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Clubhouse Dispatches from NYC

Viviana Bonilla-Lopez, one of our NYC Innovation Fellows, sent us this blog about her first days in the City working for the International Center for Clubhouse Development. She's combining her passions for communication and mental health this summer with the ICCD.

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I love this city. I love how vibrant it is, and how everyone walking down the streets of Manhattan looks like they were just on a runway and are now late to work. I love the tall buildings, the street vendors, the squares that all look the same, and how you can hear 5 different languages in the span of 3 minutes by just walking down a block.

I’ve been here for eleven days now and I think I’ve managed to pretend I’m a New Yorker quite successfully and consistently. Except for maybe the time when I got lost on the subway for three hours on my first day in the city, and just yesterday when I walked all of a thousand blocks because I misunderstood an address. But other than that, I’ve been able to adapt. I cross the street by zigzagging between cabs, I no longer pronounce “Greenwich” in a manner that makes it sound like a sandwich, and I always walk the streets aloof and with a purpose.

Already my two lovely roommates and I have been out and about. We have tried pizza, falafel, “the salty pimp,” cookie dough cupcakes, and Shake Shack burgers. We’ve walked down the Brooklyn Bridge, admired our humble abode’s amazing view of Manhattan—the Empire State and Chrysler buildings included—, marveled at the sleeping pods at Google New York during our networking visit with the Minor in Entrepreneurship, and embraced my country by attending the Puerto Rican Day Parade. On top of that, I managed to run into a Joan Rivers book signing at Barnes and Nobles, visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, painstakingly bargain my way into a mere $5 discount at Chinatown, and strut down Times Square with my best friend from home and her boyfriend in tow.

But this two-month stint is not just about flaunting my tourist side. Just a week and a half into my internship at the International Center for Clubhouse Development, and I’ve fallen even more in love with this organization and the work it does.

The ICCD is an international, non-profit organization that promotes, protects, and oversees the creation of uniquely run community centers, known as clubhouses, for people with mental illnesses around the world. The clubhouse model started with the founding of Fountain House in 1948 and nowadays, there are more than 340 clubhouses all over the world. At clubhouses, mental health consumers are not patients, they are members who come of their own will and are crucial in helping run the clubhouses’ day-to-day operations. As part of my internship, I assist with projects relating to fundraising, development, research, and marketing, visit clubhouses all over New York City, receive basic training for aspiring clubhouse founders, and ask about a thousand questions a day. Just yesterday, I had the chance to visit East New York Clubhouse in Brooklyn, where I took portraits of many of the members, was treated to a delicious lunch, and even joined in on a Bob Marley-themed jam session with the clubhouses’ director and two of the members. In addition, I’m convinced that my co-workers are likely the nicest people on the planet as they are always willing to recommend New York must-sees, help me navigate this city, and make sure I feel at home. But more importantly, I love my internship because I am at a place where my ideas are valued and I’m treated like an entrepreneur-in-training. I’m not the intern who makes photocopies; I’m that advocate who will one day start a clubhouse in Puerto Rico.

With a networking session planned for today, Broadway tickets purchased for Friday, more clubhouse visits to get excited about, and more than a month in this amazing city ahead, who knows what adventures and New York situations I will get myself into. I for one can’t wait to find out!

Happy summer entrepreneurs!