ANN ARBOR – When news broke that Lucky’s Market would be closing in Ann Arbor, many residents expressed their sadness and disappointment. But for one local nonprofit, the supermarket chain was much more than a trendy shopping experience.
Fresh Start Clubhouse, just down the road from Lucky’s at 2051 S. State St., is a psycho-social rehabilitation program for adults with serious mental illness. Part of that rehabilitation includes transitional employment placements, and Lucky’s was the organization’s top partner.
Fresh Start’s placements last anywhere from six to nine months and involve a placement manager who helps train the member, coordinate with store managers and eventually work toward the member working independently for the remainder of the placement. Should the member fall sick and need to miss a day of work, the placement manager fills in for his or her shift at no charge to the store.
“We have a handful of folks who did really well at Lucky’s and management really liked them and then they were hired on in permanent positions,” said Fresh Start Clubhouse director Summer Berman. “We really love to see our members doing so well. Then we’re also benefiting that employer by providing them with competent employees.”
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Since the partnership began nearly five years ago, roughly ten Clubhouse members completed a placement at Lucky’s, and five were hired full-time.
“They’re really wonderful folks and their managers were great,” said Berman. “They were so on board with our program. It was really nice to see an employer that was committed to community and committed to seeing people succeed. All of our staff who were placement managers at Lucky’s just loved being there.”
Beyond in-store training, members of Lucky’s culinary staff made visits to the Clubhouse’s kitchen to teach members skills like knife safety, how to multiply a recipe and more.
But in early December, shortly after Kroger announced it would divest its interest in Lucky’s, Fresh Start lost its placement when the store cut all of its part-time employees. “That was really hard,” said Berman.
For many local adults with serious mental illness, Fresh Start is a consistent support in their daily lives. With just over 100 members on average, it serves adults of all ages. The Clubhouse typically sees 30 of its members each day who come for meals which they prepare and clean up themselves, practice career skills like billing and catch up with one another.
While it is a non-clinical program, it is very much a community.
“Having a community that you know that you belong to, having a space that you feel welcomed in, and having a group of people around you who value you just as a human being, is really, really crucial to people’s well-being,” said Berman.
“We don’t see The Clubhouse as someone’s final stop on their recovery, we see it as a stepping stone, a tool for them to get where they want to go," she said. “Which is why partnerships with places like Lucky’s are so important because it helps us create opportunities for people to be in the larger community in a supported way that allows them to be successful.”
In the meantime, Fresh Start is looking for new partnerships for its transitional employment program. Recently, it secured placements at two Zingerman’s businesses.
“We’re always looking for new partnerships,” said Berman. "We tend to have a lot of food service and cleaning placements and we’re really looking for some more clerical, office-types of partnerships (because) that’s something we’re lacking and it would be a good next step for us.”
To learn more about Fresh Start, visit www.freshstartclubhouse.org.