New mental health, food security programs being offered in Quesnel

Canadian Mental Health Association opens new office in West Quesnel

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has opened a new satellite office in Quesnel to provide a variety of services in the community.

“Our goal is to assist with community development, as well as bring in some very-needed services in town,” Maureen Davis, the executive director of CMHA Prince George, said Wednesday (Oct. 9) during an open house at the new office, which is located in the former Community Policing building in West Quesnel.

Two programs will be offered at this office.

A Canadian Red Cross-funded program will be focused on providing CMHA services to individuals impacted by the 2017 wildfires.

“That can take a wide range — it could be people still coping with anxiety from that, it could be people who lost their jobs as a result of the reduction in timbre stock and anything else, so it can definitely explore a whole lot of different kinds of services,” explained Davis.

The second program, funded by a “very generous anonymous donor,” is to provide services related to food security.

“The goal of that program is really to begin to pull the community together and be seeking out funding that is going to bring direct services into that particular need as well,” said Davis. “For example, in Prince George, nobody needs to go hungry — there’s all sorts of food-related services. In Quesnel, that does not seem to be the case, so hopefully getting to a place where hunger isn’t an issue would be the ultimate goal.”

During the open house, Davis thanked the two program funders and everyone in the community who has helped make this a reality, and she thanked the City of Quesnel for donating the use of the building and providing funding to furnish the new office.

Jonathan Morris, CEO for CMHA’s B.C. Division, came to Quesnel for the open house and was excited to see the new office.

“We really support what Maureen and her team are doing here because it really increases access to local resources in a community that really stands to benefit from mental health supports,” he said. “I think adding the office here is a really valuable addition to the fabric of care the people of West Quesnel and Quesnel can experience. It’s exciting to see there is a safe space where people can come and seek help.”

Morris recognizes there is a lot of diversity in B.C., and people living in urban areas have different needs than people living in rural areas. He believes the strength of a local CMHA office like this is it can be flexible towards what a community needs.

“What I’m optimistic about is that this office here in Quesnel can adapt so that … it can actually respond to the community’s needs,” he said. “Arguably, you want a service in a community that is responsive to the community so it actually meets the needs of the community around it.

“That’s why an office like this and a branch is so critical to local impact, providing services to local people in community — and that’s at the heart of CMHA, that’s who we are and what we try to do.”

Doris Hocevar, the Community Wellness Manager for United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo Branch, has been identifying gaps, psycho-social impacts and mental health impacts related to the wildfires and played a major role in bringing these new services to Quesnel.

Just over a year ago, she held a strategic planning session, and in that session, the participants identified that there was a “tremendous gap” in mental health outreach availability in the community and for people to access someone in an immediate way, explained Hocevar. Participants in the session began brainstorming about how to fill that gap, and CMHA was identified as the No. 1 way in which to provide mental health services, she said.

“It’s already a well-established, nationwide program,” said Hocevar. “It’s tried, tested and true; it’s been around for decades, so it just seemed like a natural fit. “

Hocevar contacted Davis and asked Davis if she thought this was feasible and if this was something she would be able to take on. Davis said yes, and she established a partnership between CMHA Prince George and the Canadian Red Cross.

READ MORE: New mental health and wellness services coming to Quesnel

Stephanie Aaslie is the new CMHA program co-ordinator in Quesnel for this two-year project, and she says her job will be shaped by what the community asks for.

“I’m really able to start from the bottom and build what the community wants,” she said. “I have a suggestion box out there, and I’m open to suggestions, so I haven’t really set what I will be doing yet. I really want to hear what the community is suggesting. So far, I’ve heard some kind of ground framework, crisis intervention but meeting people where they are at, so that is something I’m going to work towards. I’ve also heard people are wanting some after-hours as well as on the weekend, so that is something I’m open to. A big thing is that people want to be able to be heard when the issue is happening, not down the road, so hopefully we will be able to assist with that as well.”

Aaslie says they can help people build resilience, connect with community resources, find balance, learn new skills or refresh skills to assist in increasing overall well-being, and increase psycho-social functioning. The Quesnel CMHA office offers psycho-education courses, assessments, advocacy, counselling and support.

“It’s been a huge support so far, and the community has really been supportive and welcoming and encouraging, so we’re very grateful and thankful for that,” said Aaslie.

“We’re very happy to be bringing this resource to the community. It’s already been very well-received, so hopefully we’ll be able to bring some assistance to the community. I’m born and raised here, so it’s quite exciting, and I recognize that the need is there.”

Kirsten Balaski is the new food security co-ordinator. She will be looking at the food security needs in Quesnel, starting by assessing what those needs are.

“The goal is to create better access to sustainable, healthy, culturally-appropriate food fore everyone,” she said.

Balaski will do the assessment and mapping first, to identify what needs are out there, where there are gaps and where there are barriers to accessing services, and then, working with community partners — “the people who are already doing great work in terms of food security in Quesnel,” she notes — and either expanding those services or breaking down any barriers to access.

Balaski says part of her job will be co-ordinating with food sources like grocery stores, restaurants and farmers to divert food waste to people who need it.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. “I think the need is important, it’s one of our basic needs, and I’m excited to be part of setting those services up.”

The office is located at 102-345 Anderson Dr. and has set hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday. Aaslie says the rest of the time is pretty flexible.

For more information, call 236-424-1946.

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Program co-ordinator Stephanie Aaslie says this suggestion box will play an important role in determining her job description as she responds to the community’s needs. Lindsay Chung photo

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