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Tucson at Its Best 

We profile six organizations (out of many) working hard to make Tucson the sort of place we want to live

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Our Place Clubhouse

The last time the Tucson Weekly talked to Mindy Bernstein, director of Our Place Clubhouse, the focus was a writing group that was meeting regularly with board member Sheila Wilensky. The group members dedicated hours every week to writing essays, poetry and other works for a chap book Wilensky received funding for through a grant. (See "More than Mental Illness," Nov. 29, 2012).

The project was inspired by a discussion that took place between Wilensky and a writing group member shortly after the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others at a Congress on Your Corner event. Referring to shooter Jared Loughner, they discussed how those with mental illness are portrayed after incidents like the shooting.

The goal of the chap book project was decided then: There is more to people with mental illnesses than the traits of their illness.

Next month, the project's goal will be achieved with the publication of A Certain Slant of Light: Emerging from the Shadows of Mental Illness, designed by Tucson designer Julie Ray. The signing and reception takes place from 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17, at Our Place Clubhouse, 66 E. Pennington St. There will also be another signing with Suzi Hileman, a Jan. 8 survivor at her annual Roll and Stroll event at Christina-Taylor Green Park on Saturday, Jan. 11. Hileman wrote the prologue for the book.

From a table at Café 54, part of Our Place Clubhouse downtown, Bernstein says the writing project is a bright spot and an example of the good that can happen in the recovery process for those with mental illness, or as Bernstein prefers to call it, brain diseases such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

"Recovery happens when our clients change their attitude about themselves in building self-esteem," she says. "The writing group has been more than just about a book. It's a huge recovery tool as the group has been collectively working. It's another example of what we do at the clubhouse."

Our Place, which receives most of its funding through the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, puts people to work doing what they can and want to do, either at the organization's thrift shop, its restaurant or in the clubhouse office. It also is involved in things like the writing group and getting people jobs with employers outside Our Place.

"We're looking for more offices in town who can hire our people—entry-level positions. We have people ready to work and it is an expectation at the clubhouse," she says.

"We expect you to get a job. Just because you have a mental illness doesn't mean you don't work."

Wilensky, a Tucson writer, editor and teacher, says the chap book is divided into five chapters with an introduction from her on the writers and their work, and from Bernstein on the clubhouse.

"This is about educating the public; that's the purpose of this book," Wilensky says.

"People with mental illness don't need to live and work in the shadows. We want to change that."

— Mari Herreras, mherreras@tucsonweekly.com

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