Sylvan Lake Youth Services, through SPARC, has received a grant from Alberta Health Services.
The $171,666 over three years will be used to kick start the Community Helpers Project.
The program and funding helps youth and adults with how to be helpers in the community.
“When youth are going through hard times, maybe struggling with mental health issues, thoughts of suicide, how can we as just community members helps those kids,” said Krista Carlson, FCSS Youth Services supervisor, of the program’s purpose.
She says it is not always up to the professionals because sometimes kids won’t access those services.
“They’re kind of like a middle person, so it’s kind of bridging that formal and informal resources and services that are out there,” said Carlson, adding a youth’s primary role as a Community Helper will be to connect a troubled friend with an adult.
Carlson also explained it will help to minimize the stigma around mental health and suicide.
“We need to have open conversations about that and that it’s not a scary as it seems,” said Carlson. “It’ll help people reach out a little bit more because it’s not going to be so stigmatized.”
She says they will be looking to identify “natural helpers” in the community when it comes time for training.
Individuals who others may turn to for help include coaches, youth workers, peers, volunteers or business owners.
“We’re going to ask the kids ‘who do you go to if you’re having struggles’ and we want them to name maybe a peer or maybe an adult or both,” said Carlson.
She says she knows there are already a lot of great helpers in the community.
“We see people out volunteering and we have larger and larger numbers of people helping out in the mentoring programs or in our leadership programs and we just want to be able to give them even better skills to be better helpers,” Carlson added.
Carlson explained the funding, which will be divided equally over three years, will be used to hire the coordinator of the program and provide training to those who will be a part of the program.
Youth Services is hoping to do official training starting in September as the program’s coordinator has just been hired.
The curriculum has been set out by Alberta Health Services and is research based.
The training will be free of charge to anyone in the program.
“We’re just really going to try and make it fun and interactive and interesting for those guys, so we’ll have people in the community ready to help,” Carlson explained.
Other communities have been running the program for several years, and the organization in Red Deer who runs it does outreach to other communities.
“We really wanted this to be a program that’s centred in Sylvan Lake and we’ll likely do some outreach to some of our other rural communities close by,” said Carlson.
The grant will be enough to fund the project over the next three years, but sustainability past then is no guarantee.
Carlson said they are going to start working right away on maintaining the funding going further into the future.