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Katie’s Place opens to help those living with mental illness find purpose

Times-Tribune - 5/23/2024

SCRANTON — When Ed Shoener’s daughter Katie died by suicide in 2016, he wanted to write an obituary that would inspire others.

Little did he know, the three paragraphs he penned would go viral and inspire a movement to help those with mental illness find purpose.

On Thursday, Shoener stood at the grand opening of Katie’s Place Clubhouse at 247 Penn Ave. in a room filled with people who understood mental illness does not define a person any more than a physical illness does.

Shoener, who read from the obituary as a part of the day’s program, said his daughter was a beautiful creation of God, not just someone who struggled with bipolar disorder.

He said he viewed the spread of the obituary’s message across the area and the country as a sign from God that he had been tasked with a mission.

Because Katie Shoener had a master’s degree in human resource management and had always wanted to help others find fulfilling employment, the decision to establish a center that would serve to equip those with mental illness for successful lives seemed like a good fit.

“Katie always thought work was important,” he said.

Shoener believed if Katie lived to see the center open downtown, she would have been thrilled.

The grand opening event drew officials, residents and club members. The clubhouse, under the auspices of the Scranton Counseling Center, provides a spot for those living with mental illness to work and hone their skills for future employment.

John Rosengrant, executive director, said the clubhouse uses the concept of a “work-ordered day,” emulating a typical workday. Clubhouse members are responsible for clerical, administrative, culinary, fundraising and other duties, working alongside staff not as patients or clients, but as colleagues.

Should clubhouse members want to move on to other jobs, they will then work part time at a local business or organization for about six months, to learn more skills and prepare for the workforce, he said.

Rosengrant said many people with mental illness believe they can’t work, but when they begin participating in Katie’s Place, they realize they are well capable of working and it motivates them to move toward their potential.

Marie Onukiavage, executive director of the northeast region of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the center supports wellness and recovery.

“It will give people a chance to grow,” she said.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Chris Chermak said he was approached years ago to put together a suicide prevention program, which has continued to grow over the years, educating and inspiring members of the community.

Chermak described the center’s new location as “perfect.”

“People can walk here and it’s only down the street from me, so I’ll be able to stop in,” he said.

The organization has about 30 active members, many who staffed the event.

Rosengrant pointed out once someone becomes a clubhouse member, they will always be a clubhouse member and can return for future services, such as updating their resumes or tweaking job goals.

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