Given how the word “community” sums up the feeling at downtown community centre Progress Place, it’s only fitting the term was selected as a focal point for the centre’s new graffiti wall.
Progress Place is a “clubhouse” for people battling mental illness, providing social opportunities, education and employment support, fitness and nutrition, a cafeteria, housing and more. With more than 800 members, the clubhouse is typically bustling with men and women from all walks of life.
“Community was really fitting, because for our members, this really is their community,” said Progress Place president and CEO Criss Habal-Brosek. “The whole emphasis is on rebuilding a community of people, giving them opportunities to return to school or work, make friends and have a network of people they can rely on.”
For people with complex mental health issues, some of whom have been hospitalized, that sense of community is as good as gold. Often, they lose friends and can even lose touch with family members, and the people they meet at Progress Place become their new social circle.
“I was pretty much a shut-in,” said Progress Place member Howard Huang. “I’d never worked a day in my life, but (Progress Place) encouraged me to take that leap.”
Through Progress Place’s transitional employment (TE) program, which sees members earn placements at various companies, Huang managed to start building a resume while ensuring he felt comfortable in a workplace setting.
“The sense of community with co-workers versus friends is very different,” he said. “Getting out there was a lot better than I expected. I didn’t feel like a worker ant, I felt valued as part of a team.”
To help members on their path to stable employment, Progress Place also has a boutique with new clothing and accessories available for nominal prices, starting at a nickel.
“When I did my first TE, I didn’t have anything that was business casual, so I came here and I was able to buy a whole outfit – shoes, belt, shirt, pants – for under $20,” Huang said.
Habal-Brosek noted that, in asking for a small fee for the items, it helps to foster a sense of pride in members.
Those who are not ready to return to work are given a sense of purpose at Progress Place. There are no paid staff working at the cafeteria or cleaning the building. Instead, clubhouse members all pitch in by taking on daily tasks, from cleaning bathrooms to preparing meals to doing intake for new members.
“People here are counting on each other, and everyone feels a sense of belonging; they feel needed and wanted,” Habal-Brosek said.
Progress Place is open 365 days a year, ensuring that sense of community and belonging is always there, and members can enjoy everything from movie nights to visual media work to DJing to quiet study.
“Education is important here and there’s an education room where people can come and study,” Huang said. “There’s guidance for how to apply to post-secondary education and getting grants, and they even support people on campus.”
Following an unveiling of the new “community” mural, clubhouse members Sara and David – who asked that their last names not be used – said it adds some much-needed flair to a communal meeting room in the Progress Place basement.
“You look at it and you feel like it really represents the clubhouse,” David said. “Before, (the room) was a bit utilitarian.”
Sara said she enjoyed learning the art of graffiti, as the team was led by a volunteer from the Toronto-based charitable organization Unity.
“(The volunteer) led us through it and showed us the importance of flow,” she said. “It looks really professional.”
For more information on Progress Place and the services it provides, including how to become a member, visit www.progressplace.org