TOP Clubhouse Makes an Irish Connection

Travel and exercise both got a lot harder over the last year while the pandemic raged. But the TOP Clubhouse figured out how to do a little of both—with the help of some friends in Ireland.

TOP is a gathering place run by and for adults with mental illness. It supports its members to understand their diagnose, cope with barriers and develop the skills and networks they need to live independently.

Earlier this year the clubhouse got introduced to the Bluebell Community Development Project in Dublin. They began having regular meetings online to learn from each other and share their experiences

In a meeting earlier this spring, the topic was how to stay physically active during lockdown. 

TOP’s Joel Berrios noted that even short bursts of exercise can help you stay in shape. He said not taking the subway to work had deprived him of a chance to move around: “That has been a bit of a challenge. I would be getting some additional steps.”

TOP member Marvin McKay said clubhouse outings on the Upper West Side had motivated him: “We go to Riverside Park in the summertime. It’s fun to be outside.” They also discussed how to find forms of exercise that work for your body, such as chair yoga and low-impact aerobics. 

Like Goddard, Bluebell is a community-based organization that strives to meet people where they are and support them in their own goals. “We ask people to tell us about their lives and what they think should happen, rather than experts telling them what should happen,” said Bluebell Project Manager Thomas Coombes. 

He said Ireland, like the U.S., experienced a spike in poverty after COVID hit. The demand on food banks and other public services skyrocketed as the pandemic exarcerbated existing economic inequality: “It takes something like this to expose what’s bubbling below the surface.”

Coombes hopes empowering voices like those of the members of TOP and Bluebell will help inform policy on both sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, he added, connecting across the ocean was a powerful experience. “We had three Bluebell members on last week and they haven’t stopped talking about how exciting it was to talk to people in America. They got loads out of it.”