Cafe the Lodge offers more than a job to those with mental illness
Abraham Lincoln. Robin Williams. These famous people's large-framed portraits on the Lodge's café walls send a powerful visual message: Many people with a mental illness make positive contributions to society.
News headlines paint an alarming picture of violent actions by individuals with a mental illness that stigmatize and isolate all the mentally ill. But recently the Mental Health Recovery Lodge was recognized for offering affordable housing, along with activities and work opportunities for individuals with mental illness that help them become self-sufficient taxpayers.
Aaik Van Munster, the Lodge's program director, said the idea is to help people with a mental disability find their way to a life filled with purpose. Like Lincoln and Williams, people with mental illness, and those around them, need to embrace it.
"It's part of who we are as people," Van Munster said.
It's a life of integration: If we live and work together, we form supportive bonds which keep us healthier, said Van Munster in describing the focus of the organization.
Responding to Northampton County's Human Services Department's Requests for Proposals for affordable housing programs for people with mental disabilities, Van Munster seized the opportunity to get the necessary funding for Café the Lodge to operate.
With the focus on finding housing and jobs for people with mental disabilities, Café the Lodge, at 427 E. Fourth St., Southside Bethlehem, has one- and two-bedroom apartments above the Café. The Lodge serves as the landlord.
Although Van Munster said Café the Lodge is not a good match for every person with a mental illness, he does say the Lodge's supportive community can offer a complete life that is exciting for people hoping to improve their mental health. Working alongside mental recovery coaches and peer counselors for eight hours a day in the Cafe, a person with a mental disability not only learns a skill but also learns how to connect with the community. In addition to catering events, the Café is open Monday through Thursday for breakfast and lunch served from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays it stays open until 8 p.m. for live music and poetry readings. Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pastries, gourmet coffee, homemade soups, jambalaya and Cuban sandwiches are just a few of the menu items prepared under the direction of chef Allen Singer.
"At the end of the day," Van Munster said, "we are a business and need to make money to stay open."
The Lodge was recently recognized for its efforts to support community integration, create a sustainable model of affordability and provide barrier-free living. In December 2012, the Lodge, which is a division of Resources for Human Development Inc., received the state's annual Supportive Housing Award.
"Supportive housing is about affordable, accessible and permanent housing with services that enable elders and those with disabilities to live independently in their communities," Secretary of Aging Brian Duke stated in a press release about the award. "The Lodge's holistic approach to supportive housing provides its residents with an improved quality of life."
When people get involved in the many activities offered at the Lodge, they can let go of the stigma a label of mental illness often places on them. In addition to poetry readings and live music, there are drum circles, guided crafts and dual recovery anonymous (DRA) meetings, which are similar to AA meetings.
Café the Lodge's motto says it all: Where friends celebrate greatness in self and others.
Jim Gillen, a certified peer support counselor who volunteers at the Lodge by conducting the writers' and poets' night, said the blending atmosphere at the Lodge gives people with mental illness coping mechanisms; they come to see that their disability does not mean inability.
Opened in March 2012 with an official grand opening held Jan. 11, 2013, the Lodge is open to the public with easy access through a gate off the South Bethlehem Greenway. Located in the former Connell Funeral Home, Café the Lodge's backyard with its benches and goldfish pond welcomes anyone seeking relaxation in a peaceful setting.
Volunteers or anyone wishing to become a Lodge member can call 610-849-2100 or visit www.TheLodge-rhd.org.