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  • Gayle Baker

Committed Volunteers Creating Connection Throughout our Community!

November 17

Fourteen joined us (in addition to toddler Benjamin) for all or part of this ASK Salt Spring conversation with the enthusiastic team of volunteers committed to enhancing mental wellness in our community. Led by David Norget, a number of Mental Wellness Initiative volunteers joined us. Some of these volunteers are recruiting professional counsellors for Reach Out Salt Spring, others are overseeing the expanded Peer Support programs, and others are Ambassadors, walking Ganges spreading connection and care throughout our village. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we learned a bit about the Mental Wellness Initiative as well as its programs.


This Mental Wellness Initiative emerged from the Salt Spring Health Advancement Network (SSHAN) (https://saltspringexchange.com/2021/04/28/salt-spring-health-advancement-network-launches-new-mental-wellness-initiative/),a monthly gathering of local organizations/community members focused upon health and wellbeing in our community. Fueled by its strong relationships with its charitable partner, Salt Spring Community Health Society https://saltspringcommunityhealth.ca/, the Mental Wellness Initiative is focused upon building relationships and interagency community cooperation/collaboration to improve mental wellness for all. It has made great strides in the three years since it was launched. Guided by its many volunteer working groups, three exciting new programs have emerged:


  1. Reach Out Salt Spring recruits practitioners to donate 10 sessions of their services to community members who could not otherwise access them. Those needing services will access the practitioners through the Reach Out SaltSpring website. As access to mental health services has been identified as one of the major barriers to mental wellness in our community, this initiative is critically-important.

  2. The Expanded Peer Support initiative includes the Goodwill Ambassador and Expanded Peer Support Outreach programs. When fully funded, Expanded Peer Support Outreach will have peer support outreach workers supporting vulnerable community members and providing support for local organisations including Lady Minto Hospital, the Salt Spring Island Public Library, CRD, and RCMP.

  3. The Goodwill Ambassador Program, with a soft launch this summer, has pairs of Ambassadors in distinctive green vests walking about Ganges connecting with passersby, businesses, and others, and assisting as needed. Some chat with business owners, others help carry groceries, while others simply provide directions or say hello.


Sharing their stories were members of the Peer Support and Reach Out Salt Spring working groups as well as three Ambassadors, with three others soon to don their green vests and begin their walkabouts. An enthusiastic Ambassador, as well as coordinator of the program, Gloria Hunter, also joined us to share her stories.


When our special guests were asked what excites and delights them, responses varied but all spoke of forging better connections throughout our community and better mental wellness when connection replaces isolation. Two Ambassadors, retired nurses, spoke with enthusiasm of their experiences walking Ganges. Both with marginalized adult children dealing with substance abuse and home insecurity, they wanted to develop connections with those in our community with similar challenges.


They shared their joy getting to know those with fewer advantages. They spoke of some of the connections they have already forged, one community member thanking them for treating him like a human being, something too rare in his life. These Ambassadors have no expectations, no agenda. . . .they just want to build those connections. Sometimes this is giving information, other times it is listening to poetry (!), sitting together over a cup of coffee, and, occasionally, buying a nutritious sandwich. They understand that this connection of kindness, connection, and their time is a rare gift in itself


When asked what they need, a few suggestions were offered:

  • More Ambassadors, committed to the joy of making connections.

  • A nutritious snack on hand would be helpful, especially as the cold weather approaches.

  • Peer Support Outreach Workers are needed to support vulnerable community members - for example to accompany those heading to Lady Minto Emergency to support and listen with them. We learned that the institutional, scary-to-some, environment of our hospital can provoke the desire to flee among those who may most need medical care. We were reminded that too many may have, at one point in their lives, been brought to the hospital by the RCPM, setting up high anxiety reactions.

  • According to these Ambassadors (and contrary to local assumptions), dogs owned by our marginalized community members are well-loved, not aggressive, and often better cared-for than their owners. Paying for veterinary bills, however is sometimes beyond their capacity. It was suggested that our local vets be approached to see about offering neutering and rabies services for pet owners who cannot pay.

  • Our community needs to support Reach Out Salt Spring built off of Reach Out in the Kootenays Program(https://www.reachoutinthekootenays.com/), a successful program recruiting local practitioners to offer free mental health services. While there are already some volunteers working hard to implement this program, more are needed to recruit local practitioners to donate their services

  • The Mental Wellness Initiative would love to have a communications specialist!

How is this Mental Wellness Initiative funded? Volunteers of the Mental Wellness Initiative and Adam Olsen met with the the Honorable Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Wellness and Addictions (https://www.leg.bc.ca/learn-about-us/members/42nd-Parliament/whiteside-jennifer) to explain the Mental Wellness Initiative to her. Uniquely, these volunteers did not come to ask her to solve our mental wellness issues. Instead, they offered her a plan for ongoing funding so that Salt Spring can address its own wellness needs. Volunteers are hopeful; the Honourable Minister and her team appeared quite taken by the plan.


Other grant applications have also been submitted, with a $5,000 commitment from the Salt Spring Island Foundation, a contributor to the MWI every year, https://ssifoundation.ca/), once full program support has been raised from other funding organisations. Grants to Island Health’s Resiliency & Safety (https://www.islandhealth.ca/learn-about-health/mental-health/resilience-and-safety-grants), and Sparc BC Community Action grants (https://www.sparc.bc.ca/partnerships/provincial-homelessness-grants/ ) have also been submitted. The Ambassador Program received a $5,000 CRD Grant-in-Aid. And, the community has been generous, with more than $12,000 from local donors - Thank-you!


