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Mental health remains key to Fiona recovery

Community members took part in the gardening workshop as part of the Red Cross Mental Health Initiative. – Submitted photo

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

SOUTHWEST COAST — Since Hurricane Fiona made landfall last September, the entire region has been in recovery mode. The financial and emotional hardships resulting from the impacts are far-reaching, but there are supports in place to help people in their time of need. One of these programs aims to provide mental health supports to those impacted by the hurricane. “The recovery initiative is an opportunity to promote health and well-being, connectedness, community building and capacity and promote positive and engaging activities in the recovery phase of Fiona. I am a Registered Social Worker, originally from Quadra Island BC, and have spent the last 10 years living in the Western Arctic, and most recently have been residing in the community of Port aux Basques since early October 2022. I am grateful to have the opportunity to immerse myself in a beautiful and resilient community,” said Corenna Hult, Manager for the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) recovery project. “This recovery phase was implemented prior to Christmas and has evolved and developed as we continue moving forward. Local stakeholders, having built solid relationships with MHPSS personnel, have signified the need for assistance in addressing psychosocial risk factors and reinforce protective factors. A strong partnership with Mayor Brian Button, Manager of Wester Health Cindy Parsons, and St. James’ High principal Rob Parsons, has been ongoing, providing an opportunity to meet regularly and collaboratively to address needs and concerns and gaps within the community and how we can best support.” The initial plan for the project was for the Fiona response, but it was determined that the project needed to be continued into recovery. “Right now I’m currently working remotely over the summer, but I’ll be back in August physically into the community to continue on building on this program. The idea is, essentially, it’s an opportunity to promote health and well-being, community building, community capacity and connectedness, and promote positive and engaging activities. It’s essentially an opportunity to bring people together, find that connectedness. We have been providing numerous free events. There’s no cost to anybody and it’s building into quite a successful initiative,” said Hult. The initiative is supported by numerous free events and activities that are designed to bring people together, promoting connectedness, reducing isolation, and increasing engagement in a positive environment. “We’re creating them (the events and activities) as they go along based on what the interest is within the community. There’s a lot of community feedback in what they would like to see and what might be of interest,” said Hult. The events cover a variety of activities to cater to everyone. “We’ve had numerous baking events where we have individuals get together and the school graciously donates the kitchen for us to come together and learn how to bake something new. We’ve done different cookies, different treats, and so we’ve done the baking events a couple of times. We’ve done a sea glass workshop where we had Susan Pike generously donate her time and supplies to a large group of individuals who came together and again built that connection,” said Hult. “There’s always treats and there’s a mental health aspect to it as well. There’s always support in place. It’s bringing people out of isolation and bringing them together into a positive environment. It gives time to focus on something other than the trauma and what everybody has been going through and experiencing. So either to share with other people or to just have some lightness and some positivity and take their mind off it completely. We’ve also done a turkey deboning course, we’ve done the gardening workshop, we have a weekly card night that is hosted at the Joe Lane Room, the town has donated the space for us for our cards and other events, and we offer prizes and refreshments and whatnot. It has really grown from, in the beginning, I think about six people, and now we’re seeing well over 20 every week.” One of the highlights of the initiative is the gardening workshop. “The workshop was presented by Lana Thorimbert from Bert Bark Inn, who supported our project by providing a successful afternoon of planting tomato plants. She came in and presented with a great knowledge of planting and growing. This workshop brought together participants ranging from 90 years old to teenagers from Port aux Basques and the surrounding area to enjoy a day that brought such a positive energy for participants attending for various reasons: to learn about gardening, for the therapeutic aspect of plants and gardening, for their own mental health, socialization and community. There was networking and sharing and planting, everyone got to bring home a tomato plant; for some this was the first plant to reconstruct a garden that had been lost in Fiona,” said Hult. “We are hoping for a part two in the fall. The foundation of everything is mental health and well being. So just offering that positive vibe and outlook and gardening is very therapeutic in itself.” MHPSS has partnered with community agencies such as Peaceful Communities to directly support different opportunities for mental health projects and engagement. “I have also offered presentations to the community in regards to Canadian Red Cross (CRC)’s Friendly Caller’s program and the issues surrounding loneliness and isolation,” said Hult. “CRC has also provided Psychological First Aid training to participants in the community with additional trainings to resume in the fall. MHPSS has also been present to provide individual case management support as required.” Dood Francis, one of the community members and volunteers who have championed the initiative, is extremely thankful for what it has given the community. “I want to thank the Red Cross and Corenna for creating great memories for us. I am enjoying the events that are bringing us all together,” said Francis. “A big thank you to Lana who brought us great knowledge on how to maintain our gardens and big thank you to all the gardeners who shared their flowers. Lana also gifted the whole class with a tomato plant and how to care for it. I am looking forward to the upcoming projects that are being planned, we are all making new friends and it’s bringing us all together. When I look back on the Fiona, I can also look back at the great events that were provided for the community.” With events like Fiona taking such a lengthy toll on the community, a focus on mental health remains important. “An event like this, it can cause PTSD and trauma and isolation and stress, and there’s just so many different factors,” explained Hult. “So it’s really important to have people come together and show their resilience in different ways. Having that opportunity to be supportive, having that opportunity for people to connect with others and their peers and be able to do something fun and uplifting and positive while going through this.” Hult is thankful for each and every person who has made the initiative such a wonderful success. “A huge shout out to Dood and Ab Francis, who have embraced this initiative, volunteering their time and support to these events from the beginning, as well as Esther Green who has ensured cards continue to over the summer months. Their support is beyond appreciated to ensure the continued success of this project,” said Hult. “The impact this recovery initiative has had on the community continues to grow and have a positive effect on the community and those who choose to participate, bringing happiness and connectedness.”

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