The Dreaming and Building of Stepping Stone House

Original Stepping Stone Clubhouse
Original Stepping Stone Clubhouse
New Stepping Stone Clubhouse New Stepping Stone Clubhouse

"A House of Hope in A Community that Cares"

This is a story of dreaming and building. Between 1992 and 1994, almost $1,000,000 was raised during a capital fundraising campaign. The result was Stepping Stone House - a 6,000-sq. ft. purpose built facility designed to provide psychosocial rehabilitative programs for adults coping with a serious mental illness. It would serve the people of the community and exist in the community. It was a groundbreaking concept, but it didn't happen overnight. Here, Maureen Joyce, Executive Director, Stepping Stone Community Services Society tells the story. We hope that it inspires others to be persistent, never lose sight of a dream, and always aim for the best!

Stepping Stone: Before Strategic Plans

The organization was established in 1984 in order to develop services for adults who were coping with a serious and persistent mental illness. These services would enhance the clinical treatment offered through a person's primary therapist or case manager at the local mental health centre. During those early days, Stepping Stone operated as a sheltered workshop - a recycling depot. We worked out of a large warehouse, with a few grungy offices. A more depressing environment you could not find and it was clear that a real challenge lay ahead.

One Day at a Time: Experiences with Rezoning

Our story evolved one day at a time, mainly responding to need or crisis. Some of the biggest issues that were out of our control were zoning issues and of course N.I.M.B.Y. (not in my back yard). We had no choice but to go to the community-at-large and ask for help. We needed them to know who we were and what we offered. We needed them to be aware, to support our efforts and to understand the needs of those with a mental illness. Despite a few setbacks, we continued to reach out to the community, share our stories and ask for their help. We made it very clear that we were here to stay and would keep coming back for help until we achieved what we had set out to do. Did it work? Yes. We developed relationships and partnerships day by day - we still are - and these partnerships have proved to be long lasting.

The Recycling Depot: Poverty, Lack of Dignity, Lack of Meaning, and Loneliness

I started to get to know my clients (as consumers were referred to in those days). Many of them lived in two of the large boarding homes in Langley, and the people who lived independently were living in poverty. These were the days before housing subsidies. Sadly - and maybe worst of all - was the absolute loneliness of the men and women who attended. They had no social life, the quality of life was very poor and most of the people who attended the sheltered workshop did so because they would receive an honorarium (a small monetary payment) every two weeks. Some hated the "work". It was dirty, there was no challenge, the rewards were little, and there was nowhere to move on to. There was no prestige in recycling in those days. However, even in those bleak surroundings we provided a place for lonely people to meet, to have a coffee and to visit with people dealing with similar issues. There had to be something better than this, something more meaningful and dignified.

Early Inspiration: the Seattle Conference

In September 1987, the Board of Directors agreed that I should attend a "Fountain House" Clubhouse Conference to be held in Seattle. The conference confirmed everything that I had been feeling; that there was a better way of providing services for the mentally ill - namely around a club model. Mental Health Services felt the same way and shortly afterwards started funding agencies to deliver club programs. The Government funding was minimal so Stepping Stone continued independent fundraising opportunities.

From Depot to Club Model: Growing Pains, Some Different Things, but Basically the Same

It was very exciting to prepare for the changeover. We closed the recycling depot and started to look for a new space. I knew exactly what I wanted, a large house within walking distance of the City. The board had decided that they had done enough renting and moving, four locations in as many years. This time we would look for a property to buy or build, settle down and provide programs. It was not to be so easy.

A Difficult Experience with Rezoning

Although we identified a house fairly quickly, it needed to be rezoned. This is really where the nightmare begins. The City Council was concerned! They were worried about the community reaction to our request to move into a residential neighbourhood. Hundreds of public hearing notices went out and on June 8th, 1988 a public hearing was set to discuss the re-zoning application. The Board Chair and I, along with other volunteers, spent hours knocking on doors handing out information packages describing our programs, hoping to alleviate any fears people might have. We talked to dozens and dozens of people. Most of them supported what we were doing in principal but they did not want to see their neighbourhood change. A few were outraged. How dare we try to move those people into their neighbourhood? N.I.M.B.Y. (not in my back yard) was rife.

