Sally Hague and Lynda Stewart, the cornerstones of Vail Place orientation

Sally Hague and Lynda Stewart, the cornerstones of Vail Place orientation

Sally Hague (left) and Lynda Stewart

There’s an old proverb that says “First impressions are the most lasting.” This is one of many reasons we’re featuring volunteers Sally Hague and Lynda Stewart, the duo responsible for Vail Place orientation presentations at the Minneapolis Clubhouse. Sally, a volunteer with Vail Place since moving to Minnesota in 1992 and Lynda, a Clubhouse member since 2001, lead orientation meetings twice a month to new and prospective members.  While their descriptions of the history of Vail Place and the Clubhouse movement are compelling, perhaps more important is the manner in which Lynda and Sally help newcomers understand the unique ways the Hopkins and Minneapolis Clubhouses provide safe, nurturing environments for adults with a serious mental illness.

Sally, a volunteer with Vail Place for over 25 years,  discovered the organization after moving to Minnesota with her husband and family. She actively sought out different opportunities to give back to her new community, however the place that resonated most with her was the Minneapolis Clubhouse.   With a strong interest in volunteerism (not to mention a husband employed in the mental health industry),  Sally was a great fit for Vail Place in those years. She describes herself in her early volunteer days as “kind of a jack-of-all-trades, especially for the staff which was stretched quite thin during some of those years.”

In addition to administrative work Sally helped with lunches and baking projects as well as special events. As a result she became very close with Clubhouse members and staff, witnessing not only the daily struggles but more importantly the many victories that result from such a supportive environment.  Sally’s dedication to Vail Place deepened even further when a close family member was diagnosed with a serious mental illness and she was determined do even more to further the mission of Vail Place, even helping to act as a bridge between members and the Board of Directors. “I was on the Vail Place Board of Directors for a number of years with the thought that I could be a liaison between the clubhouse and the board,” Sally says. “I encouraged visits to the clubhouse by board members. I thought they should know the clubhouse and have a feel for what happens there firsthand.”

“People find Vail Place through word of mouth, their therapist, or a day treatment program,” says Lynda, who has been a Clubhouse member for the past 15 years. “When they come out of day treatment in particular, they need a stepping stone to help them get back into their lives. We want to emphasize with newcomers that the Clubhouse is a safe place where they can get as involved as they like. Coming and simply ‘being’ here is just fine too.”

Lynda should know. In 2007, she paid her first visit to Vail Place, describing herself as “pretty broken.” She was unaware of the supports available to her, and was extremely isolated. Lynda’s supportive daughter found the Clubhouse first,  and encouraged Lynda to find out more.

At Vail Place, Lynda experienced what she calls a “safe harbor” where she and her fellow members could “leave their diagnoses at the door and enjoy the community of others in a healthy, supportive environment.” After settling in, it didn’t take long for Lynda to become very active in Clubhouse life, embracing the work opportunities presented to her. Like many members, she held a variety of jobs at Vail Place, including working in the kitchen, before joining Sally as part of the orientation team.  A natural communicator, over the past years Lynda has also held positions on the agency’s Board of Directors and been a featured speaker at the Dr. Vail Hour, and other events. “Before I joined Vail Place I experienced all the stigma, secrecy and shame surrounding mental illness,” Lynda says. “Vail Place brought me out of myself. It’s given all of us a voice that we didn’t have before.”

“Lynda and Sally bring the perfect blend of enthusiasm, compassion and knowledge to our orientation process,” says Vicky Couillard, Executive Director of Vail Place. “They have fine-tuned the orientation program to one that perfectly delivers our message of community, wellness and work. New members are treated with respect, their questions answered promptly, and any concerns addressed with empathy. Individually, Lynda and Sally are assets to the Vail Place organization. Together, they are unstoppable.”

Despite the dedication and countless hours they have donated over the years, both Lynda and Sally agree they have received much more from their experiences at Vail Place than they have given.  Not the least of these “gifts” is the close friendship that has developed between the two over the years. This bond is evident not just in the way they are able to finish each other’s sentences, but in the respect and kindness they demonstrate with each other. “Lynda really helped me understand so much about mental illness, and this has helped me in my own family’s experiences,” says Sally. “Sally is a great listener and someone members feel really comfortable with, right away,” Lynda says.

After leading the orientation meetings together for more than a decade, Sally and Lynda have begun training Clubhouse members to help with the orientation process. With the incredible foundation they have laid, we are confident that potential Clubhouse members will continue to experience the care, compassion, and respect that have been the cornerstones of our orientation process for so long, thanks to these two incredible women.