Nonprofit celebrates 30 years of helping those with mental illness

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published September 18, 2020

 The nonprofit Liberties is celebrating 30 years of helping clients such as — from top — Andre Bell, Emma Johnson and Chris Accavitti.

The nonprofit Liberties is celebrating 30 years of helping clients such as — from top — Andre Bell, Emma Johnson and Chris Accavitti.

Photos provided by Diane VanCoppenolle

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ROSEVILLE/MOUNT CLEMENS — The Roseville- and Mount Clemens-based nonprofit Liberties is celebrating its 30th anniversary of aiding people in the community who have mental illness.

Liberties is a peer-run organization, which means all of the staff also are diagnosed with a mental illness. The two locations offer drop-in centers so those with mental illnesses have a place to go during the day where they can stay or seek resources to improve their lives.

Diane VanCoppenolle, the executive director of Liberties and director of the Roseville location, said it is important to have a place where their clients can go for assistance where they know they will not be judged.

“We have been in business for 30 years and it was started by a mother and daughter who realized there was no place in Macomb County where mentally ill people could come to be accepted for who they are,” she said. “From the beginning, it has been a peer-run organization; that means you have to have a mental illness to work here.”

The two drop-in centers provide several resources and mostly serve the homeless populations in the Roseville and Mount Clemens communities, or those living in group homes.

“A lot of them have paperwork they don’t understand and we can help them with that,” explained VanCoppenolle. “Things like (Department of Housing and Urban Development) paperwork or bills or what have you. We try to help them learn to be independent. We have free haircuts twice a month. We have social programs like group video games. We don’t force people to talk, but we try to give them opportunities to connect with others and open up. They can drop in when we’re open so they have a place to go during the day. We have a food pantry, which is open to anyone in Macomb County because we get the food through the county. … We have a clothes closet for clients as well. We also have Schizophrenia Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.”

“We do a lot of activities here, such as arts and crafts, games, cooking classes, and things like that,” added Tina Carson, director of the Mount Clemens location. “It’s an important resource in the community. It gives people a place to go during the day to play hockey or play pool and do other activities. We have recovery classes. I think it’s wonderful for the community.”

Carson went on to say that the reason Liberties is peer run is that it encourages their clients to come in and talk to them, knowing the staff deals with many of the same issues they do.

“A lot of people have misconceptions about mental health,” she said. “They’re very nice people. You really need to confront the stigma.”

VanCoppenolle said that stigma is one of the reasons many of their clients are afraid to seek help elsewhere.

“People always assume the worst about mental illness,” she said. “If you tell someone you’re bipolar, they think you’re going to get violent. We want to provide people with that safe, accepting space and a place with people who understand and can connect with them. … It’s hard for people to admit that they have a mental illness, let alone seek help.”

Liberties will host a 30th anniversary party, but they had to limit it to clients and staff due to concerns about COVID-19.

“We’re restricted to only 14 people in the building because of COVID, so unfortunately, we can’t have a big public welcome,” said VanCoppenolle. “So we’re having our staff and members come in to socialize, eat dinner and sing karaoke.”

VanCoppenolle encourages people who are struggling with mental illness to seek out Liberties or similar services.

“We’re here, we offer services for mentally ill adults and we offer a variety of drop-in services,” she said. “People have to deal with the stigma of mental illness and with people who don’t understand their condition. This is supposed to be a safe space for them. We get a mix of people with a mix of conditions. They just need to have proof that they suffer from a diagnosed mental condition.”

The Roseville location is located at 26345 Gratiot Ave. The Mount Clemens location is located at 230 North Ave. More information can be found by calling (586) 776-9565.

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