With several cushy couches and chairs, puzzles set out on a table near the door and magazines spilling over the coffee table, the Jubilee Center aspires to be nothing more than a living room away from a living room.
Located in a shopping center on West Winnie Lane, the Jubilee Center is a daytime drop-in center for the mentally ill and the homeless. Simply put, says Director Jean Roberts, it's a place to hang out for those with nowhere else to go during the day.
"We need to get the word out that we are a comfortable place to come," Roberts said. "We are what we call another living room. We're non-judgmental, it's a very comfortable place. We are a place where (the mentally ill and homeless) can come and feel accepted."
Roberts said years ago, she suffered from a "nervous breakdown" and said while recovering, she always wished for a place to go, "a place I could be with someone who really understood."
"I know in my heart how badly a place like this is needed," Roberts said. "I'm thrilled to death to be a part of this. It's just a haven in the storm, so to speak. I wish we could be here seven days a week."
Roberts and Executive Director Gene Combs prefer to call those who visit Jubilee Center members rather than clients. Anyone visiting is asked to sign in, but other than that can play a board game, watch television, read and partake of free coffee and muffins without having to utter a word to anyone else.
"Everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect and many people with mental illnesses are not treated with dignity and respect," Combs said. "If you work under the principle that everyone is a child of God, regardless of the outside circumstances, that means you have to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
"That is the keystone of what this place is about. People should be allowed to be who they are even if who they are includes a mental illness. They need a place where they're not judged, where they know they're not going to be laughed at, where they won't be put down or humiliated."
Cindy was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about two years ago and has frequented Jubilee Center since it opened Nov. 2. She said one of the things she likes about the center is "not having to deal with counselors harping on you all the time."
"You need to get away from that sometimes," she said. "I was excited for a place to hang out. People here are friendly, and it's a comfortable place to get out of the cold."
Until more volunteers can be found, the center is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"I'm eager for the day when I have members saying, 'I want to be there everyday,'" Roberts said.
Starting Jubilee Center was the idea of Combs, a retired Episcopal priest, who spent five years before his retirement directing a Jubilee Center in Rockford, Ill.
Combs said the Illinois center started after some residents noticed that homeless people wandered the streets during the day while shelters were closed.
"They just needed some sort of home during the day," Combs said. "It's bitterly cold there, and they just needed a place to hang out. Nobody expected there to be a need until we stepped in, and then (the response) was overwhelming. The drop-in center met such an unexpected need."
Combs said he had the idea to start Jubilee Center after seeing homeless people standing in front of FISH daily with nowhere to go.
"I thought they were the type of people who would have gone to the Jubilee Center," Combs said. "Then I got talking with some people. It's taken about two years and a lot of hard work to get where we are."
Membership at the center is growing slowly, intentionally Combs gives volunteers time to adjust to helping out. Roberts said about six members have come more than once, and she expects that number to grow as word of the center gets out.