Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Alternatives Unlimited, Inc.

Name of Innovative Program: 
Alternatives' Club 21: Combatting social isolation
Sponsoring Organization
Alternatives Unlimited, Inc.
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
Dennis H. Rice
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Project Description: 
For people with a mental illness, one particularly disabling outcome of their impairment is restricted social circles. Typically, the networks they do have consist of paid staff and other individuals with mental illness. This situation is unlikely to counteract the negative effects of long-term dependence on human services – what has been described as the “warp of institutionlization.” The resulting isolation has significant implications for  their ability to develop the skills necessary to successfully live, work, and play in the community.Club 21 was launched to address issues of social isolation by creating a sustainable social network that includes people with and without disabilities. The Club matches ten individuals served by Alternatives (Recovery Partners) with ten community members (Discovery Partners). The Club Coordinator, not a mental health worker, functions as an event facilitator, networker and social coach.Members meet twice monthly for partner, small group, and/or whole club activities. Unlike one-to-one “relationship volunteer” programs, the Club 21 model produces not just one, but 400 possible relationships.The Club also encourages and provides opportunities for the development and utilization of social capacities in a natural, organic way.Assessment of the pilot Club’s outcomes have been very encouraging.
Creativity and Innovation: 
Establishing community-based services has not resulted in people diagnosed with mental illnesses being welcomed with open arms by the community. Services tend to replace natural supports with paid professionals, further isolating people. Although many human service organizations preach inclusion, their approaches around symptom management and increased individual functioning do little to actually connect the individual to the community.Club 21 employs an innovative network-based approach, advancing individual social networks beyond that achieved by one-to-one approaches. It also encourages the acquisition of social capacities (or “Social Powers”) around five areas - participation, planning, social graces, money management and personal appearance - and provides real opportunities for members to exercise their new skills.By relying on the power of social networks and the possibilities for inter-connectedness built into those networks, Club 21 provides a way to fundamentally enrich the lives of persons with and without disabilities.
The success of the Club 21 model has been shared with other professionals in the mental health community at many regional, national and international conferences. The project was a featured component in several seminars on community-based services Alternatives hosted for professionals from around the world attending a global institute sponsored by Boston University. Many attendees were excited by the simplicity and power of the Club 21 concept, and its applicability across cultures. In fact, a social club based on the Club 21 model was established by a seminar participant in Greece. Club 21 is just one component of  Alternatives innovative and award-winning community-focused portfolio, which regularly garners high marks from both national and state accreditation bodies. We believe that our commitment and local leadership in the environment, arts, and historical preservation, makes community members more open to providing the opportunities deserved by the individuals we serve. It’s all about reciprocity.
We are committed to funding the continuation and expansion of Club 21 through donations and grants, and are seeking long-term support from the Department of Mental Health. The simplicity, replicability and success of the model make it attractive to our core donors. Last year, a former Board member issued a $5,000 challenge grant to fund a new Club.The challenge was met by former and current Board members.Program costs are minimal, and include the salary of a part-time Club Coordinator and partial subsidies to Club participants who can not afford the entire cost of the Club activities. We require that every Club member make a financial investment in Club activities, but recognize that even the moderate cost activities scheduled may be beyond the reach of some.  Recovery Partners, in particular, are typically living only on disability payments with little discretionary income.
Club 21 is a cost-effective, easily replicable model. Working from the experience of the Worcester pilot Club, and using the data collected by Worcester State University, a Club 21 Guidebook was created, with detailed descriptions and recommendations to be used in the development of future clubs. Alternatives has launched two additional clubs for individuals with psychiatric disabilities in other parts of our service area. As mentioned earlier, we know that at least one program modeled on Club 21 has been created outside of the U.S.Because of the success of the three Clubs we now operate, we recently received a grant funded by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services to pilot a new Club 21 initiative designed to meet the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities. 
Since it began, Club 21’s success has been measured using assessment tools developed by the Worcester State University’s sociology department, with students conducting yearly interviews with all club members. Results from the first two years indicated that the model had successfully expanded the social networks of the program participants beyond the defined Club activities and that both Recovery and Discovery Partners (i.e., regardless of whether or not the club member had a psychiatric disability) had benefited.Higlights from first year:
  • 100% were satisfied with their Club experience
  • 56% had introduced their partners to friends and family
  • 39% had seen their partners outside of the Club’s framework
In the second year, results relating to both depth and breadth of the connections formed were even better:
  • 90% reported a strong friendship with their partner
  • 100% reported connecting strongly with others during club outings
  • 100% believed the Club had expanded their social networks