In the 1940s, a movement began that advocated against locking away individuals with mental illness. Eventually a group of individuals formed We Are Not Alone, a support organization for those with mental health needs.
Later, the clubhouse model, which Venture House is based on, was conceived. The model urges people with serious mental illnesses to participate in their recovery by working and socializing together in a safe and welcoming environment. These program participants are referred to as “members.”
Venture House is the first location of its kind in Queens. The first was Fountain House in Manhattan, where Douglas trained for her job nearly a year and a half ago. Each executive director is required to take part in a three-week intensive training session at an outside clubhouse where they must live and work within that particular facility.
Douglas is just the third executive director in Venture House history, a testament to the commitment and tenure of those who work at the nonprofit.
Prior to joining Venture House, she worked as director of Outpatient Services at Princeton House Behavioral Health for 13 years, followed by a year as clinic director for the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, where she helped developed a program for men’s trauma.
Coming into an environment like Venture House, Douglas said Venture House is a non-clinical environment where staff takes a person at face value.
“People with mental illnesses are often so marginalized in society, and often by their own family who may not know how to handle a severe mental illness, so this is a place where they are accepted,” Douglas said. “We say ‘You’re hearing voices? Well it’s doesn’t matter because you can chop this tomato, we’re making a salad.’
“When people are working, they feel needed and they’re engaged, and there’s this level of respect,” she added.
Member tasks include data entry, clerical work, cleaning, research and food service. Venture House isn’t a place where members come and relax, they work side-by-side with staff.
“People understand that there may be problems outside of what they could do themselves, but they come here to lean on fellow members and staff because they know there will always be a caring, helping hand,” Young Jo said. “At the same time, there are no special privileges. You have to be an active participant of Venture House and help out.”