Plenty of resources for Comox Valley families
"If one person walks out of here and makes one phone call and has one answer to a question they had, this is all worth it. Just one."
That was School District 71 superintendent Sherry Elwood's hope for last week's Community Support for Families forum, which provided information about resources available for youth and families in the Comox Valley.
There were many opportunities for people to find answers to their questions, as representatives from about 20 local groups — such as the Boys and Girls Club, Comox Valley Hospice Society and the St. Joseph's General Hospital Adolescent Mental Health Team — sat in front of the crowd of about 400 people at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School and spoke about the services they offer.
After every group had introduced itself, people had a chance to visit with the representatives in a smaller setting and find out more information.
"It is our hope that through the sharing of information, you will leave with more information, answers to questions and knowledge of the work of people in the community and the resources that are available," Elwood said at the beginning of the event, which was organized by the Highland Secondary School community.
"This is an evening that follows a very difficult time in the Valley with the loss of too many students. What we really wanted to do tonight was let you know ... that you are not alone in searching for answers or coping with a difficult issue in your family. We all take a role in this."
Elwood urged parents to communicate with their schools about their children, because teachers and administrators could do more to help if they knew what was going on outside of school.
"From the district's perspective, we have the gift of your children every day," she said. "Although we are not perfect by any stretch, we do our very best to support them. We often don't get it right ... often because we don't know what's going on outside school.
"If you are a parent in the audience tonight, one thing I want to encourage you is always, always know know you that can pick up the phone and talk to anyone in your school that you feel comfortable with. What you need to know is we value that connection because, like you, we want to get it right. We want to support your child to the best of our ability, and if we don't know, we can't help.
"There's an adage that it takes a village to raise a child; it will take the Valley to get it right, and we want to get it right."
School board chair Susan Barr thanked the youth who started a community conversation about suicide on Facebook, and she thanked the Highland community for organizing the forum.
"It's been really hard to lose so many of our young people," she said. "I'd just like to say that to struggle is human; nobody is immune to that. We all struggle, but we all need to know that we do not need to face these struggles alone."
Stephanie MacKinnon, a Grade 12 student at Georges P. Vanier Secondary School, was one of the students who welcomed people to the forum.
"I just hope it brought an awareness to the community and people that we need to come together," she said.
MacKinnon has been directly affected by two of the recent youth suicides.
"It's emotional, and it's an uplifting thing that there's movement," she said.
MacKinnon feels it is uplifting because people are more open about suicide now.
"As sad as it is, it's awareness now that it's out there," she said.
MacKinnon says staff at the school have been very responsive in the past couple of weeks.
"When it happened, my counsellors and principals were there constantly," she said. "I keep saying awareness, but people have opened their minds. They keep asking 'are you OK?' "
MacKinnon and a couple of other students at Vanier, with the help of vice-principal Murray McRae, are creating a video with students from all the local high schools to raise awareness about suicide.
"We're hoping kids who have gone through the stage of being suicidal and are now living in the moment will speak," she said. "One of my good friends wrote a song. It's just getting started."
The community forum was also the first time the creators of the Comox Valley Suicide Awareness Facebook group sold their gold and black suicide awareness ribbons. The group — which is also working on an online auction to raise money to make more ribbons and work on other projects — raised $883.47 in just one night.
Moving forward from last week's forum, School District 71 is going to work with its community partners, such as the RCMP and the Ministry of Children and Family Development, to create a community strategy on suicide and adolescent mental health so there is a consistent community response to tragedy in the district.
"Our commitment is we will continue to work with others and develop a strategy that provides resources and support, but also intervention and training for youth and their families so they can feel like they have the power to deal with this," said Elwood.
The point of creating a community strategy is to have a consistent, predictable approach across the Valley so there are no gaps in service and also no duplication of service, explained Elwood.
"It's a commitment to sharing information among ourselves," she said. "I have heard nothing but absolutely positive responses from the agencies. Everyone understands that developing a community strategy makes more sense. It's most important that everyone knows what everyone is doing."
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Participating community agencies included:
• Aboriginal Education Centre, Bruce Carlos — http://web.sd71.bc.ca/abed;
• Comox Valley Family Services, Gillian Normandin —
• Boys and Girls Club Parent Support, Melanie Rockwell — www.parentstogether.ca;
• Military Family Resource Centre, Mike Spooner —
• Drug Strategy Committee, Karen Rushton —
• Comox Valley Hospice Society, Barb Warren —
• John Howard Society, Vicki Luckman —
• LINC Youth Centre youth worker, Kathy Collins —
• Ministry of Children and Family Development Mental Health, Curtis Cameron — http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health;
• Parent-Teen Mediation, Adrian Symonds —
• RCMP/Victims Assistance, Sgt. Andrew Isles, Const. Tori Cliffe — 250-338-1321;
• Comox Valley Transition Society, Heather Ney, Basira Godfrey, Diana Paige — www.cvts.ca;
• School District 71 school counsellors, youth and family support workers and behaviour resource services, Esther Shatz — http://sd71.bc.ca;
• Social Media Awareness, Avi Luxenburg of NIDES —
• Suicide Prevention Program, Patti Vermette —
• St. Joseph's General Hospital Adolescent Mental Health Team, David Sommers, David Hext, Steve Hill —
• Vancouver island Crisis Line, Heather Owen —
• Youth Unlimited, Richard Snyder —