Threshold Clubhouse — where people understand

A.J. explains that when entering or leaving Threshold, members and visitors have to sign in and out with the front desk. Club leaders said that there used to be as many as a dozen other similar clubs in the state, with the closest being Club Nova in Carrboro, but budget cuts have cut the services down to only five. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

At first glance, the one-story brick building located in Wellons Village, just off of Gary Street, doesn’t seem too extraordinary.

But on the inside, there are hundreds of stories ready to be told.

Threshold Clubhouse Durham (TC) is a place dedicated to serving adults with severe mental illness — such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression — with support needed to help them land jobs, improve education and achieve personal goals while staying out of hospitals.

Elizabeth Barber has been the executive director at Threshold since 2016. Here she checks out an online story in the VOICE on her phone. Barber has a long professional work history that includes development and fundraising for adults with developmental disabilities as far away as California. She said, “mental health is a lifelong experience, and we are here for the whole journey.” (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

“We instill that this, mental illness, is not all it is,” said Elizabeth Barber, executive director at Threshold. “Create your own destiny.” 

Threshold wants members to feel safe and like a part of the family where they can be themselves. Founded in 1985 by a core steering group of about 25 to 30 people, the clubhouse is a work-oriented program.

Ali Swiller, associate director at Threshold, has worked with club members for 24 years. She explains how the clubhouse has had positive effects on members, and that research has found that they see reduced incarceration rates and shorter hospital stays as well as better employment results. She said the club is about helping members “create their own destiny.” (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

“We’re for the community and those recovering from mental illness,” Barber said. “Mental health is a lifelong experience, and we’re here for the whole journey.” 

At Threshold, club members help the clubhouse function efficiently— from front desk reception to to cooking meals in the kitchen to deciding what staff gets hired — club members are involved with every decision affecting Threshold.

It’s a place where members learn responsibility and adaptability; while understanding stress and what healthy things can make them feel better.

A.J. gave the VOICE a tour of Threshold Clubhouse and explained what each component of the club is, does and how the club builds community. Here he gives a breakdown of how the kitchen at Threshold works, including cooking, meals and clean-up. While members often share a meal or two at the club, most actually live in group homes or family care houses. (Staff photo by Lesly Santos)

As our tour guide, Anthony Williams, also known simply as “A.J.,” told the VOICE, “It’s somewhere we can go with a home environment where we’re not looked down on, judged or approached in a wrong manner.”

A.J.’s story is just like many of the others at Threshold. He first heard about TC from his therapist.

A club member for the past decade and Durham “born and bred,” A.J. says he used to hang around in the beginning. He wanted to be a part of the club but said he wasn’t ready to give up the “street life.”

“I was involved in those streets,” he said. “Drugs, alcohol, hustling. I got tired of looking for the police and running.”

A.J. said he became a productive citizen when he gave up street life and became a member at the club. Now he’s “all in” and acts as a tour guide for visitors wanting to learn more about the club for family or community members.

Ali Swiller, the associate director at TC for more than 20 years, sums it up well.

 “We don’t shun diabetes,” she explained, concluding, “So don’t do it to someone with mental illness?”

Social gathering is important, and Threshold helps bring a sense of community. “We don’t shun illnesses like diabetes, so we shouldn’t do it to someone with mental illness,” said Swiller. Halloween and Christmas parties are huge at the club and finds members decorating the building for whichever holiday it might be. In addition, members take frequent trips outside the club to such places as museums, flea markets and even the State Fair. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
Patty is one of the members regularly attending Threshold. Most members participate through Medicaid funding while the club receives most of its funding for services from agencies like the United Way, grants or family and friend donations. Funding can be tough at times since mental health isn’t “typically in the top 10 causes for giving foundations,” club leaders say. (Staff photo by Lesly Santos)
Threshold has a vibrant transitional employment program that bridges clubhouse work to independent community employment, usually entry-level positions with several local businesses including The Angus Barn, Food Lion and the Durham County Library, to name a few. This rack of clothing holds just some of the items that members can take advantage of — especially for their job interviews. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)
While mostly dormant at the time this picture was taken, Threshold has a garden called Laura’s Place, named in honor of a former clubhouse member who died from smoking-related cancer and who requested a garden be created for the outside social enjoyment of non-smoking members. Members work together to maintain the garden, producing vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and collards. AJ said it’s a place where folks can go for a little peace. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

Story and photographs by Khadijah McFadden, Lesly Santos & Emma Webber


Khadijah McFadden is a senior at Research Triangle High School serving this year with Partners for Youth Opportunity as the teen editor-in-chief of the Durham VOICE