They are mentally ill. However, they believe there are others who are worse off than they are, people they can help.

The attitude of the chronically ill people who belong to the South Valley Civic Club is reflected in 13 similar clubs throughout the state. "We can control our illness and get on with our lives," is how Alberta Blue sums up their attitude. Blue, a social worker with Salt Lake Valley Mental Health, is an advisor to the South Valley Civic Club.The SVCC has 50 members. Fifteen or 20 volunteer one night a month at the Plantation Care nursing home. Others have volunteered at the homeless shelter (running the snack bar and dispensing some hope to the homeless mentally ill, as well) and worked in clean-up projects for Murray City and for the YWCA.

The clubs latest volunteer project is a voter-registration drive.

They are well-organized, but not unusually so. Throughout the United States, people who have similar problems - like schizroprenia and severe depression - are starting to organize.

They are becoming consumer advocates.

Previously they've only met in therapy sessions, says Blue, where the therapist (subtly or not) gives the orders.

In consumer clubs, they are in charge. "They vote, manage, go out into the community and ask for what they need. They ultimatly develop social skills that many of the rest of us don't have," says Blue.

"For instance, I don't know that I'd have walked into the Midvale City Council meeting and asked for downtown space for the club. But that's what they did."

The council quickly approved their request. Ronn Cowley, city councilman and president of the Midvale Chamber of Commerce, says, "I'm happy to have them for my neighbors."

He knows the South Valley Civic Club from the times they've volunteered at the Midvale "Wash and Sweep." "It's a fantastic group of people," he says. You know what's neat about them is that they are helping themselves, not looking for handouts. At the same time they are helping the city.

"You know when you have a mental problem, there could be a lot of people who are down on you. It takes a lot of guts for them to get out and meet people. But I can't think of a better way to show everyone what great people they are."

If they chose to volunteer in the city so they could become more visible, they chose "to volunteer at nursing home because we wanted to do something for a forgotten part of the community," says Phyllis Learned, the SVC club secretary. "And Plantation Care Center is close. (Many of the members don't drive because they take medication.) We also chose a nursing home because we wanted to have a little fun."

Bingo is fun.

The civic club volunteers supply the candy for prizes. They also help wheel the bedridden and wheelchair-bound into the game room. Then they call the numbers and help the elderly place the poker chips markers. "They have BIG bingo cards with BIG numbers," explains the club's vice-president, Tom Parrish. "But some of the old people still can't see the numbers. So I help them."

Recently some of the South Valley members got together for a business meeting. They talked a bit about the rewards of volunteering. Civic club president Mike Langton, and members Robert Brown, Loretta DeLobel, Keith Bennett, Stacy Maxwell, and Geraldine Turpine agree that the people who live at Plantation Care truly look forward to the monthly games.

"When we get there late they are standing at the door looking for us."