Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Bruce Van Dusen, executive director of Polaris House, right, and staff member Levi LeCount give a tour of Polaris House in May 2017. Despite the challenges of the pandemic and a wreck that left them without a truck, work continues at Polaris House this holiday season.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File Bruce Van Dusen, executive director of Polaris House, right, and staff member Levi LeCount give a tour of Polaris House in May 2017. Despite the challenges of the pandemic and a wreck that left them without a truck, work continues at Polaris House this holiday season.

Despite setbacks, work continues at Polaris House this Christmas.

A traffic accident and the pandemic prompt operational changes.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and a wreck that left them without a truck, work continues at Polaris House this holiday season.

“We’ve done an awful lot of shopping,” said Bruce Van Dusen, executive director. “On Christmas Day, we will prep food and deliver holiday meals along with greeting cards, gift cards that can be used at Fred Meyer and IGA and boxes of chocolates to 60 people.”

Polaris House is a clubhouse community with over 400 members. They are dedicated to recovery from mental illness with members and staff working side-by-side to operate the clubhouse as a business so that helping members can step into autonomy and recovery. They are funded by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, the Alaska DHSS Division of Behavioral Health; The Juneau Community Foundation; Pick, Click, Give; and the Stan Rietman Family Charitable Organization.

[Elks Lodge turns back the clock while looking ahead]

“It’s really normal for us to be open and operating on a holiday,” Van Dusen said. “But, we can’t have a large crowd at our location this year due to COVID-19”

Instead, a Zoom gathering will take place Christmas morning. On the call, staff will check in with members and share holiday cheer. Though, Van Dusen notes the staff pays him not to sing when caroling takes place.

Earlier this month a wreck on icy roads took the group’s truck out of commision, which means holiday meals and gifts will be delivered via private vehicles as they await a repair or replacement decision from the insurance company.

“Our truck is important to us. Without it, our staff uses their own vehicles with miles reimbursement through the CARES Act money the city has distributed,” Van Dusen said. “In addition, the truck is used for employment programs, snow removal contracts, helping members move, hauling furniture and making dump runs.”

Polaris House hopes to reopen its clubhouse in January. They closed the location in mid-March based on public health guidance. A July reopening prompted record and near-record attendance. In mid-October they resumed remote operation based on the growing number of COVID-19 infections in town.

• Contact Dana Zigmund at Dana.Zigmund@juneauempire.com.

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