Students at L’école Secondaire Catholique La Citadelle have a new space to turn to when tackling anxiety and mental health pressures. Thanks to a generous donation from Caisse Desjardins and a collaboration between multiple community partners, CitaZen, a wellness room, has come to life.
Through the development of the Social Development Council’s (SDC) Vibrant Communities; Our Safety and Well-being plan a group of individuals with unique lived expertise came together to create the Lived Experience Advisory Council (LEAC). Their main objective was to advise on the strategies in the plan and to ensure they were relevant to the needs of our community.
Ivan Labelle, Community Health Worker at Centre de santé communautaire de l’Estrie and MenTALK co-founder, was another critical team member on this project. In addition to Labelle’s expert support, Centre de santé communautaire de l’Estrie provided funds to start programming in the CitaZen space next year.
The idea of the wellness room in schools came to LEAC member, SLC Social Service Worker graduate, active community volunteer, and advocate Meghan Carter during a meeting. Through her volunteer work with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) she became aware of a similar idea of a wellness club being developed pre-pandemic by then Citadelle student Allyson Ayotte that unfortunately did not get off the ground due to Covid restriction.
“A survey by Sick Kids reports that 70% of children and youth reported a worsening of their mental health since the start of the pandemic. As a mental health promoter working in schools and the community I have seen first hand the impact the pandemic has had on youth. The hope for CitaZen is to better support the well-being of young people in a safe environment that enhances both mental health and social connection among peers to regain a sense of normalcy.” Angele D’Alessio, Mental Health Promoter, CMHA Champlain East.
“Through hundreds of conversations we had during public consultation when developing our Vibrant Communities Plan, mental health came out as the number 1 concern to address across our region. The plan also has a strong focus on prevention which is why we prioritized initiatives that focused on building resilient youth when we began our implementation.” Carilyne Hébert, Executive Director, SDC
“We have been toying with the idea of opening a student wellness facility for several years. The pandemic had delayed the project. Fortunately, thanks to the support of various community partners and a grant from la Caisses Desjardins, it has finally come to fruition. I am confident that this drop-in center and the workshops that will be held there will make our students more resilient and contribute to better mental health at home.” Shawn Rathwell Principal, École secondaire catholique La Citadelle.
The SDC will be working with a team at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit to evaluate the success of this pilot project. With the evaluation and a guide to creating such a space the SDC hopes to propose this project to all school boards in the region by early 2024.