There is a new foundation in town whose focus is to raise money and spread awareness of addictions and mental health. The Safe Passage Foundation was spearheaded by Wendy Embleton of Exit Realty By Design at the end of last year, when she saw the desperate need for mental health and addictions support in the North Grenville community and beyond. “I don’t know anyone in my circle who hasn’t been affected by this,” she says.
COVID-19 has definitely caused a rise in the need for services for both youth and adults across Ontario. According to a survey by the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health, nearly one third of young people reported that their mental health has worsened due to the pandemic. Over one quarter of parents/caregivers reported that their mental health was below “good”. Executive Director of Children’s Mental Health of Leeds and Grenville, Lorena Crosby, says referrals to their services have risen 20-25% over this time last year.
“I think there is an incredible impact, because the adults in the home are also quite stressed and impacted by the pandemic as well. It could be job losses, it could be changes in employment, it could be parents trying to manage work while kids are not in school; the effects of the pandemic are pretty far reaching.”
Executive Director of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Addictions and Mental Health, Patricia Kyle, agrees that the need has risen due to the pandemic. “I think with the kind of anxiety, fear, and worry, one coping mechanism at times for people is the use of drugs or alcohol. And we hear that, across the country, alcohol use has increased.”
To help support mental health services across Eastern Ontario, now and into the future, Exit Realty By Design will be donating 5% of every transaction that comes through their office to the Foundation, and some of their agents have also expressed interest in matching the donation. The Foundation has been set up with the Ottawa Community Foundation, which will be trusted stewards of the funds and help build longevity into organization.
“Whatever we can put into it, the Foundation will last forever,” Wendy says. “That was a key ingredient. I wanted something that was going to last forever and keep growing.”
Wendy is adamant that raising money is only one piece of the puzzle. “We are not only trying to raise funds, but also trying to open up the doors and the conversations, and get more educated about the programs and what not that are available in our region.”
Exit Realty By Design now has a page on their website for the Safe Passage Foundation, where they hope to help connect people in need with supports in their community. Right now, they are in the information gathering stage, connecting with organizations all over Eastern Ontario who might be able to support people and their loved ones who are struggling. It is a daunting task for a business that is used to helping people buy, sell, and renovate homes, and Wendy says it has been a struggle just figuring out which organizations to support. “I had somebody say – if you’re having a hard time throwing money at it, imagine what it’s like to be a parent trying to figure out where to go. So that defined what I wanted to do with this.”
Although setting up the Foundation and figuring out how to support the community in a different way has been a lot of work and a steep learning curve, Wendy is still extremely determined and passionate about the cause. “One of our team said to me when I first set up the Foundation – if we can save one parent from going through this hell, anything is worth it.”
If there is one thing that Wendy would like to tell people struggling with mental health or addictions it’s: “You are not alone.” While the Foundation is set up, they are still gathering resources to share. In the meantime, a confidential contact form on the Safe Passage Foundation page can be used, and they will do their best to connect people in need with resources available. “If one person is affected by this, whether it be financially, or unsure where to turn, and they find an advocate, I think that’s important,” Wendy says.
Here is the contact information for some of the mental health services available in the community:
Children’s Mental Health of Leeds and Grenville (18 and under): 1-800-809-2494
Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Addictions and Mental Health (16 and up): 613-342-2262
Wellness Access for Youth (WAY) (16-24): 1-866-741-1929 or [email protected].