Building Meaningful Lives at Fellowship Place

Fellowship Place provides a constructive environment for adults with mental illnesses who would otherwise be at risk of getting arrested or becoming sick enough to wind up in the emergency room.

Photo credit: Fellowship Place

At the Fellowship Place campus of colorful buildings along a leafy section of Elm Street, New Haven, adults with serious mental illnesses gather in therapy groups, create art and music, receive help with studying for diplomas, and seek assistance finding work. For many, simply having a place to go during the day gives them a structure that keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.

"We really are a safety net for people," says Fellowship Place Executive Director Mary A. Guerrera. "The people we serve have a lot of challenges in their lives. But with the right support, they can be very successful."

Fellowship Place was started by a grassroots effort in the 1960s as a one-day-a-week drop-in center. As the deinstitutionalization movement took hold and closed down large psychiatric hospitals, Fellowship Place grew. It now provides a full range of morning and evening community programs seven days a week, as well as supportive housing for 45 individuals. The program serves about 750 men and women annually, many of whom live at or below the poverty line.

"By being in the community they are able to make connections with peers, with family, and they are able to find ways to give back to the community," says Guerrera.

Without Fellowship Place, Guerrera says, its people would be more likely to wander through the city, at risk of getting arrested or becoming sick enough to wind up in the emergency room.

Like many nonprofit organizations that depend on state funding to fulfill their missions, Fellowship Place is facing financial uncertainty because of the state budget impasse. Contracts with the Dept. of Mental Health and Addiction Services account for nearly three-quarters of its funding.

"Over the last several years the funding from the state has been flat, even though our costs go up," says Guerrera. "It has become more and more important for us to raise individual donations."

Fellowship Place is a grant recipient of The Basic Needs Fund and The Community Foundation's responsive grants program.

Fellowship Place also has an organization fund at The Foundation and in the summer of 2014 Fellowship Place established the Birgitta Johnson Campership Fund in memory of Birgitta Johnson, who joined its Board in 1998 and served as its chair from 2001 to 2004.

Because many who suffer from long-term mental illness have inconsistent job histories, Fellowship Place uses volunteering as a first step to building a resume. Its participants give their time to local soup kitchens, community gardens, animal shelters, and other nonprofit partners. The career services program has secured placements at local grocery stores, delis, and at Goodwill Stores sorting clothes.

"A lot of the people we serve have self-esteem issues and are very nervous about working in a competitive job. We provide a safe nurturing environment," says Guerrera.

For more information about Fellowship Place, visit its profile on