Mike’s Chip-in Challenge For Mental Health

Downtown space selected for Access Open Minds

Sarnia Observer-December 6, 2019

A former bank branch in downtown Sarnia will, over the next several months, transform into a mental health and addictions-focused space for youth.

The former CIBC branch at 190 Front St., vacuous and bright Friday as dignitaries gathered, has been announced as the future location of the Access Open Minds Sarnia-Lambton facility for 11-25-year-olds.

The model – 14 sites currently exist across Canada and one in Chatham-Kent has helped more than 900 youth since it opened in 2016 – is designed to make accessing help easier for the one in five on average who suffer with mental health and substance use disorders.

The Access Open Minds model, officials said, includes youth in designing the space and programming, cuts down waits, and provides easy access to supports for things like housing and social assistance.

A lease agreement for the space – aims are to have it renovated and open by next September – is being worked out with the County of Lambton, said Paula Reaume-Zimmer, integrated vice president of mental health and addictions with Bluewater Health and the Canadian Mental Health Agency Lambton-Kent.

St. Clair Child and Youth Services is the other partner agency involved in the project, being funded via philanthropy and community donations.

Imperial Oil added $50,000 to the tally so far Friday, on top of $326,000 raised via the Mike Weir Foundation, and a campaign to raise another $400,000 – including $200,000 in matching funds.

The total goal for the site is $2.5 million over five years.

The need in the community is real, officials said.

More than 100 youth are waiting for counseling service treatments with St. Clair Child and Youth, with an average wait time of 90 days, said the agency’s Sue Barnes.

St. Clair sees about 1,600 youth per year, half of whom are 11-18 years old, she said.

One of the objectives of Access Open Minds is to continue care for youth after they turn 18.

Meanwhile, even finding help in the first place can be difficult, Barnes said. Many who search end up in hospital emergency rooms, from where most are referred back to their family doctors or other community supports anyway, she said, calling that backwards.

Design specifics for the main floor and basement at the former bank building – both with about 4,000 square feet available – are being worked out, Reaume-Zimmer said, adding there’s a lot of opportunity.

The site also features a county boardroom on its second floor that Access Open Minds will be able to make use of, and a large catering kitchen to help with teaching life skills and engaging youth, she said.

Some of the renovations have already begun, she said.

“Access is a game-changer,” said Maura Cook, one on a committee of about 12 youth helping plan for the space.
“Youth won’t have to stumble alone in the dark,” she said.

The vision is still being worked out for how the space will look, but it’ll be more of a hangout spot than clinical, said Janessa Labadie, another on the youth committee.

She and Cook are both 16.

“We are so beyond grateful for the opportunity to have our voices heard and we look forward to having a safe, welcoming space for youth that fits with the vibrant culture of this downtown area,” Labadie said.

Mike’s Chip In Challenge for Mental Health Campaign

Members of the Mike Weir Foundation announced they would be matching donations up to $200,000 for the proposed Access Open Minds site as part of their Mike’s Chip In Challenge for Mental Health campaign.

The goal of the campaign, said Foundation member Jim Weir, is to encourage community members to pitch in another $200,000 to raise a total of $400,000 for the youth-focused, youth-driven mental-health hub, which will provide rapid and barrier-free mental- health support access for clients aged 11 to 25.

What spurred the campaign was Mike Weir’s ongoing concern in addressing youth mental-health issues in his hometown and helping tackle ongoing problems such as addiction and suicide head-on, Jim Weir said.

“Mike is still very connected to this community, even though he’s lived in Utah for a long time,” he said. “He gets back here three or four times a year, and I talk to him every other day. And Mike still has a lot of friends who still live in the area and, through them and through us, he’s become aware about the suicides in the area, the drug and alcohol addictions that some of our children are struggling with. He’s also aware of the real need … to do something.”

“So for over a year, we’ve been talking about how we were going to do something in the community, to really maximize what we can do, and that’s kind of why we’ve decided to go and focus on (this initiative) – children’s and adolescent’s mental health, because the situation is not very good now. We need more help, we need more advocates, and we need more funding.”

The proposed Access Open Minds site will be run and operated by Bluewater Health in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association Lambton Kent and St. Clair Child and Youth Services, as well as a variety of other community partners.

The template of the Sarnia centre will be based on the 14 other Access Open Minds service centres currently operating across Canada – including one located in downtown Chatham – as well as from input by local youth groups and youth advisory committees, said Bluewater Health’s integrated vice-president of mental-health and addiction services, Paula Reaume-Zimmer.

While the location of the facility has yet to be determined, the evidence from other municipalities suggests these centres are highly effective in engaging and assisting youth seeking help.

“Essentially the purpose of Access Opens Minds is to create a youth space as well as a treatment intervention space.” Reaume-Zimmer said. “So it’s different from what some of our other partners in the community offer, but it’s also complementary.”

“What (these centres do) is bring individuals from different organizations under one roof in a space that’s youth friendly and youth designed, so it’s more inviting to youth. They’ll come for help sooner and hopefully stay more engaged throughout their treatment,” she added.

Chatham’s Access Open Minds centre offers a glimpse into the real benefits the facility will bring to Sarnia, Reaume-Zimmer said.
The fully staffed, youth-endorsed space offers rapid access to resources, mental-health programs and referral services, while rooms designed by youth – which include a beach room, a cottage room, a Zen room and a community kitchen – give clients inviting spaces to meet, talk or work on life skills. No referrals are needed to drop in, Reaume-Zimmer added.

“We’ve been in operation in Chatham for three years, and it’s very youth driven and that’s what makes it so successful, so we’re looking to have the same process here,” she said. “… The number of individuals who are accessing the centre in Chatham has increased by 60 percent from the year prior to us opening, so it’s bringing in more youth, more individuals are coming forward.”

MPP Bob Bailey said he was excited about the announcement, thanking the Weirs for their generosity.

“I’m really looking forward to this because there’s a real issue with youth mental health in this community,” he said. “So we’re going to do everything we can do through my office and I’m certainly going to be in touch with the minister of health, Christine Elliott, to see what we can do as far as funding like they did in Chatham.”

Jim Weir said he was confident the community would help match the foundation’s $200,000 funding target.

“I look back and any time this community has needed something, people here have stepped up. And I’m confident that people will step up again for this, because I think everyone is touched by this in our community,” he said.

The Weir Foundation also announced there would be a special fundraising event taking place this September at Huron Oaks Golf Club, with the eight-time PGA champion set to make an appearance.

For more information about Mike’s Chip In Challenge for Mental Health campaign or to donate, visit www.mikeweir.com.