As a lunch of seasoned chicken and vegetables was being prepared at Greenwood Place during a recent afternoon, everything seemed to be in order.
But then, one of the members realized there weren’t enough plates. That’s when Fred Murphy loped into the large kitchen, clutching a sleeve of dinnerware to solve the problem.
It was a simple gesture — one of dozens that Murphy carries out daily — that belies his role as executive director of a cutting edge program that has, in less than three years, established itself as an integral part of Greenwood County’s social net.
“This is a 180-degree difference than what I’m used to,” Murphy, 66, said of the members-only clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation that launched in October 2017.
The nonprofit is embarking on the next stage of its growth, moving out of First Presbyterian Church’s Turner House and into space at Westminster Presbyterian Church. The ultimate goal is for Greenwood Place to find its own building.
“It’s a different chapter for us. We thank First Presbyterian Church for what they did. They allowed us to get our roots and now we’re looking to expand that. They have welcomed us with open arms,” Murphy said.
If it wasn’t for a broken ankle, Murphy never would have found his second calling. It was early 2017, and Murphy was back at First Presbyterian Church for the first time in four months after recuperating.
Carol Scales, chairwoman of Greenwood Place’s governing board, was speaking to the congregation about their search for an executive director.
“Something just kind of led me to talk to her after church and she invited me to come and just have lunch with the members and she told me ahead of time that they would need to approve and I said, ‘sure,’” Murphy said. “I knew a little bit about Greenwood Place, but not a whole lot and I came that one day and I had lunch with them and they asked me a number of questions about my background and why I wanted to be in a place that worked with adults with long-term mental health issues and I said, ‘well, that question, I’m not sure I can answer you right now because I am learning myself about what y’all do.’”
Murphy, originally from Alabama, came to the job after spending more than 40 years in the financial sector, including an 11-year stint with Countybank in Greenwood, a position he left in October 2016.
“I come from a background in the financial world and I can tell you, the last almost three years now, I have had more fun. Every day is different and if I can help somebody, it’s just a great feeling. They do more for me than I can do for them,” Murphy said.
Scales said Murphy’s unorthodox background quickly took a back seat to the passion and vision he had for the organization.
“Fred has been just the person we needed at just the right time in the program’s development. His thoughtful, calm Alabama style helps the members feel confident and secure,” she said. “He encourages each of them, yet presents reality in an acceptable manner.”
Greenwood Place is one of two locations in the state that use a clubhouse model of care for people with mental health conditions — leaving day-to-day operations in the hands of members, who do everything from cooking meals to taking attendance and writing monthly newsletters.
It’s an offshoot of Greenville’s Gateway House, which Murphy and others affectionately call the “mothership.”
When he was considering the job, Murphy spent a day at Gateway House, which helped convince him it was a career path worth pursuing.
“The members up there were so open and welcoming and to be able to see the different levels of capability and in talking to their executive director up there, he was telling me stories about the individuals as they came in and now where they are,” Murphy said.
Today, Greenwood Place boasts 63 members — more than half of them live independently and eight are working. Later this year, the clubhouse hopes to become Medicaid-eligible, but its rapid success has provided public and private sector aid that’s allowed for the purchase of two passenger buses.
Every day, volunteers — and sometimes Murphy himself — travel nearly 300 miles to transport members from as far away as McCormick and Plum Branch.
Greenwood Place employee James Duncan said Murphy’s hands-on approach brings a lively spirit to the day.
“It’s exciting to work with him. It’s amazing how everybody comes together and works as a team. They’re willing to do anything we ask them to do,” Duncan said. “It’s just an honor and pleasure to work with him. Love and magic is in the air, it really is. What I like about it is that you can’t tell staff from members. We work side-by-side with them.”
In fact, Scales said, Murphy’s non-medical background gave him insight about how Greenwood Place could maximize its resources.
“His lack of formal psychiatric training allows him to work alongside our members unencumbered, (with no) preconceived notions,” she said.
On its website, Clubhouse International says its approach offers long-term benefits, such as fewer hospital stays, reduced incarcerations and avoidance of psychiatric costs.
“You’re trying to provide a place for our members to come where they feel safe, welcome, provides them with a purpose,” Murphy said.
He’s also frank about what he’s been able to learn from his members.
“I tell people, I spent most of my life running away from people like this. A lot of people think the individuals are either violent or they’re not very smart, which is not true either. We have members here who used to be teachers, Gateway, I know of two professors that used to teach at Clemson University,” Murphy said. “It is not an issue of IQ, it’s a disease. So I had to go back and re-think and I continually have to re-think that I’m not dealing with people who don’t understand how to do things.”