Where were you born and raised? How old are you? How long have you lived in Milwaukee?

"My name is Chris Sanchez and I’ll be 38 this upcoming Sunday. I’ve been a member for almost 2 months. My parents are from Puerto Rico and they came to America looking for a dream. My mother was in an arranged marriage when she first came to New York. My father came to New York and was a taxi driver. Eventually, they met each other.

I was born in Bronx, New York, and I am very proud of my New York roots. I was raised by my mother and father alone until I was 10, when my sister and brother came from Puerto Rico to live with us.
When I was in school, I was a smart kid. In middle school I got the highest test scores in the district. In the 8th grade, I didn't receive enough credits to move forward so I was told I needed to attend an alternative school. It was known as a school for delinquents and for this reason, I dropped out after the 8th grade.
Because I wasn’t going to school, my mother told me I needed to work. By age 12, my uncle helped me find my first job at a grocery store. I worked there throughout my teenage years. When I was 16, I met the mother of my child. We had one son together and I helped her raise the son she already had.

At one point, I was working in Manhattan in Culinary Arts. I was a dishwasher but I wanted to do more. Eventually, I was promoted to a back-of-house position, where I helped with the cleaning, worked with the managers, and handled the money.

I bounced around a lot after that. I was in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and eventually got to Milwaukee 10 years ago. My sister was living here and encouraged me to be around family."
How did you hear about GAC? 
"Once I came to Milwaukee, I started experiencing issues with my mental health. After my first mental breakdown in 2012, I ended up in the hospital. I had a few more after that and that's when I was assigned a new team of case workers. A few months ago, they noticed I wanted to get out and do something with my day-- they told me to try a new way of life... “para tu vida nuevo”-- that's when they told me about Grand Avenue Club.
When I came to GAC for the tour, it was very interesting. I was told about the three work units and that there are a lot of opportunities available to me. I remember thinking that there were a bunch of different places to work and a variety of things to do. When I was walking through, I was intrigued by the Culinary Unit. It reminded me of when I worked in Manhattan.
Which unit did you join and why?
"Once I joined GAC, I started working with Tim Voss, Michael Anderson, Paul Holmes, and Jenna Houillon in the Culinary Unit. Everyone has been very helpful and I feel comfortable here. I like that every person is working together towards a common goal. Sometimes I’m a little hard on myself because the lunch doesn’t come out the way I want it to. There was one time where I felt disappointed in myself because the meal was not ready by 12:30. Nobody else was disappointed in me, though. I continue to set goals for myself to work on in the future."

How do you like the meetings? 
"I like discussing the International Standards for Clubhouse Programs and learning more about the philosophy of Clubhouse. I enjoy being part of every aspect of GAC. It means a lot to me that members have a voice and that they are included in everything. I know my opinion is always welcome."
Have you given any thought to going to work or school? 
"Right now, I want to focus on GAC, but there is a chance that I’ll consider paid employment in the future."
What advice would you give to anyone who is isolated at home and thinking about joining GAC? 
"It’s a place to go and become somebody. I used to feel that I wasn’t important and that nobody wanted or needed me. Now, when I come here, I feel needed and I’m appreciative of the experiences available to me.

It feels fantastic being around people and working with them. Being stuck in the house, looking at four walls, there’s nobody else around. It’s very lonely. An environment like this is so friendly and welcoming and it allows me to express how I feel."
Above: Far right, Chris with several colleagues making homemade calzones for this week's Supper Club.
Above: Chris leading the Culinary Unit meeting that takes place twice a day.
Above: Chris preparing sweet potato hum bao, a steamed bun, to accompany Chinese pulled pork for GAC colleagues.
Above: Walter Heard and Chris preparing breakfast for the following day's board meeting.
Above: Chris is often one of the first to arrive each morning to guarantee that hot breakfast is ready by 8:45am.

The Colleagues of Grand Avenue Club