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A Labor of Love at the Friendship House

Normally, the Friendship House off Kuhio Highway at Kealia Bluff would be bustling. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, capacity and activities are limited.

Friendship House is a Clubhouse Model Psychiatric Rehabilitation program, providing mental health services to adults with mental illness on Kaua‘i.

It’s more than a place that shares friendship, it’s family, said both staff and members earlier this week.

“It’s so weird now,” staff member Iris Ijima said. “We’re so family-like, we’re ‘ohana. We’re so used to hugging and working really close.”

That’s seen when Dave Jordan, a board member and past vocational lead, walked into the room. Boasting big smiles seen through their masks, they mime an air hug. That’s one of the things about Friendship House, Jordan said, everybody brings such light to the group.

“The Friendship House is a lighthouse,” Jordan, a former recreational therapist, said.

The clubhouse is split into prevocational work units, including communications and food service. Members and staff work in harmony, sharing household chores, tours and making outreach calls. The house was shut down for about four months, and activities went virtual earlier this week. They reopened July 6, and members are now welcome once a week, with staff also rotating.

“We were doing virtual sessions, supporting each other and making sure nobody was stuck out there all alone,” Jordan said.

The clubhouse provides members with a paid part-time job through transitional employment, supported employment and an independent employment program. Friendship House partners with local businesses ranging from grocery stores to hotel chains to place members. Jordan, who previously served as the lead, said it’s so important for people to have motivation.

“When a member is doing meaningful work, it helps them stay healthy,” Jordan said. He noted that when members start attending the Friendship House, hospital rates drop for those members.

Laura Miyashiro nominated the Friendship House, as well as Jordan and Ijima, for The Garden Island’s Hometown Hero.

“Iris inspires us with her fight against stigma; with her sight to see the light in people, then her ability to treat people as though that is all she sees,” Miyashiro wrote. “With her ability to be nonjudgmental and supportive and to teach us what this all means by being an example of it all the time.”

Miyashiro and Jordan met years ago at the old Friendship House site, and he said it’s felt like they’ve always known each other.

“The relationships here are amazing,” Jordan, who worked at the clubhouse for 26 years before retiring, said. “It’s not like doctor/patient, it’s powerful working side by side to run the clubhouse and write grants.”

Some of Miyashiro’s favorite activities are cooking chicken hekka and chicken soup for others, washing dishes and tending to the garden. She also helps to write the newsletter. “One of the things I try to do is get the members to be active members,” Miyashiro said.

An eloquent writer and speaker, Miyashiro is thankful to the staff and her fellow members.

“(The staff) see the person,” Miyashiro said. “Not the stigma.”

The first full week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week. On Friday, the group will sign wave to bring awareness to mental health and break the stigma associated with it.

“There are a lot of false ideas and stigma, it’s devastating,” Jordan said. “We’re in the community trying to clean that up.”
Source: The Garden Island

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