John Shaw demonstrates how to cut glass in the Terra Pondera studio.

John Shaw demonstrates how to cut glass in the Terra Pondera studio.

Terra Pondera a safe place for down-to-earth folks

The clubhouse has been part of the community for ten years now, and the studio a relatively new addition three or four years ago.

If you walk past the NACFOR building heading north on 2nd Ave. then take a right, outside a lovely heritage house you’ll see the sign for Terra Pondera and Studio In Balance.

The clubhouse has been part of the community for ten years now, and the studio a relatively new addition three or four years ago. The regular visitors to the beautiful building are a family that all come from different moms, and although they don’t live there, everyone who comes to the clubhouse feels at home.

“I’ve been to other clubhouses and this one is the best,” Peggy Jansen said. The feeling is friendly and open over Wednesday’s shepherd’s pie lunch, cooked by in-house volunteer chef Richard Young. Conversation meanders through global warming, responsibility for the planet and the plight of polar bears (should we be feeding them?), technology and different generations, as well as frank discussions about mental health issues  and the difference the right medication can make, and a whole pile of jokes and laughter.

Terra Pondera is a safe gathering place for the people who go there, originating as a space specifically for people with mental health issues to have as part of their treatment plan.

“It fulfills a function for people in the community,” said Ganishka Silverfox-Dann, who said the clubhouse isn’t just for people with mental health issues, it’s for anyone who could benefit from a positive social group.

“Mental health” can be a mysterious term for people, and it can carry a “crazy” stigma. Folks at Terra Pondera are aware of the label, and jokes were bandied around about being “certifiable” that made everybody laugh.

“There’s lots of jokes and humour,” said Silverfox-Dann, smiling.

A sign on the wall tells people that who is seen and what is said stays in the house, reminding them that confidentiality is important to keep the space safe for everyone. Silverfox-Dann said this allows everyone to feel comfortable.

Maintaining a safe space is the highest priority. Silverfox-Dann is one of several people at the clubhouse who has been trained as a host, someone who knows what to do when “someone is not safe.” The clubhouse has protocols and rules to handle situations when people are acting in ways that are dangerous to themselves or others. Once they’re safe, they are welcome to come back to the clubhouse.

Underlying this simple statement there is clearly an understanding that people’s behaviours are different from the people themselves, and that there is compassion and forgiveness for people even when they aren’t “safe.” It is this understanding that makes the clubhouse a very safe space.

“’This is my family, these are the people I belong to’ for some people in the community,” Silverfox-Dann told me. Peggy Jansen is one of the people who enjoys being part of the friendly and down-to-earth group.

“It really helped me when I was going through harsh times,” she explained. Jansen was invited to come and see what the group was about by former coordinator Cindy Hagen. Jansen has been coming to the open activities that anyone can attend for two years now. Closed groups, which include a variety of course offerings, require a referral from a mental health worker.

A whiteboard on the dining room wall lists activities for the week, and there are more besides, says Jansen, who comes for the games and movie times as well as the great lunches.

Studio In Balance, the little studio next to the clubhouse, is full of beautiful crafts and is open for business Tuesdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursdays 9 to noon and Fridays 1-3 p.m. The studio has a kiln where artists like Wendy Tennant and John Shaw create the beautiful glass pieces for sale.

Glass art, concrete stepping stones, jewelry and more is available, so if you’re looking for a great handmade present, be sure to check it out. The Nakusp Hot Springs carries some of the handmade glass jewelry from the studio, and it may be carried at other locations around town in the future.

Although he says he wasn’t artsy or crafty before he started at the studio, Shaw says he really enjoys getting creative now, particularly designing the stepping stones.

“Cindy was always trying something new for us,” added Tennant, who enjoys creating glass art. Studio In Balance will be purchasing a new kiln they found for a good price, which will help on the production side of things.

Both Tennant and Shaw are part of the clubhouse clan, the Terra Pondera open and welcoming tribe.

“Oh yeah,” said Tennant casually, “we see each other all week.” Just like family.