Before we shifted the conversation to other critical community health needs, the Mental Wellness Initiative was summarized as containing three main facets:

  1. Expanded Peer Support including the Ambassador Program but also building a team of peer support outreach workers to support helping organizations throughout our village.

  2. Reach Out Salt Spring, recruiting professionals to offer 10 free counseling sessions a year for those in need.

  3. The Mental Wellness Initiative is committed to creating a culture of connection and care throughout our community. David reminded us that we all need this care and support and that, together, we can make that journey toward wellness for everyone.


Donations - Ways to donate to the Salt Spring Mental Wellness Initiative - and volunteers are gratefully needed and welcomed! Interested? Please email davidnorget@gmail.com if you want to learn more or volunteer for one of the exciting Mental Wellness Initiative’s programs.


Before our conversation shifted to wellness issues on the minds of many, we spoke briefly about the value of having a mental health professional ride along with RCMP. Despite this value, we also recognized the complexities of having a team of mental health professionals on call 24/7 as well as the reality that certain potentially violent calls are not appropriate for mental health workers. Acknowledgment was given for RCMP’s Clive Seabrook and Chris Griffith for his valuable community paramedic work.

Gary Holman was asked if the Peer Support Outreach and Ambassador initiatives addressed at least a portion of the previously failed Safety Initiative (https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/salt-spring-island-ea-pdf/ssi-faq-web.pdf?sfvrsn=16c49aca_0). Gary agreed that important elements of the Safety Initiative he proposed are being addressed by these Mental Wellness Initiative programs. It was suggested that a portion of the $61,000 being allocated to the PARC budget every year for bylaw enforcement might be better used by the gentler and caring approach of our Ambassadors and peer counsellors.


A conversation occurring all over our community, a participant asked what would happen to those living rough when winter grips us. There is some good news:

  • The Community Services shelter has 10 extra beds for emergencies and are open during the day. Not long ago, it was only open seasonally and closed during daytime hours. This expanded shelter, a million dollar BC Housing funding commitment, has been largely-ignored in the flurry of the frustration over BC Housing’s recent Drake Road eviction.

  • Lookout Society is renovating the former Land Bank’s Dean Road property, expected to begin accommodating 12 this month.

  • The long-delayed Drake Road 28-unit supportive housing community is expected to be finally completed in 2024, and the temporary Kings Lane community will remain open and managed by the Umbrella Society until Drake Road supportive housing is completed.

Despite this good news, the fact remains that a significant number of our community members are living rough and are expected to suffer even more when freezing temperatures arrive. While there have been meeting after meeting as well as emotional pleas, plans for a cold weather sanctuary remain only talk at this point. A focus of these conversations is CRD parkland that, while not perfect for an encampment, offers some of the only central locations available. Prerequisite to this would be a nonprofit organisation, or organisations willing to take responsibility for this possible encampment. Will a group come forward to propose a plan at the next Local Community Commission (LCC) meeting, Thursday, November 23, 9:00 a. m. in the SIMS (former Middle School) Boardroom? Stay tuned. . . .


As our time together drew to a close, the possibilities for the property of the recently-closed Phoenix School on Drake Road were discussed. Likely to be retained by School District 64, a number of nonprofit organisations are interested in leasing it, seeing its potential as perfect for worker housing; a Community Health Centre; a community commons with a shared kitchen, a communal space, camper parking, and an encampment. The list of possibilities goes on. . . .


How will the school district decide the future use of this interesting parcel of land once occupied by Phoenix School. Will there be a community engagement process initiated by the school district to determine its best use? (Just learned: Yes - A community engagement to determine the best use of the Phoenix Property will be undertaken this spring 2024.) Should the LCC consider taking the lead, proposing to rent it - like SIMS - for use by the community?


As 1:00 was upon us, we bid an appreciative farewell to David Norget, Gloria Hunter and others committed to connections and mental wellness throughout our community. We loved your stories, your energy, your optimism, and willingness to roll up your selves and get in there to make Salt Spring even a better place. (Thank-you, David, Jessica, Victoria, Toto, Gloria, Grant, Sheila, Amanda and toddler Benjamin, . . . .and to all the other volunteers connecting our community!)

Please join us this Friday, November 24, 11-1, in the SIMS (former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome John Wakefield, CRD Emergency Program Coordinator, to share information and remind us of our role protecting ourselves and our loved ones.


What would you like to ask him?

  • Can you tell us what you are doing to strengthen our Pods?

  • What should we do to strengthen our Pods?

  • What are your plans for expected weather and power outage emergencies this year?

  • What three things would you tell us to do immediately to prepare for expected winter emergencies?

  • Are we prepared for sheltering those in extreme weather/power outage emergencies?

  • And?

Please join us this Friday to welcome John!

Did you know that ASK Salt Spring now has an Event Organizer? Grand Fredrickson has stepped up to identify special guests and and coordinate their visits. . . Wahoo!

Who else would like to help? Maybe you would like to take charge of weekly media? Do you see yourself facilitating? How about writing reports? Or. . . ?


Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings,

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.

Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered

Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!


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