Clubhouse aims to increase job opportunities


TRAVERSE CITY — Brian Sloan cleans Right Brain Brewery like it’s his home — all 35,000 square feet of it.

TRAVERSE CITY — Brian Sloan cleans Right Brain Brewery like it’s his home — all 35,000 square feet of it.

He tackles it one chunk at a time in a methodical way that makes sure no spot gets missed, he said.

“I clean it like it’s my own place,” said Sloan, 42.

“I don’t think people understand the stigma of mental illness, that they don’t have to feel afraid,” Sloan said.

His boss, Russell Springsteen, said that Sloan brings both a sense of hard work and caring to the job, and is an important part of their workplace family.

“He has blossomed here,” Springsteen said. “He’s so reliable and dependable — it’s hard enough to get that out of any employee, let alone people with a stigma.”

Right Brain Brewery began providing a transitional workplace for people to develop job skills and employment history through the Clubhouse about eight years ago. Springsteen received an award last month at the State Capitol building recognizing his commitment to the program by providing job opportunities and fundraising.

“It’s more important than any brewery award we’ve ever won,” Springsteen said. “The greatest resource in our community is the people.”

It’s especially important for those who feel isolated by mental illness — many of the clubhouse’s 74 members have bipolar and anxiety disorders or schizophrenia — to remain connected to their community, said Peter Gembarowski, Traverse House director.

“Everyone needs to feel like their life has meaning and a reason to wake up in the morning,” Gembarowski said.

Traverse House Clubhouse provides transitional, supported and independent job opportunities, with staff often taking a side-by-side approach with the membership. Staff train alongside the members to provide both back-up and support for the employer and employee, guaranteeing the job gets done, no matter what.

Transitional — or short-term — jobs afford members the chance to accrue different skills and develop employment references. Employees can move to a “supported” job state, where staff are on-call or beyond, to a completely independent job. Others work within the Clubhouse itself, running the cafe, keeping the books and maintaining the Traverse City space. Members — all Medicaid-qualified by their conditions — also do outings and activities together, Gembarowski said.

“The big thing is to build relationships, and have a place to come and share experiences. It’s building confidence, getting out of the house and back to it,” Gembarowski said.

Sloan has moved to a more permanent position at the brewery and said he couldn’t be happier working among creative types who often share his appreciation for music and art.

“If you’re working, you’re successful. Someone told me that once and it stuck with me,” Sloan said.

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