Coffee, camaraderie for the mentally ill

Coffee, camaraderie for the mentally ill

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      One of the goals of Café Motek is to socially integrate people with and without psychiatric disabilities.
    Photo courtesy of Enosh
     
    By Avigayil Kadesh
     
    People living in the kibbutzim and other small pastoral communities near Israel’s border with Lebanon don’t have much access to café culture. Nobody wants to turn Kiryat Shmona into Tel Aviv, but the shortage of gathering spots is especially acute for the students at Tel-Hai College and for the mentally ill.
     
    Café Motek (“Sweetie”) is a social integration project that brings together these two populations – and anyone else from the Upper Galilee – for coffee and camaraderie. While there are other coffee shops in the area, this is the only one that gives the mentally ill a chance to learn skills, from waiting tables to managing the café’s website.
     
    Opened in 2006, the café is a joint venture between the college and Enosh, the Israeli Mental Health Association. Enosh’s 55 branches from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Eilat in the south offer 77 social clubs, job training and placement, and supervised housing for 5,000 people with psychiatric disabilities.
     
    Social worker Gilad Levi, manager of Café Motek, says the project was the brainchild of two Tel-Hai students who were working at the local Enosh branch. “They started to understand that our beneficiaries needed a place to go and meet people in an environment where they are not tagged as ‘sick,’ allowing direct communication as equals,” he says.
     
    Enosh was already operating a coffee shop in Haifa, and two more have since been added in Tel Aviv. Café Reich, another Enosh enterprise in Tel Aviv, evolved into a social business in which beneficiaries can own a share of the café and receive revenues. The uniqueness of Café Motek is its location in a college dormitory, where students naturally gather anyway. And it offers special evening programs such as movie nights and concerts in order to attract local residents.
     
    “The main goal of all these programs is to provide a place for our beneficiaries to get vocational training and socialize with others who have similar problems, and with the wider community,” explains Michal Danin-Hollander, Enosh’s director of resource development.
     
    “Another goal is to raise awareness to fight and reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. If there were less stigma, people would become part of the community much more easily. Employers wouldn’t mind hiring a person dealing with a psychiatric disability, and homeowners wouldn’t mind having one live next door.”
     
    Café Motek has proved to be the most successful of Enosh’s coffee shops, she says, “because there is a very strong connection with the larger community, thanks to the Tel-Hai board of directors’ openness to the concept.” Members who are too embarrassed to be seen at the local Enosh club feel no hesitation to come here and blend in.
     
    The students manning the café receive a stipend, although many stay on voluntarily after finishing their studies. The Enosh staff members are currently volunteers, but the organization is working with the Ministry of Health to turn the enterprise into a source of income for these beneficiaries.
     
    Tel-Hai biotechnology major Eliran Smilovich and education major Naama Kohavi have worked at Café Motek for three years. Kohavi plans to continue volunteering there after she graduates.
    Photo courtesy of Enosh
     
     
    Successful on several scales
     
    Café Motek has become the most requested venue for Tel-Hai students wishing to earn community-service scholarships – and not only those from the social work and psychology departments, as the two founders were.
     
    “Now there are a lot of students even from the sciences,” says Levi. “It is interesting to see people here who never thought they would talk or work with people with disabilities. Everybody wants to be part of it.”
     
    And it’s not just about the scholarship money. “You see friendships between students and our members outside the program,” says Levi. “This is even more amazing when you consider that our members are between 19 and 45, yet you will see a 30-year-old drinking at a pub with a 22-year-old student.”
     
    The café is operated by 15 students, seven people with psychiatric disabilities and 10 National Service program participants working here for a year or two as an alternative to military service.
    Yoram Kaplan, a 44-year-old resident of a nearby kibbutz, studied social work at Tel-Hai several years ago and learned that having social outlets could help lift his disabling chronic depression. He was among the founders of Café Motek.
     
    “Now he is a social worker in the community but comes twice a week to do food preparation at Café Motek, plus all the graphics for our Facebook page,” says Levi.
     
    Kaplan also attends monthly staff meetings, where discussions of operational matters are followed by presentations about mental health. At one meeting, participants in Enosh’s Dialogue Project told their personal stories. At another, a psychiatrist explained about psychiatric medications.
     
    This educational portion of the meetings was requested by students and National Service volunteers, who wanted to know more about how to deal with mentally ill customers and co-workers.
     
    “Every student in this program becomes like an ambassador for mental-health issues,” adds Danin-Hollander.
     
    She credits Levi with introducing programs to attract the general public to the café and to get everyone talking to each other.
     
    “Why would a kibbutznik come to drink coffee at Café Motek? The Enosh Kiryat Shmona branch and the café staff have come up with programs such as lectures, basketball games, concerts and movie nights. Sometimes that is what brings them in the first time, but later they come back,” she says. When they return, they bring along others.
     
    Some of the workers in the café are assigned specifically to go around talking with patrons and making them feel comfortable. “They talk about basketball and everything else you would hear in a conversation at a coffee shop,” says Levi, who previously worked with teenage girls at risk.
     
    He hopes to turn the three-day-a-week non-profit institution into a five-day-a-week gathering place for both residents and tourists in the Upper Galilee, and a workplace for people with psychiatric disabilities. Prices are kept as low as possible, and all beneficiaries of the local Enosh club get a card entitling them to a 30 percent discount.
     
    “We are the most northern place in Israel. It’s not like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, where there are five or 10 places like this,” Levi points out. “In our area, Café Motek is the only place that can provide this kind of work.”
     
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