Vox blog: the story behind the story

In this episode of VOX ATL’s Guide on the Side podcast, we hear from View Point Health’s Clubhouse staff leaders, sharing their experiences in pivoting mental health group programs for youth to digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic, when mental health supports for youth and their families are needed more than ever.

‘Resiliency in the Unknown:’ Mental Health Clubhouse Staff Share their experiences pivoting to tele-mental health

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Welcome to the VOX ATL Guide on the Side podcast. In this series, we’ll talk to youth development professionals to spotlight their work and bring you behind-the-scenes stories from our community partners. We’ll also share experiences from our own nearly three-decade-long commitment to amplifying youth voice and leadership from across metro Atlanta.

Enjoy the recorded podcast here. The transcription is below. 

This whole COVID-time— it’s been, like, a year. It’s very strange.

My name is Rich Eldredge. I’ve served as VOX’s senior editor for the past nine years.

I’m Rachel. I work at VOX and I’m our mission director.

In the past year, we have co-created this Guide on the Side, storytelling utilizing the best of what we know about peer-to-peer communication and peer-to-peer supports and peer-to-peer storytelling to support participants and also to share stories that make a difference in a community, or in this case, a field.

Rebeca, I want to start our conversation with you. I don’t have to tell anyone on this call that all youth-serving nonprofits have encountered some unique challenges in the past year during the COVID pandemic pivot to online. Can you recount to us the story of the reopening of the Clubhouses?

Sure. March 14 or 16, View Point Health CEO Jennifer Hibbard made the decision to close Clubhouses. At 3pm, I believe, we got an email from Lynn or Jennifer that that’s what we were doing. It was overall a shock. We were silently expecting it, but there was a part of us that was like, “how are we going to do this?” As an agency, View Point Health had centers. There’s so many programs at View Point Health that took the priority of figuring out how we were going to do tele-health because it was so new and it had so many flexibilities that we didn’t have before. The Clubhouses were like, “you’re gonna figure it out.” I remember that I told Lynn, “We’re just gonna have to create a family between us directors and figure it out.”

Right away, Lynn called a meeting and invited us and we showed up. We became this Clubhouse family where we just held hands. We are so creative and talented. We’re three types of Clubhouses— two mental health, two substance abuse, and one prevention. Some of our targets are from different populations, but we’re serving similar families that sometimes go from one Clubhouse to the next. We understood the population and we just needed to use our talents. First of all, the directors had to come into agreement to figure out how we were going to do this, and then we had to inject that same passion into our staff. They were scared. We were now in a shared global experience with our clients, with our community, and with the world.

I’m Lynn Honeycutt. I work for View Point Health, and I am the Director of Clubhouses. We’re really this family and this community for the kids we serve. Even our individual staff members have such an impact on our members that to lose that suddenly… you know, they’ve lost going to school and now there’s different stressors in the family and they’ve lost their outlet. We knew that we needed to get in touch with them and how could we get in touch with them and not lose any progress that they made or not have the fear surrounding the pandemic and the changes that were out of their control and so uncertain take them to a place where they were worse off than they were when we saw them last week.

We definitely started reaching out individually as much as we could and I know that we would all have several staff members checking in on these kids daily, weekly, and on the families. Because it’s not like school, where you can just be like, “okay, go on home and we’ll figure it out later and don’t worry about it.” I work with a substance abuse disorder Clubhouse, so we don’t want these kids who are experiencing some success in recovery to go, “well, now it doesn’t matter. I’m just gonna use,” to cover these fears. Or for the kids that Rebeca is seeing and STRIVE is seeing who are making progress in addressing mental health concerns all the sudden to be taken backwards. That duty to continue to provide not only the service, but also the community and the family for them was like, “okay, we’ve gotta get in there.” As you hear when you hear us all say why we got in the field, we want to help. Our first thing, even though we were trying to deal with everything coming at us, was, “but what about the kids? What about the families?” Our way of coping sometimes is to help other people.

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For clarification, how long were the Clubhouse programs on pause?

