By: Ken Borsuk
GREENWICH — Like mental health itself, Laurel House’s mission is not simply or easily definable.
When it opened nearly 40 years ago, Laurel House was known primarily for its clubhouse-like environment, where people suffering from mental illness were coaxed into social interaction. Aspects of the clubhouse remain, including the café that still offers 25 cent cups of coffee and $1 lunches.
But the agency has grown considerably over the years. Today, Laurel House focuses on educational, employment, cognitive thinking and other services.
“We’re not the prescribers,” said Linda Autore, the president and CEO of Laurel House. “We’re not the ones saying, ‘OK we’re going to make this diagnosis and you need this medicine.’ We work with people who do. When someone is referred to us, whether it’s by a psychiatrist or a hospital or a social worker or a guidance counselor at a school, they tell us what the diagnosis is and what kind of treatment and medication they are receiving so we can help them be successful out in the community.”
One thing the agency doesn’t offer is a “one size fits all” approach.
“Laurel House is the type of organization that is really helping people one individual at a time,” said Monica Bourgie, the agency’s chief advancement officer. “We are a wraparound for people with mental health diagnoses. Someone may go to a therapist for an hour a week but what happens with all that other time in between? That’s where Laurel House comes in. … It’s hard to understand what we do. It takes a lot of explaining. It’s not an easy or a quick sell.”
When someone comes in for the first time, regardless of reason of referral, they are asked what they want to accomplish.
“Sometimes the answer can be, ‘I want to carry on a conversation with someone’ or they want to maintain eye contact because they’re paralyzed with anxiety or they want to move out of their parents house and live on their own,” said Autore. “Some want to go back to school after a bad experience. It’s as individual as the person is.”
Laurel House is located in Stamford, at 1616 Washington Boulevard, but its roots are deep in Greenwich. It was founded by three Greenwich men, William Battey, Alfred Munkenbeck and Harrison Hoffman. It services people from throughout Fairfield County.
Alan Barry, Greenwich’s commissioner of human services, praised the agency’s Think Well program, for those who have suffered a psychotic break or other severe mental health problem.
“This program has helped Greenwich young adults with a mental illness apply to local colleges and help them to adjust campus life,” Barry said. “Laurel House is on the forefront of developing and implementing programs that not only help people with serious mental illness to live in the community but also thrive.”
An Evening with Laurel House, the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year, will be held April 27 at the Delamar in Greenwich. All proceeds go toward Laurel House’s programs and services. The agency is honoring several “champions” for their public service at the event, including Greenwich’s Adrianne Singer, former head of YWCA Greenwich who also has been a part of town life ranging from the Junior League of Greenwich to Town Hall to Greenwich Hospital’s Diversity Committee.
“What we are looking for is someone who, in their own community, has really made a tremendous difference in the lives of people who live and work in that community,” Bourgie said. “Adrianne Singer rose to the top for us. The depth and breadth of her service is incredible.”
Tickets are available at www.laurelhouse.net along with other information about Laurel House’s services and programming.