Stacking the Deck: Playing to Win, Calling on our Friends for Support

We were very worried about the public hearing. We didn't know what to expect. However, over 200 people attended the meeting, which was held in a large hall in Langley . We pleaded our case and then the public responded. Again, although many people sympathized with our cause they felt strongly that we should be located somewhere else, not in their neighbourhood. Our friends from other clubhouses asked the City to favour us and told how their community supported them. Parents we had never met before came before the microphone and pleaded with the Council, as did consumers themselves.

The Saddest Day at Stepping Stone, But Signaling Better Things to Come

Despite our passionate pleas, the council turned down the rezoning application and we were devastated and discouraged. In hindsight, I think I was very naive to think that things would be so easy. The members felt rejected by their own community and were hurt by some of the things that people said.

The Beginning of the End!

In mental health, when things are down, the universe has a way of sending you something to lift your spirits and let you know you're on the right track. A few days following the public hearing, I received a call from the City Administrator of Langley. He told me that council felt they had made the only decision they could but that they would like to help us relocate. He said he would like to show me a house that the city of Langley owned. Council felt this would give us enough time to find a permanent solution to our relocation problems.

A 'Cool' Ambience

We moved into this location on October 1st, 1988 with a one year lease, and an option for another two on the understanding that it was a temporary solution; we were to continue the search for a permanent location.

Once we moved into this house, all of the pieces began to fall into place. The house was attractive, the environment warm, and more and more members began to attend. The mental health staff and psychiatrists were pleased to have a lovely place to refer their clients.

The Path to a Permanent Location

We knew we couldn't rest for too long, we had to find a permanent solution and we needed the community to support us. Stepping Stone needed a higher profile; I made myself available to talk to anyone who would listen and some of the ones who wouldn't. I had been attending the local Community Health Education Committee (CHEC) meetings for a year, talking about Stepping Stone at every opportunity and networking with other agency staff. I contacted service clubs and churches and made myself available to talk to them, to convert them so to speak.

Fund-Raising Campaign: A House of Hope in a Community That Cares

In 1989 the Board of Directors decided to enter into a fundraising campaign to build a new facility. Fundraising consultants were hired to assist.

Doing our Homework

In the process of a feasibility study, the consultants interviewed well-known and influential people in the community and identified potential donors or campaign volunteers. Members of the board then approached some of those people and invited them to become involved. Our President and another board member approached Mr. Ray Addington, a Langley resident who was very well known and influential, and invited him to become honorary chair of our campaign. He said he would "be delighted".

Powerful Friends on Our Side

Because Mr. Addington said yes, it was much easier to approach other leaders in the community to become involved and many more people joined the campaign. These included lawyers, doctors, accountants, media, radio, local Rogers Cable (who produced a half hour video which was shown several times throughout the network), newspapers, and citizens from the community-at-large such as prominent seniors and politicians, both municipal and provincial. At the very first get-together to unveil the plans of the new clubhouse and to announce the start of the fundraising campaign, Mr. Addington arrived with a pledge for $50,000 from the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem Knights Hospitaller. He followed this shortly with another pledge from the W. Garfield Weston Foundation for $50,000.

A Location of Our Own

An ongoing concern was where are we going to build? We did not want to face more public hearings and I am glad to say that City Council felt the same. They became more than willing to help.

Support from Our Community

Things were becoming easier; the community was supporting Stepping Stone. A major reason for this was the introduction of the Partnership Education Program which involved consumers, family members and professionals making public presentations and talking about mental illness from their own perspective, touching the hearts and minds of the listening audience.