You know, we never really paused.

Michelle, following up on some of what Lynn was talking about, in your role as Preventative Director, what were some of the mental health challenges you were seeing?

It was a very big challenge to be able to reach our youth. And seeing them face to face. We did the deliveries, which was a little bit of the interaction we could do face-to-face with them. We were going from home to home giving out care packages and arts and crafts,so that we could do a Zoom activity. However, the biggest challenge for us was having that face-to-face touch interaction. We’re Hispanics. I can speak for Henry and Rebeca and myself. We’re Hispanics. We’re touchy-feely lovey-dovey people. Not having that is odd.

The kids— mentally, it was hard on them because they were tired of being on Zoom. They wanted to be in the Clubhouse. We wanted to explain to them that there’s reasons why we’re not here, we’re gonna continue to take care of you because you’re special and you’re important to me, but this is the way that we’re gonna have to do it until soon this ends. Rebeca has been doing at-home Zoom classes and courses. She does groceries and whatnot. Henry has been sending these awesome videos. We have been teaching kids how to do tutorials. I learned YouTube. I never thought that I was going to be a YouTuber and teach kids how to do an at-home Frappuccino. What is wrong with me? Now I’m like, “I want to do a podcast!” I listen to podcasts all the time and you guys have those podcast voices. I’m like, “what if this is something I want to do?” We just have to be on our toes and change what’s within our box. This is what our kids do. Our kids are online. Our kids are listening. We need to catch up to them.

That was one of the big challenges of how up are we for change? Because we’re always trying to support the members and their families to make changes in their lives, but that was an interesting turn of events that we as directors and all our staff had to be able to roll with change. We couldn’t rely on taking kids out to these activities. We couldn’t rely on that face-to-face interaction. So it’s like, what can we create that will really be of value for them to tune in to another Zoom? I know I’m doing that these days. I’ll see somebody saying, “hey, come to this training. Hey, come to this meeting. Hey, be on this.” None of us want another hour of Zoom in our life. How can that add value? Maybe some people do, but I’m not all about just sitting here and most of our kids aren’t either.

That’s why it was so great to be able to take them out and be active. I’m huge into physical health because that’s been a huge part in my own recovery. We can do something active and work out and do all these things. So if that tool is taken away or if I have to re imagine that tool, what does it take for me to re imagine that? Very much like Shelly was saying to think out of the box, when I was thinking about the questions for today, I was thinking that sometimes the walls of the box are very high and you don’t even realize it. I consider myself a person who rolls with it and goes with the flow, but there’s also things in my head like, “this is how we do our Clubhouse. It’s always been like this. They need to come this many times a week, they can only come from this area, and this is how we do it.” Every month, something new hits me like, “wait. We need to do a shorter version and maybe target this audience. It doesn’t have to be four months or six months. What if it’s two months? What would that look like and can we create something of value?”

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That’s been the biggest thing, really. Especially for those of us who have been working at our Clubhouse for a while, like we all have, we’re into some routines and we have some things that we rely on. I definitely know I rely on that, “hey, come in, we have a pool table. Let’s go play pool.” That’s how I get the conversation going with the kid. Because we’re not just sitting face-to-face with one another and I’m not like, “hey, what’s going on with you?” That’s a lot of pressure. I don’t work like that very well as a person either. I’m gonna tell you more on a car ride than I am in some sort of session. How do we create that sense of fun and community? For me personally, it’s like, surround yourself with all these creative people. Maybe my mind sometimes works creatively and sometimes not as much, but maybe Henry has a suggestion, Shelly has a suggestion, or Rebeca has a suggestion, and we can work off of each other. That’s been a big lesson.

The Clubhouses, especially the mental health Clubhouses, were at risk of elimination last year. As a matter of fact, there were several that lost [Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities] DBHDD funding, and by the grace of God and by our initiative, the two for View Point Health-STRIVE were saved. Programs continue to be cut. Budgets continue to be cut.

