Tanya Mead beamed as she whirled around the Cowtown Clubhouse kitchen with her freshly cooked quiche, showing off its golden crust. 

Mead, 60, comes to the clubhouse often to cook, eat and meet with her friends, the other members. She comes so often that she has started calling them family. 

“This is like my extended family, and we all love each other,” Mead said.

For many community members, Cowtown Clubhouse serves as a haven for fellowship and an outlet for mental health support in Fort Worth. As the only clubhouse in Tarrant County, members say it provides a priceless resource. 

The community center is one of about 300 clubhouses around the world that are part of Clubhouse International, a nonprofit organization that offers opportunities for friendship, employment, housing and education to people living with mental illnesses. 

Isabel Stack, Cowtown Clubhouse program director, said clubhouses are a unique way of approaching mental health, because they aren’t an “us versus them” scenario. The focus is on “togetherness” rather than the clubhouse providing a service to members.

Founding member Donald Battle, 45, said the clubhouse can help those struggling with mental health to find a voice. As clubhouse members, they become part of a community of people who can relate to their internal struggles. 

“It’s like a safe haven,” he said. “You don’t have to feel lost out there in the world.” 

Founding member Donald Battle poses behind the front desk at Cowtown Clubhouse on Nov. 23. Battle greets people when they enter the clubhouse and acts as a “first day friend” to visitors. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

The clubhouse opened in October 2019, just months before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. When social distancing and stay-at-home orders forced the center to close its doors, members stayed connected through daily Zoom meetings, Stack said. When regulations allowed, they met outdoors at parks or played basketball. 

About Cowtown Clubhouse

Website: cowtownclubhouse.org

Phone number: (817) 885-7409

Address: 415 May St., Fort Worth, Texas 76104

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday 

Donate: Cowtown Clubhouse or Clubhouse International

During the pandemic, the community became like an emotional support system, Stack said. Members genuinely wanted to know how each other were doing and called to check in on each other’s mental health. 

The community has come out stronger and more close-knit despite the trials. Now, members are able to meet in person, and the center is open to the public from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

During those hours, members can use the clubhouse resources or fulfill tasks. Stack said the clubhouse isn’t a traditional day center, where members do arts and crafts or watch television; instead, they focus on practical productivity. Mead, for example, tends to the community garden where she grows tomatoes and okra.

Since the clubhouse reopened, she has been coming at least twice a week, but said she tries to come every day that it’s open. 

“This is where my heart is, right here,” she said. 

Founding member Tanya Mead pictured in the Cowtown Clubhouse garden Nov. 23. Mead grows tomatoes and okra in the garden. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Including Mead, the clubhouse has about 56 members, Stack said, but only about 25 of them are active in the organization and visit the center regularly. To become a member, you must be at least 18 years old and have a mental health condition, although Stack said the clubhouse does not require proof of an official mental health diagnosis. 

Beyond that, membership and activity are considered voluntary. Members can come as frequently as they please, and when they come to the center, they choose what resources they want or need to use and how to use them, Stack said. 

“It’s all voluntary, and it’s meant to mimic the benefits of traditional work,” Stack said. “So when you’re coming in, you’re finding purpose, but you’re picking what you want to do and how you want to do it.” 

Cowtown Clubhouse members serve lunch at the clubhouse Nov. 23. Members must pay $1 for lunch, which is considered a donation to pay for food and kitchen supplies. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Activities can range from cooking lunch to working on the clubhouse’s monthly newsletter to going to donor meetings or calling to check in with other members. Members are not required to pay dues, but they do pay $1 for lunch, which goes toward paying for food and kitchen supplies. 

Currently, the clubhouse has only two staffers, Stack and executive director Rick Van Hooser, but it’s hoping to expand soon once it gains more funding. One founding member, Matt Feller, recently achieved peer specialist certification.

“What that means is you’re someone who has lived experience, someone who has gone through the same kind of things and can relate and help and just be a friend and kind of a cheerleader to other members,” he said, explaining the role.

Feller, 39, has struggled with mental health since he was in high school. For years, he was in and out of hospitals, but he said he never felt connected to someone who truly “got” him. 

Although he had some great counselors, Feller never felt understood on a personal level through shared experiences. As he became involved in mental health groups like Mental Health America and eventually Cowtown Clubhouse, he met various other people who shared similar stories. 

As a peer specialist at the clubhouse, his goal is to be that person that members and visitors can reach out to and find someone who both cares and relates to their experiences. 

“Therapists know a lot and they go to school, but how many of them actually know what it’s like to go through something?” he said. 

Still, he said, it’s important for visitors and potential members to realize that his role does not replace that of a professional therapist or counselor. While he does have that shared experience, he lacks professional certification, and the clubhouse does not provide clinical services. 

Stack said the clubhouse is more of an additional level of support or supplement, not designed to replace professional therapy, medication or other clinical services. 

Like Feller, Battle had been involved in other mental health programs before joining Cowtown Clubhouse. He said he faced mental health issues since his teenage years and joined Mental Health America in 2014, which eventually led him to Cowtown Clubhouse. 

As a Black man, Battle has not always found talking about mental health easy. While growing up, he was expected to “toughen up” and “get over it” when facing mental health crises.

But these days, more people are freely discussing mental health, he said. With prominent athletes such as tennis player Naomi Osaka, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and NBA player DeMar DeRozan opening up about their struggles, Battle said, he feels more empowered to talk about mental health without shame. 

And he hopes the clubhouse can empower others to do so as well. As a founding member of the clubhouse, he hopes to help new members find their voice in mental health. 

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, you are not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Fort Worth Report fellow Cecilia Lenzen may be reached at cecilia.lenzen@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Cecilia Lenzen

Cecilia Lenzen is a senior at UT-Arlington, where she is studying journalism. She spent three years working at the student newspaper, The Shorthorn, and her reporting has also appeared in the Dallas Morning...

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