Raising Funds, Raising Awareness

The first partnership presentation was to our campaign team, who heard consumers and family members tell their stories for the first time. Members and family members told the campaign team how important Stepping Stone was to them and what a difference it made in their lives. The campaign team was not only moved, they were motivated, and had a much clearer idea as to the cause. Members and family members began to take part in the presentations, cautiously at first, but gradually with more and more confidence. We developed a seven-minute video describing Stepping Stone, and this was an invaluable tool for the campaign team, as it was self explanatory. Many of our members and family members became involved and began talking to services clubs. Often, these groups were very small and sometimes, the ones that seemed the least interested were the ones who made the largest donations.

Arbour Creek

One of the most important accomplishments of Stepping Stone has been in the provision of affordable, dignified, and supported community housing. We created a sister society, West Fraser Housing which developed Arbour Creek Estates, a 33-unit townhouse complex in Langley, which included housing for families as well as adults with a mental illness. Over the past few years, through mental health funding, Stepping Stone has developed Supported Independent Living whereby people live in an apartment of their own choice, receive a rent subsidy and support from one of three full-time Community Living Support staff.

One More Hurdle - MOBILIZING THE COMMUNITY!

As part of the fundraising campaign, Stepping Stone applied for a Government grant for $221,000, one third of the capital costs. We felt confident that we would be successful. It was, therefore, a major setback to learn that the application was turned down. However, we appealed this decision, mobilized the community and demonstrated to provincial government that we had the support of the community at large. The City of Langley provided the land and the Township of Langley donated $50,000 towards capital costs.

The Theme of the Capital Campaign was "A House of Hope in a Community That Cares"

Thousands of dollars had been raised through local community service clubs, corporations, foundations, families, board members, staff and consumers. We organized a massive letter writing campaign asking the Minister to reconsider his decision. Although bitterly disappointed about being turned down for this crucial funding, our numerous friends in the community supported our efforts to have the decision reversed. There were some disheartening times, but many of our disappointments became opportunities. Happily, some months later we learned that the decision had been reversed and we were awarded the full amount of over $221,000.

Written by: Maureen Joyce, former Executive Director

Where Are We Now: Offering Hope and Recovery

Since moving in to Stepping Stone House in 1994, we have concentrated on developing and enhancing our programs. Currently we serve over 1000 people in all our programs. We also have a new name: Stepping Stone Community Services Society. On October 2nd, 2014 we celebrate 30 years of service in Langley.

One setback occurred when the Ministry of Human Resources changed the way that employment services would be delivered. Despite a very successful program that had been running for five years exceeding expectations, these changes resulted in the end of Stepping Stone's employment program. However, we responded to a request for proposals from the Vancouver Foundation for a one-year grant that would allow us to hire an Employment Specialist to develop employment opportunities for our members. This pilot project began in September 2004.

In September of 2006, with funding from BC Housing, Stepping Stone hired an Outreach Worker to serve homeless people living in Langley. The purpose of the program is to engage with homeless individuals, build trust and help connect them to services that would create stability in their lives. I am pleased to report that this program has been embraced by the community.

In March 2009 we started a new enhanced supported housing program. The Rainbow Program is a partnership between Stepping Stone Community Services Society, Langley Lions Housing Society and Fraser Health. The program will provide 25 units of low barrier, supported housing for mental health clients and is staffed 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Stepping Stone has become well known and respected as a progressive and efficient provider of services and information on mental illness.

There have been many changes in peoples' attitudes about mental illness and the way we view our services. Twenty-five years ago we didn't talk about recovery, now we do. We believe that the people we serve can lead full, productive lives and achieve their goals and dreams. We continue to face challenges and disappointments and have become adept at meeting these challenges and finding new ways of finding the resources to continuing to deliver services.

With strong leadership from our Board of Directors and a dedicated and committed staff team, Stepping Stone will continue to stay current and strive to continuously improve and enhance services. We are grateful to the numerous individuals, organizations who have helped us along the way.

I would love to hear from readers; please contact me.
Janet Burden, Executive Director