As a result of a “social innovative experiment” conducted by Dr. George Fairweather and his associates in the 1960s, a discovery was made that has since changed the way we treat people with mental health difficulties. That discovery was that the benefits of shared community living far exceed those of institutionalization for individuals with mental health difficulties.
We have learned that, while people can stabilize in hospitals, they achieve recovery in their community. We do not have to “fix” people — they aren’t broken. We simply need to provide a safe and supportive environment for people to grow and find their own place in the community and their own path to recovery. At the Fairweather Lodge, they are free to do just that.
The Fairweather Lodge, a beautiful, four-bedroom home nestled in the Orchard Park neighborhood of State College, is a long-term independent living program overseen by Strawberry Fields Inc. and supported by the Centre County United Way. The Lodge opened its doors in 2008 to four Centre County individuals who were challenged with homelessness and severe, persistent mental health difficulties. Since then, it has served 11 members.
Unlike many other housing options for people with mental health difficulties, Fairweather Lodge provides residents with permanency and security in a typical community setting. Lodge members are welcome to stay as long as they need and are encouraged to make the Lodge their home. Lodge members support each other as a family and together are able to live, work and achieve recovery in their own community without the isolation of hospitalization.
Centrally located and with access to surrounding supports and resources, residents of Fairweather Lodge take ownership of their lives by productively managing daily tasks; maintaining their home; supporting one another through difficult times; participating in weekly house meetings; engaging in problem solving and conflict resolution; managing financial responsibilities; developing hobbies and interests; meeting educational goals; and actively engaging in and maintaining their recovery. Employment and community involvement are also key components of Lodge life, as is autonomy. Lodge members work toward financial independence through competitive employment and use of structured services, build supports through community participation and give back to the community through volunteering. The Lodge also holds a large yard sale every August to help cover household costs.
As the Lodge coordinator, I guide and oversee overall operations of the Lodge, assist in service coordination and problem solving, provide guidance and support and consider myself a “professional house mom.” I am blessed to be able to serve in this family-like environment that promotes independence, confidence and autonomy among people in recovery.
Mandi Merrifield is Stawberry Fields’ Fairweather Lodge coordinator.