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Resident finds strength, support at Cirrus House
March 25, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Denise Manuel gives a tour at Cirrus House where she first arrived 25 years ago. She has managed to live independently despite mental illness, and has become one of the clubhouse’s success stories.

Scottsbluff resident Denise Manuel, 45, has lived in her own house for 14 years. That’s a big deal for her. Her pursuit to live independently – it has been a lifetime endeavor.

Manuel acted as tour guide on a visit to Cirrus House a few weeks ago, and said she was scheduled to get new carpet at her house. She joked that she was spoiled, but then changed her words to “being blessed.”

As part of her job, Manuel works in the Numbers and Navigation Unit at Cirrus House in Scottsbluff by helping members with mental illness to do the same. Cirrus House prides itself on bringing out the best in people by focusing on what they do best, a concept called strengths-based. Among her other jobs, she drives members to appointments and events.

Earlier this month, she drove a few female members to Girls Day Out at the Civic Center in Gering, where she remarked on listening to a talk on the evolution of women’s undergarments, a timely event for Women’s History Month.

“What I really like to do is raise funds,” Manuel said. “We have done several, one at the Gering Civic Center, with Nebraska’s native daughter the 2012 Miss America, Teresa Scanlan. “We had her perform and speak. We had an auction, too.”

Manuel added, “In the past, I helped in the dining room as a hostess, and wrote numerous articles for the Cirrus House newsletter.” Manuel also keeps journals and diaries, and “has always written get well cards for other members and her family at West Way, a Christian church in Scottsbluff.

Manuel has been at Cirrus House for 25 years. Prior to that, she lived in Alliance “hanging out at a home” there until some of her church friends brought her to Scottsbluff to Cirrus House and people who could help her. She stayed at the clubhouse from February to June 1991, in a program which was the precursor to Assisted Living. At that time the Cirrus House occupied offices and facilities in a building which was formerly the Emory Hotel. The upstairs dining room is now occupied by Cirrus House Director Brent Anderson.

Manuel was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder on Sept. 18, 1986. She now copes with a Schizo-effective disorder, having to do with moods.
Medications, which help her to remain stable, also limit other emotions, some which may become extreme if she did not take medication.

In 1991, she moved from the domiciliary to an apartment on Avenue E, it was the first step to independent living. “There are times I haven’t done well, and other times I’ve done really well,” Manuel said. “In February, Marcia Estrada helped me to get SS (Social Security), when I moved out in June, and I became manager of my own affairs.”

In the early days Community Support and Day Rehabilitation (Clubhouse) were provided by one worker until the State mandated these services be provided by different workers. Those parameters are in place today.

Manuel came to Cirrus in 1991. “I didn’t know anything about Cirrus House, or the mission, or that this place was here. I came here, amazed by the help and support I got.”

Now she lives in a house at 22nd and Ave B, and has for the past 14 years this April. Back in the humble beginnings of the clubhouse, community support for the mentally ill did not exist. It was more a generic case management system. Since then, Nebraska has defined it more precisely. Cirrus House was the first agency to provide community support in 1998.

As an example of how far she’s come, Manuel attended a three-week training in Worcester, Mass., in the summer of 2010 with other staff members. “It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work to learn about the clubhouse model. As a result, we reorganized our work units,” she said.

Anderson said, it was an example of how to engage people with positive employment outcomes.

The clubhouse in Worcester is a about the same size as Cirrus House, while Cirrus serves the greater Panhandle, Worcester serves a community.

That has always been the clubhouse’s way.
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