What I’m saying is that if you are listening to me today, the youth need your help more today than they have ever needed it before. Parents need your help. Women, or anyone who experiences any type of domestic violence— it’s happening even in more secrecy. Because we are now under the screen, even as we are doing this podcast, that doesn’t mean that the issues have lessened.

Kids now have more access to substances to continue with their use because parents now have gone back to work and often the youth members — especially the population that we work with — are home alone, and so they’re experimenting with different things. I just read some excerpts of some youth this week, and there was such a cry for mental health needs in high school. My mouth was hanging open because I’m thinking, “oh, we’re reaching! Look at us!”, but we’re still not putting a dent in some of the stuff that I read.

We want to get each of you to respond to our final question, and Shelly, maybe I’ll start with you. It’s a fun question. At least I hope it is. If you could teach one class to others about what you learned from the pandemic about doing this work, what class would you teach?

Get back to me. I want to think about this. I don’t know.

Okay. If there were one class I would teach about what I have learned during the pandemic, I would want to teach patience. Patience and understanding for everyone. That is a virtue that not many people possess, myself included. Faking it till you make it. We’re having a hard time right now. Try to understand that you’re good, you’re fine, you’re safe, and we will get through this. You just need to learn patience. That is something that I have learned myself. I am still learning every day as this pandemic continues. Patience. If I could bestow that upon someone, I would be happy to do so.

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Henry, what is the class that you would teach?

It’s really hard, but I agree with Shelly. We need to be more tolerant now. They are different kids. Different kids. Most of the time, they have a loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed. They have a hard time with falling asleep. They need something really different, and we need to listen to them. We need to understand what happened to them in order to help them.

Rebeca, what class would you teach to others about what you have learned during these times?

I would teach a class that is already part of the curriculum of mental health Clubhouses, and I would call it Resiliency in the Unknown. The pandemic taught us about unknowns. There’s grief and loss. That’s an unknown territory. There’s all these things. During this pandemic, after monthly surveys that we would conduct, we realized that the echoing theme was fear of the unknown. People didn’t know when this was gonna be over, what would happen, what’s this, what’s that. I would love to master how to help individuals. I work with kids ages 6-21, so I have a big gap in my range, and I work with their families and their parents and their caregivers. How to teach all of these different age groups how to be resilient and stand your ground no matter the dark and light that comes your way? That would be my class.

Lynn, what would you teach?

They already took all the classes. No, I’m just kidding. Very much along those same lines, rolling with change. Again, our job in this field is to walk with people as they go through changes. We hope that those are positive changes, but sometimes they’re not, because of the unknown. Rolling with change and part of that being acceptance of what’s going on currently. There’s definitely some meditation in my class. I know I’ve been working on that personally, being able to sit still with it and accept where I am right now. Okay, so now I’ve accepted it and now I’ve sat with it. Now how do I move forward, and really wholeheartedly move forward, not in that cautious, “oh, I don’t really want to change” kind of way, because our whole world has been upended and we’ve all had to learn to adapt to that.

I don’t know if you noticed by mic drop reaction, Rebeca, to your advocacy. First of all, thank you for coming together and for speaking up about your work.

Thank you. It’s so important for us to hear about other people who are doing this work in this crazy time. I want to thank you for your expertise and for sharing it with us.

You can learn more about View Point Health’s Clubhouses and link young people you know to tele- mental health services by visiting myviewpointhealth.org, or reach out to Clubhousedirectors@vphealth.org.

For more mental health resources for staff and youth, please connect with the Free Your Feels mental health awareness campaign, supported by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, a VOX ATL funding partner. 


Thanks for joining us for this episode of VOX ATL’s Guide on the Side podcast series. Other episodes can be found on our SoundCloud page at soundcloud.com/voxatl, in the Apple Podcast store, and streaming on our website at voxatl.org.  You can find more of our Guide on the Side work at voxatl.org/guide-on-the-side/.

And if you’d like to grab the mic with us to sign up for your recording session in our Virtual Podcast Studio, please email Rich or Rachel.