Get Involved: Independence Center

 In Culture, Feature

This innovative rehabilitation program gives adults with mental illness a place to learn new skills, build friendships and live fulfilling, independent lives.


Just a few decades ago, families of those with severe and persistent mental illness had limited options when it came to long-term support. For years, the main treatment option was hospitalization, which for some could last weeks or even months.

As recently as the early 1980s, there were few community-based programs in St. Louis to help people with mental illness succeed in everyday life; few places they could go to build skills, find jobs, receive assistance to live on their own and build friendships.

During that time, a group of St. Louis families and concerned friends recognized this difficult cycle and saw the need for a change. After meeting one another in hospitals and emergency rooms while their loved ones were receiving care, they imagined a program that supported their family members and helped them achieve independence and personal dignity. They pooled together their own resources and launched Independence Center in 1981.

Today, Independence Center helps more than 1,500 adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses each year and provides various programs that provide a holistic view of each individual. At its core, Independence Center follows the Clubhouse Model of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. In the Clubhouse Model, participants are called “members,” not “patients” or “clients.”

“The term ‘member’ is important. Everyone deserves to feel connected to their community, to feel a part of something” says Lynn Huelsmann, development director at Independence Center. “Everyone needs to know that he or she is expected and wanted someplace.”

At Independence Center and other Clubhouses like it, activities focus on members’ strengths and abilities, not their illness. Members have access to wellness and fitness programs, work-readiness training, work opportunities and housing and residential programs so they may lead independent, dignified lives.

Need a gift or flower arrangement? Support the Clubhouse Shop, Independence Center’s upscale resale store, where you can find gently used furniture, designer clothing, collectibles and household items as well as fresh floral arrangements created by Independence Center members. The Clubhouse Shop also welcomes donations of clean,gently used clothing and furniture and household items in good condition. Members and staff run the shop, and all proceeds from sales go back to Independence Center.

Young professionals in the St. Louis area are also encouraged to join the Young Friends of Independence Center to become engaged in the agency and the numerous events the group plans each year, including happy hours, pub crawls and more.

One of the most critical needs and desires of Independence Center members is finding a job. Companies with openings for an individual or group can explore becoming a part of Independence Center’s employment programs. Additionally, individuals with specific skills— everything from salsa dancing to computer programs—can spend time helping Independence Center members learn a new skill or enjoy an exhilarating new experience.

For more information on Independence Center, log on to


1276_492.jpgVolunteers lend a hand at Independence Center.



Photo credit: Photos courtesy of Independence Center

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