City Coun. Brian White: “This really matters.”
For local youth struggling with mental health and substance abuse – and those closest to them – Tuesday’s official opening of the Youth Wellness Hub Sarnia-Lambton presented renewed hope.
Lead donor and golf icon Mike Weir had a catch in his throat as he talked about his dream that the $3-million downtown facility will be a place where local youth aged 12 – 25 will seek help in a crisis.
“It’s pretty emotional,” he said to about 250 people gathered outside the hub at the southeast corner of Front and Lochiel streets.
“It’s been a long road through Covid to get to where we are today,” Weir said, referring to interruptions in planning and renovations brought on by the pandemic.
“But I’m just so proud of our community for coming together like this,” he said. “We have great support for our youth now…that’s all we want for them, that they can realize their own potential.”
About six years ago, a group of Sarnians and the providers of several mental health-related agencies, recognized too many youth were falling through the cracks. Overdoses, drug use, homelessness and suicide are chronic problems plaguing local young adults.
Existing agencies like Canadian Mental Health, Bluewater Health, and St. Clair Child & Youth couldn’t keep up with demand and wait lists for critical services were lengthy.
A “wellness hub” concept developed to bring all mental health and substance abuse services under one roof for easy access, quick assessment and, importantly, fast delivery.
The need was recognized and donors were sought, explained Kathy Alexander, executive director of the Bluewater Health Foundation.
Mike Weir, who grew up in Sarnia and was concerned for the youth in his hometown, kick-started the fundraising effort. Rather than wait for the provincial government to decide that Sarnia-Lambton would get a wellness hub, the community rallied to get one established.
That’s what makes the Sarnia hub unique, said Alexander. Sarnia-Lambton took an innovative approach and became home to the first hub to be built by community philanthropy in Ontario.
Lambton County stepped up and donated the building in the commercial core for $1. And then, as renovations continued, news came that the provincial government would provide $450,000 a year to operate and staff the hub.
Since a soft opening in June, the hub has served current clients at the various agencies and is starting to attract new walk-ins, said manager Tim Heath.
What is important is the welcoming environment that provides immediate assessments and cuts down on the frustration that builds when people have to repeat their difficult stories and wait months for service, Alexander said.
As the parent of a child with mental health challenges, Sarnia Coun. and Lambton County Deputy Warden Brian White agreed the hub will be a game changer.
“It’s extremely difficult as parents when you see your young people hurting, and you have no answers, and you reach out to an agency that says there’s a six-month wait list,” he said during the opening.
“Quite often there’s no shelter from the storm…and as a parent, you can feel very much isolated.”
He called the new hub an incredible space.
“This really matters,” said White. “To the families and to the youth, I want you to know, after all the struggles, eventually people will hear and sometimes there is a ray of hope.”
Directly across the street at 142 Lochiel St. is a new youth activity centre that takes referrals from the Youth Wellness Hub. Weir Active is a two-year pilot project to demonstrate that play and movement have a place in mental wellness, says project manager Kendel Ross.
Activities vary from yoga and meditation to weights and lawn games and are free to those aged 12 – 25 who register at the hub.
The Mike Weir Foundation is the sole funder for Weir Active.
“For me, doing something active…when I’m struggling myself, is a huge plus in my life,” said Weir. “I think youth, when they find (activity) for themselves – whatever that is – it will be a great part of overall wellbeing.”
YOUTH WELLNESS HUB SARNIA-LAMBTON
WHAT IS IT? The newest in the province’s network of 22 Wellness Hubs for youth ages 12 -25 and their families. A one-stop shop for integrated youth services for mental health and wellness support.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: The hub is a friendly place where youth can walk in and immediately be assessed, then find the services they need right away for anything from substance abuse and primary health care to housing and peer support. No long wait lists.
WHERE? Southeast corner of Front and Lochiel streets in the former Bank of Commerce building.
ACCESS? Just call or drop in Monday, Thursday and Friday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. General phone inquiries: 519-491-1466. Crisis Line 519-336-3445 or 1-800-307-4319.
SERVICES: Crisis/Walk in support, case management, psychotherapy, peer support, addiction Services, nurse practitioner, activity groups, fitness activities, family support, housing support and vocational services.