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Downtown site unveiled for youth mental health centre

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Troy Shantz

A new mental health centre for youth will be located in Sarnia’s downtown and should open by September if all goes well, officials say.

Renovations are underway for Access Open Minds Sarnia-Lambton to occupy the former CIBC building at 190 Front St., which is owned by Lambton County.

Officials say the centre will be the go-to destination for youth age 11 to 25 and their families, offering medical references, housing support, and job and training opportunities.

“It shows the importance, that mental health and addictions for youth is front and centre,” Paula Reaume-Zimmer, VP of mental health and addiction at Bluewater Health, said during a site reveal last week.

“We know that it’s at a crisis level, we know that every family is affected by it one way or another, and now people are prepared to make the investment to make the change here.”

The hospital is partnering on the project with the Canadian Mental Health Association and St. Clair Child and Youth.

The Mike Weir Foundation has pledged $200,000 in matching funds, and Imperial Oil’s Sarnia site announced a $50,000 donation last week.

The county-owned building has 4,000-square-feet of space. When complete, visitors will walk into a warm, hospitable atmosphere more akin to a coffee shop than a doctor’s office, said Alan Stevenson, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

A 12-member youth council is helping with the design, as was the case at Ontario’s first Access Open Minds centre in Chatham.

“The most important thing for me is that it takes away the clinical feel of accessing help,” said Janessa Labadie, 16, one of the council members

“Youth want to go and be around that.”

The lower level will also be used, with a former catering space converted to a kitchen, said Reaume-Zimmer, as will an upstairs boardroom connecting to the adjacent Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery.

The local centre will join 14 other Access Open Minds centres in Canada and be part of Ontario’s Youth Wellness Hub initiative.

One in five Canadian youth suffer from mental health and substance use disorders, and 75% of mental health problems develop before the age of 25.

Last year in Ontario, 33,000 people under the age of 25 tried to take their own life, Bluewater Health said.

Lambton County purchased the bank building last year for $1 million. From 1877 until shortly before its sale, the property was continuously owned and operated as a Bank of Commerce, then a CIBC branch. The current building dates to the 1950s.

There are two ways residents can donate to the new centre. To have funds matched by the Mike Weir Foundation, go to https://mikeweir.com.

You can also donate to the Bluewater Health Foundation at https://www.bwhf.ca/.

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