubhouses offer respect, hope, mutuality and opportunity to access the friendship, housing, education and employment as the rest of society.

Custodial and landscaping positions are easy to come by, but clerical jobs or positions in food preparation and the hotel industry are harder for members to get.

“It’s a struggle – I don’t know what it is: Because of the economy, the stigma, or people not following up…” Ijima said.

People seem to think that people with schizophrenia are crazy, they don’t know what they’re doing, Ijima said. Part of the problem is that people don’t know the difference between people who are developmentally disabled and people with a mental illness, Ijima added. The two are not the same.

“One of our members is so wonderful at computer and organizational skills – if she left, the office would fall apart. She is the backbone of our office and truly an important piece of Friendship House,” Ijima said.

Friendship House has been open since August 1988, originally located was across Kojima’s in Kapa’a Town, but they moved in 1998 to a new facility next to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses near Kealia has a greenhouse built by volunteers and members.

Not just the location, but the services have expanded, too. Friendship House is in the third week of its General Education Diploma program, led by volunteer Dana Lagmay from the Department of Education’s adult education division.

“One of the members was telling me, ‘this gives me something to shoot for,'” Ijima said of the GED program.

The job program in July reached its goal of having 50 percent of active daily members gainfully employed.

For a lot of the members, Ijima said, mental illness strikes in the late teens or early adulthood years, putting their lives at a standstill.

With the transitional employment program, eight employers have partnered with Friendship House to offer entry-level jobs to members.

A Friendship House staffer will work at the job to develop a job description, see if its OK with the employer and post it at Friendship House. The only requirement is that the member has a desire to work. Dave Jordan, vocational coordinator, gets interviews and makes presentations to prospective Friendship House employers.

Friendship House’s role is to offer ongoing support with weekly site visits, and if for any reason the member can’t go to work, a staff member will cover it at no cost to the employer. After 6-9 months, the Friendship House member can apply for another position in the company and allow another member to take their job, or apply for new job.

The younger members come to Friendship House because they want to work, the older ones use it as an outlet, Ijima said.

“Our focus is on people’s skills and talents rather than the symptoms of the illnesses,” she said.

All referrals for Friendship House come through the Kauai Community Mental Health Center and from referrals to the center from private practitioners. Ijima said.

For more information, please call Friendship House at 821-4480.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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