TOP Finds New Ways to Connect During COVID

Several TOP Clubhouse members sit on benches in Riverside park under the shade of trees

There was a nip of fall in the air when a group of friends gathered in Riverside Park. They munched on donuts while catching up on each other’s news. Then they took a walk to enjoy the last of the summer’s flowers.

This wasn’t just any coffee break. These friends are members of our TOP Clubhouse, getting through COVID safely together by meeting outside while observing social distancing.

“Since we were all forced to isolate it was difficult for some of our members,” says Program Coordinator Anabel Rivas. “Being able to see each other and communicate keeps them in good spirits—and keeps me in good spirits as well.”

“It’s like a family,” says TOP member Michael Rivera. “We can relate to each other, we know each other’s situations. It’s important that we have a place to go.”

TOP supports people with histories of mental illness to live their best lives. It helps its members build social networks, gain work experience and develop the skills needed to live independently.

In addition to meeting in the park, TOP has been getting together regularly online. “We grew in terms of our virtual program and that’s something we hope to continue doing,” says Rivas. “We can reach members who aren’t ready to come physically to our location but who are interested in our activities.”

When it’s safe for TOP to resume regular indoor meetings, they’ll be doing so in a new clubhouse. The program has just moved to a space in St. Paul and St. Andrew’s Church on West 86th St. Members and staff alike are excited about its large professional kitchen. Members run the clubhouse, including cooking and serving lunch every day, so the new kitchen represents a chance to learn and do more.

“We have four convection ovens, a regular oven, a walk in fridge and freezer. We’re really excited for the possibility to add new menu items and things we couldn’t do in the old space,” said Program Manager Ashari Edwards. “And there’s a dishwasher, which is a new skill for our members to learn and a transferable skill for the workplace.”

The new clubhouse also offers a dedicated office where members can use the computers and gain job skills, as well as a parlor for community meetings and meals.

Meanwhile, until they can begin meeting regularly in the new clubhouse, TOP will continue finding ways to foster connection and growth. “The members seem to be doing well despite the challenges,” says Edwards. “A few have gotten jobs recently so that’s great news.”