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Carriage House’s transitional services remain much in demand

After 21-year-old Justin Blessing was struck and killed by a car in 1996, members of Fort Wayne’s National Alliance for the Mentally Ill decided to take action.

Blessing had graduated from Homestead High School in 1993, excelling in art and drama and earning a $20,000 scholarship to the Columbus (Ohio) College of Art Design. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he had spent two years there before his illness forced him to return home.

“He was walking on the side of the road and was hit from the back, and the car dragged him on the road,” his mother said at the time of his death. “It was absolutely heartbreaking, because he would have beaten this thing.”

From the tragedy, NAMI-Fort Wayne members decided the community needed a facility like New York City’s legendary Fountain House, a “clubhouse” setting for people living with mental illness.

The Carriage House opened in 1998 to serve members with a diagnosis of severe, persistent mental illness.

The program isn’t a residential center but mostly a day program where members build confidence and skills by participating in its operation. They do clerical, groundskeeping and food service jobs at the Carriage House, working toward transitional jobs in the community in which they receive help with training and support. Success is measured by members’ progress in social inclusion – in the workforce, schooling, housing and wellness.

In 2006, a new facility, Chad’s Guesthouse and Teaching Center, opened on the Carriage House campus to provide training and consultation to programs interested in providing certified Clubhouse Model services in the region.