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Mental Health Professionals blog

Remarkable people help make Fairweather Lodge home

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Note: This story is the second in a two-part series about the Fairweather Lodge program, written by Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (PRS) interns Brooke Bateman and Laurel Geer from Gannon University's Occupational Therapy program. Stairways communications specialist Joseph Cuneo contributed to this story.

Kim Stucke has long held in high regard the value of home.

The esteem with which Stairways' Chief Development Officer holds has its roots in her early days at Stairways as a live-in residential aide.

“Back then, we were bringing people back home when they were being released from the state hospitals,” she said. “I’ve always had this sense of how important home is.”

She attributes that same sense as the reason for her deep involvement with Fairweather Lodge, a program that encourages individuals who have a mental illness to be active in their recovery through a peer-supported, community-based, housing and work environment.

Stucke's involvement with Fairweather Lodge dates back to the early 2000s, when she began working with former Stairways residential director Ed Dawson, who had brought the first Fairweather lodge to Erie in 1999.

Stucke, serving in a nonresidential role, and Dawson, teamed up to not only increase the number of lodges in Erie from a single site to eight across the city, but introduced the model to 38 locations across the state with the help of a modest grant from the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS).

By 2004, Stucke was involved with the national board of the Coalition for Community Living (CCL), the body that governs Fairweather Lodges. Today, she and Dawson, who is retired and still living in Erie, serve as co-chairs of the CCL.

Along the way, Kim and the team that helped bring FWL to Erie and across Pennsylvania have found that the members aren’t the only ones who have benefitted from the lodge.

“For Ed, (FWL manager) Tina Loomis and myself,” Kim said, “we accomplished things that we never thought we could do and at the same time, we’ve empowered ourselves.”

The most important part of the FWL program is of course the members.

Joe Allen has been a member for nine months. “From the day I found out about the Lodge, to them taking me in with my only income through Stairways, they were there for me all the time and taught me about different aspects of life. They give people the opportunity to blossom and grow. The staff even helped me get glasses. They opened their doors and hearts and skills for me from day one.” Joe is a member of the Training Lodge and is the current House Chair. “I help coordinate the house duties, discuss issues that may come up with the other members. I make sure that the van is being used properly, and that members are paying their rent on time. I remind the members about making it to their appointments, and to schedule their appointments. I am there as a support for the other members and help the new members understand the importance of the Lodge. I will also let the staff know when there is something going on.”

Barry May, a FWL member who lives in a permanent Lodge, stated that FWL helped him get back on track and gives him a sense of security. “I was next to homeless before coming to the Lodge. I am now keeping up on all of my appointments, and seeing all of my doctors. It has given me a place to live.” Barry now works in the community in a job that he really likes.

Maggie Darker, a Lodge member for four years, said that she looks at her past as a part of who she is and it motivates her. “The way I look at it, you have pros and cons. I didn’t want to sit back and feel sorry for myself.” She spends a lot of time working with fellow Lodge members and is a crew leader for Opportunities Unlimited. Maggie said that there are a lot of responsibilities, but she has learned things that she didn’t know before being a member of the FWL program. “If I had to go through all of that again to be where I am today, I would.” She was able to get her driver’s license again with the support of her peers. Maggie was recently awarded the national Barbara Breen Fairweather Lodge Member of the Year award for 2015.

When asked where they would be right now if not for FWL, most of the members said they would be homeless. Barry said, “Who knows where I would be right now? I may have found another program. Not having that sense of security is why I went through Stairways. I would have eventually worked myself up but I would not be where I am now. I would have found some sort of living arrangements but the ‘what if?’ is a big question that is not easily answered.” Barry stated that the sense of knowing where you’re going and that you have resources to fall back on are what helped him be successful in the program.

It is clear that Dr. Fairweather had a vision for a program aimed to give individuals with mental illness the opportunity to live in a positive environment, experience success personally, socially, and vocationally and to decrease stigma. FWL members with the support of Stairways staff are working together to make that vision a reality.

Special thanks to the following individuals who helped with this article: Kim Stucke, Joe Allen, Joe Crotty, Maggie Darker, Christine Linkie, Tina Loomis, Barry May, and Tammy Young.



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