Story by Lisa Anderson and Photo Provided by Leda Pérez
“We’re all, at some level, dealing with a mental challenge,” says Leda Pérez, Director at The Ora Clubhouse. “Mental illness has a stigma, because it not like cancer or physical damage, like broken bones or cuts. Even though mental illness cannot be seen, it is most certainly felt.”
The Ora Clubhouse is a local community center that provides its members with a place to build relationships, learn valuable life and employment skills, and gain knowledge about nutrition and fitness. In short, it’s a place where members can reintegrate themselves within the community.
The Ora Clubhouse is under the auspice of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) Marion County, a non-profit 501(c)(3), and follows the guidelines and model of Clubhouse International.
Clubhouse International began when five individuals came together on the steps of a library in New York simply to offer support. “It’s the power of passion. I love that these people got together, because they wanted to help one another. They ended up helping the world!”
Leda, a health and wellness coach, moved from Orlando to Ocala in 2012. She may be best known for starting the networking group Women On a Mission to Earn Commission (WOMTEC), but in 2019, she was offered the position at The Ora Clubhouse. “I had never even heard of it. If you said clubhouse to me back then, I would have [thought] fitness or working out.
“We’re really that next step. We’re not clinical or medical. We don’t do anything like that. All it is is just working side-by-side with someone else. That’s it! Having that communion with people, that interaction [or] conversation. Some days the members are completely silent. They’re just working. It’s that sense of belonging somewhere and fitting in, where the stigma doesn’t even exist.”
Passion and Belief
Members do not pay to be involved, but they do need a clinical diagnosis. They are involved in every aspect of the clubhouse—from meetings and interviews to the growth and business. The members recently helped name their monthly events and they are now called a Gathering of Beautiful Minds. “I love creating with [our members]. They have such a unique way of expressing themselves, living in this environment, and fitting into that space,” says Leda.
“I’m a great believer that what you focus on, you will create. We are creators in this world. We get to dictate where we go and what we want and how we want it. Everybody in this world has the opportunity to create that extraordinary life.” It’s that belief that drives Leda in her role at the clubhouse and as a health and wellness coach.
Her family has also struggled through the devastating effects mental health conditions can cause. It’s part of what makes Leda so empathetic to the members of the clubhouse and her community, but working there has helped improve her perspective. “It’s really made me aware we are all going through our own little thing. I’ve learned not to judge as harshly, when we see someone who is really having a difficult day.
“In order to feel better about themselves, [our members] exclude themselves from society and close themselves off. And we [The Ora Clubhouse] open our doors and say, ‘You’ve got a place right here.’”
The clubhouse is open 365 days a year. They do not currently have housing options available, but Leda says she plans to make that happen. “If we could get to that, you don’t know how wonderful it would be.”
Part of the day-to-day activities include outreach to their 54 members. Some days, they are overwhelmed with emails, calls, and texts, but it’s the times you don’t hear from someone you begin to worry. “The most difficult time is during the holidays, when they have nowhere to go,” states Leda, but now, there is the clubhouse.
If you would like to get involved, you can call (352) 402–9001 to donate. All donations are made out to NAMI Marion County, indicating the donation is for The Ora Clubhouse.
There are not opportunities to volunteer as the members do all the work, but other types of donations are greatly appreciated. The clubhouse focuses on nutrition, so canned goods are preferred over snacks and pastas.
Advisory Council Members:
- Dr. Manal Fakhoury
- Dr. Julie Stubrud
- Stephanie Judd
- Angie Rushing
- Robert Cooper
- Rev. Cindy Grimes
- Dottie Comeau Conway
- Judge Thomas Thompson
- Regina Lewis
- Amy Keel
- Paul Stentiford
- Kim Sabol
- Transportation Vehicle
- Gift Cards to Walmart or Publix
- Canned Goods
- Monetary Donations
For more information, call or email info@TheOraClubhouse.org.