RACINE — When the Kismet Club drop-in center for the mentally ill closed to all but a select group last month, Florence Boyer committed herself to finding a place for former participants.
Without Kismet, “They don’t have a place to go,” said Boyer, the club’s former activities assistant. “There’s nothing here for them. Kismet was it.”
A little more than two weeks later, Kismet has been reborn as the aptly named Phoenix Club, a community effort spurred by Boyer and aided by the Rev. Kevin Stewart and the Racine Hospitality Center.
The way Stewart tells it, he and center volunteers read about Kismet closing in The Journal Times, and talked over ways to reach out to former participants. The next day, Boyer walked through the door.
“The stars just aligned,” Stewart said.
Boyer was there following up on former Kismet clients — “my guys,” she calls them — to see if any ended up at the Hospitality Center, located Downtown at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 614 Main St.
She and Stewart started talking. They brought in Maria Von Schrader, Kismet’s founder and primary funding source for the past 14 years, and others from the club.
The group spent Saturday brainstorming, and from there, Stewart said, “We moved immediately, and we moved swiftly.”
That’s a relief to Boyer, who lost her job when Kismet closed but was more worried that “her guys” would get lost in the shuffle.
Milwaukee-based Transitional Living Services housed Kismet until Feb. 19. When funding ran dry, TLS restructured the club, restricting participation to those already working with TLS and whose primary diagnosis was mental illness.
Although organization representatives said the move better aligned Kismet with TLS’ focus, the restructure ousted at least half the program’s approximately 20 weekly participants, and shuttered the county’s only option for people with mental illness to simply socialize in a safe and understanding environment.
Now, at least six of those former Kismet attendees can be found at the Hospitality Center, Boyer said, and she expects more will come.
The Hospitality Center is open to anyone in the community, but the volunteers are extending a special welcome to former Kismet clients, inviting them to join in the breakfast and lunch already offered to the homeless, near-homeless and others in need of companionship and community, Stewart said.
As the Phoenix Club moves forward as part of the Hospitality Center, Stewart and the Kismet contingent are working to partner with other faith groups, community businesses, nonprofits and more to offer services for those with mental illness.
“Phoenix” refers to the mythical bird, destroyed in a blaze of fire only to be reborn and arise from the ashes.
That’s applicable to Kismet’s rebirth, but Boyer said she also chose the name “as a symbol of hope for (former Kismet clients), that even though they have mental illness they can rise up out of that.”
Von Schrader, who founded Kismet, said it’s gratifying just to see the “wonderful community effort” and, most importantly, she said, “I’m so glad that people found a place again.”
HOW TO GO:
WHAT: The Phoenix Club, formerly The Kismet Club
WHERE: The Racine Hospitality Center at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 614 Main St.
WHEN: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and 8 a.m.-noon the first Saturday of the month, starting April 6
WHO: Former Kismet participants and others diagnosed with mental illness are invited to attend, but doors are always open to anyone in the community
DONATIONS: Monetary contributions, board games, gaming systems, colored pencils, crayons, dominoes and more are welcome.
MORE INFO: Contact the Rev. Kevin Stewart, (414) 405-5619, for details.