The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday October 19th

Club Nova provides community to residents with mental illness

The Club Nova Thrift Shop works for and with people with mental illnesses and helps remove the stigma around them.
Buy Photos The Club Nova Thrift Shop works for and with people with mental illnesses and helps remove the stigma around them.

If you’ve been to Carrboro, chances are you’ve checked out some of the thrift shops on W Main Street. The Club Nova Thrift Shop has served the Carrboro community by providing employment to people with serious mental illnesses as a part of Club Nova’s mission to give its members a chance to live healthy and fulfilling lives. 

Founded in 1987, Club Nova is a nonprofit that operates a clubhouse and a thrift shop. Its members work and participate in programs that focus on education, recreation and individualized support in order to better their confidence and financial independence. 

Membership is voluntary, and the clubhouse is not residential. However, Club Nova does assist members with finding and maintaining housing of their choice. Marsha Pate, associate director of education and employment, stated that Club Nova arose out of necessity as a support system for people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression.

“People found that with their mental illness, it was difficult to hold jobs," Pate said. "So, they started to show up for each other on the job. This evolved into a group of people that started to provide other supports to reduce the stigma of living with mental illness.” 

Club Nova’s membership remains constant because its facilities are limited in space. Its plan is to grow its community and serve more people with a capital campaign, which will provide funding to build a property that will be able to reach twice as many people as the current clubhouse. By extending its reach, Club Nova will be able to further reduce hospitalization for mental illness and help people remain active members of the community. 

“Having reduced hospitalizations means less money spent by the state of North Carolina on crisis intervention,” Pate said. 

Nancy Phillips, a member of Club Nova diagnosed with schizophrenia, was referred to the nonprofit by her social worker in 1994 and says that it helped her find her voice. 

“I was not responsive to my environment for many years, but because of Club Nova I was able to re-socialize,” Phillips said. “What we do, whether it’s cooking a meal, serving a meal, data entry or planning a social, it’s what makes the clubhouse fun, that we are engaged.” 

Nikhil Tomar, a doctoral candidate in allied health sciences at UNC, has volunteered with Club Nova since the spring of 2015. Through a summer fellowship, he worked with Club Nova to strengthen its relationship with UNC and encourage students and faculty to volunteer at the club. 

By co-founding Stigma Free Carolina, a campus organization aimed at dismantling the negative reputation of living with a mental illness, and encouraging students at UNC to volunteer at Club Nova, Tomar wants to increase awareness of the importance of mental health in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro community. 

“I checked out Club Nova to better understand what the lived experience of mental illness is and what the intricacies of the mental health care system are,” Tomar said. 

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