United Way grant supports online youth counselling service

Jake Romphf

The United Way of Sarnia-Lambton has taken the unusual step of providing a $30,000 venture grant to an online counselling service based in Walkerton, Ont.

WES (wellness and emotional support) for Youth Online provides free and professional online counselling to those seeking support for mental health needs. It was founded in 2012 by Jamie and Yolanda Cameron after they lost their son, Wes, to suicide.

Though the agency is not based in Sarnia-Lambton, local youth account for 55% of the service’s clients, said Pamela Bodkin, the United Way’s community investment and finance director.

Venture grants are used to address emerging needs in the community, and mental health is one of them, she said.

“What we’re finding with youth nowadays is they’re more apt to reach out for help via text or online. They seem to be more comfortable in requesting help that way.”

Bodkin said the money will support the online counsellors and promote the program locally. Select students in each of Sarnia’s high schools will serve as peer leaders, promoting WES for Youth Online and how to access it. That peer-to-peer focus can make it easier to reach out for help, Bodkin said.

Young people connect to the service online or by text and are free to express their feelings and concerns. Help requests are assessed and the youth matched with a professional, non-judgmental counsellor. A variety of specialized counsellors are available to serve specific needs.

The service is free, anonymous, and the youth and matched counsellor maintain the relationship through each session.

They never meet face-to-face, but counsellors can recommend where to get in-person counselling locally if both parties agree it’s necessary.

WES for Youth Online and the Canadian Mental Health Association in Sarnia are well connected, Bodkin added.

The United Way also provided venture grants to two other organizations.

The 1st Hussars Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps is getting $15,000 for programs designed to teach youth in rural Lambton leadership, teamwork and physical fitness.

The John Howard Society is getting $30,000, the third and final installment of a three-year grant. The funding provides life skills coaching and mentoring to 20 adults experiencing multiple barriers and trying to turn their lives around.