On July 18, 2014, at a press conference in New York City, Fountain House/Clubhouse International was announced as the 2014 recipient of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

On July 18, 2014, at a press conference in New York City, Fountain House/Clubhouse International was announced as the 2014 recipient of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

The event was one that I—and I think most people in attendance—felt lucky to witness. A very impressive line-up of individuals including Brigadier General (Ret.) Loree Sutton, Nobel Laureate in brain research Dr. Eric Kandel, and Actor, Mental Health Advocate and Fountain House Volunteer Glenn Close, were on hand to honor this impressive organization, which is changing the face of mental health around the world. Two Fountain House members courageously shared their stories as part of this announcement, and there wasn’t enough Kleenex to go around the room.

A theme throughout the day was that Fountain House doesn’t define people by their illnesses. Rather, it helps people discover their own strengths inside the safety of the clubhouse community, which then spills outside of the clubhouse into the rest of their lives, leading to masters’ degrees, careers, dreams and fulfilled ambitions. One delightful member who gave a lively tour of the flagship facility, shared that she is going back to school to study early childhood education so that she can one day open a daycare center, and potentially create a Fountain House clubhouse for kids. Another member recently got married and is pursuing his master’s degree at Columbia University. Yet another member, Betty (pictured above) was recently appointed to the board of directors at Fountain House and spoke so eloquently that Glenn Close embraced her in a big bear hug the moment the event concluded.

The sky really is the limit at Fountain House. But as Nobel Prize Laureate Eric Kandel cautioned, it’s not time for Fountain House and Clubhouse International to rest on their laurels (not that they would), but rather it’s an opportunity to do even more. “Congratulations for the time being but get to work!” said Dr. Kandel. There are so many with mental illness who need the clubhouse model to restore their lives and achieve their potential.

The Fountain House Model

What started in the 1940s as a self-help group within a New York state hospital by people who were preparing for the challenges they would face upon discharge after de-institutionalization, has grown into an organization that now impacts more than 100,000 people through more than 340 clubhouses in 32 countries.

Part of what is so empowering about the Fountain House model is that it is based on the belief that its members—they are part of an actual clubhouse—are partners in their own recovery, rather than passive recipients of treatment, and that meaningful work and a sense of community are integral to mental health.

Its pioneering concept of the “work-ordered day,” involves all clubhouse members in the running of their own organization. It also puts forth the notion that work—both inside and outside of clubhouses—is an integral part of recovery, and corporations from Dow Jones to Estee Lauder have been employing Fountain House members for years. The organization’s transitional employment initiative is supported by nearly 1,400 workplaces in the United States alone, where clubhouse members earn salaries and are trained to work side by side with mainstream workers, helping to erase the stigma that occurs when the mentally ill are isolated from general society.

Mental illness has no borders. In virtually every nation, support for mental disorders lags behind physical disabilities and all other major health and social issues. People with mental illness are stigmatized, ostracized and often abused. The World Health Organization estimates that about 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental and behavioral disorders; there are similar rates in all societies.

But when there is darkness, there is also light. Studies have confirmed the effectiveness of the Fountain House/Clubhouse International model. Ten Clubhouse International Training Bases are located in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia. This global community is changing the world of mental health.

Fountain House/Clubhouse International will be formally presented with the Hilton Humanitarian Prize at a dinner at The Waldorf Astoria New York on October 27, 2014. UNDP Administrator and Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark will deliver the keynote address.