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Announcing Our 2024 Champion of Mental Health and Addiction Award Nominees!

We are thrilled to announce the nominees for the 2024 Champion of Mental Health and Addiction Awards in both individual and organization categories. These nominees have all made significant contributions to mental health and addiction within the Middlesex, Elgin, or Oxford County communities.

The award recipients will be chosen by a Selection Committee and honored by CMHA Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services at the St Joseph’s Health Care Foundations Breakfast of Champions event on Tuesday, May 7.

Let’s not delay any longer – please join us in congratulating this year’s nominees! We look forward to celebrating all our nominees at the Breakfast of Champions.

Our 2024 Individual Nominees are:

Ned Burwell

Ned, the founder of Semi Colon Tattoo Events, initiated in 2016 in his backyard in the Elgin region, has been actively supporting mental health and suicide awareness. The first event attracted 1200 people and led to subsequent fundraisers, including three events in St. Thomas that raised funds for CMHA Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services. To date, Ned has generated over $600,000 from tattoo fundraisers to support various community needs.

With a successful tattoo business spanning three decades, Ned has cultivated strong relationships and trust within the community. His tattoo studio has become a hub for mentorship and support. Known as a natural leader, Ned advocates for mental health, addiction, and resilience, guiding others in self-love. He is a go-to person for many.

Beyond fundraising and community support, Ned conducts workshops, engages with local media, and has authored six books promoting mental and spiritual well-being. In 2016, he launched the BLove campaign and the Umatter website, offering free mental and spiritual health resources.

Alisa Cleave

An intern with the Childhood Resource Centre, Alisa Cleave is described as someone who demonstrates a passion for helping and going above and beyond to support members in the community. During her internship she received recognition for introducing new therapeutic programs for clients to promote open conversations around dealing with addiction and mental health in families.

In addition to her internship, Alisa has volunteered with youth in her secondary school career at SARI Therapeutic Riding for the Disabled, volunteered with the CMHA TVAMHS Supportive Listening Line and serves to represent psychology students on student council at the University of Guelph, Psychology Society.

Taylor Duquette

Taylor completed the child and youth care program at Fanshawe College and has consistently been a strong supporter of mental health and addiction awareness. With a range of roles in the mental health sector, Taylor has offered assistance to individuals dealing with challenges in these domains. Taylor is known for providing steadfast support and lending a compassionate ear to friends in times of need. Renowned for her commitment to helping others, Taylor demonstrates exceptional empathy towards those facing difficulties.

Jaclyn Gee

Jaclyn works as a Housing Stability Worker in the Mental Health Justice Supportive Housing Program at St Leonard’s Community Services. The program offers case management support to help individuals achieve financial and housing stability, access mental health community services, and disengage from the justice system. Recently, Jaclyn was appointed as the chair of the Wellness Committee within the organization. She has been leading various wellness initiatives to promote employee well-being in the workplace.

Moreover, Jaclyn has gone a step further in her advocacy efforts by creating a podcast called “Doom to Bloom.” In less than a year, she has produced a collection of over 100 episodes. While occasionally sharing her personal experiences, she mostly engages with guests on topics such as mental health, trauma, addiction, resilience, and relationships.

Dr. Anna Gunz

Dr. Anna Gunz, a pediatric intensive care physician at Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, and an Associate Professor at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University, is actively involved in advocacy and research efforts related to Planetary Health.

Recently, Dr. Gunz responded to feedback from patients and their families regarding the need for more mental health support during their hospital stays. Recognizing the link between nature and mental well-being, she initiated the development of the Children’s Environmental Health Clinic and a nature-based healing program. This program aims to enhance the health and overall well-being of patients and medical staff by prescribing nature-based therapies and creating more natural spaces within the hospital.

The Nature for Healing program strives to improve the healthcare experience of patients and families by increasing exposure to nature both indoors and outdoors. Studies have shown that connecting with nature can have positive effects on the well-being of patients and families, offering various mental and emotional health benefits.

Kevin Kingma

Kevin’s unwavering commitment to destigmatizing mental health and his dedication to supporting others are truly remarkable. Kevin has been instrumental in raising awareness and funds to advocate for mental wellness, from organizing events and fundraisers to offering a compassionate ear to those in need. His advocacy has been crucial in spreading the message that support and resources are available for individuals dealing with mental health issues and addiction, especially in rural areas.

Through his empathy, honesty, and dedication, Kevin has made a profound impact on our community, ensuring that individuals facing mental health and addiction challenges are heard and receive the care they deserve. By openly sharing his own mental health journey, Kevin has empowered others to seek help and speak out. Whether through uplifting social media posts, sharing community resources, or engaging with various news outlets to discuss mental health, Kevin consistently supports those around him.

Alexandra Marino

Alexandra, a community therapist, specializes in treating Borderline Personality Disorder. She focuses on working with numerous adolescents and adults, viewing BPD as more connected to trauma than a personality disorder.

Throughout her career, Alexandra has dedicated herself to expanding her knowledge through obtaining various certificates and attending lectures. Her clinical training is diverse. She has received clinical training in integrative & trauma-informed practices for individuals, couples, families and group counselling/psychotherapy across the lifespan. Lately, she has started training to incorporate more somatic techniques into her practice. She consistently strives to evolve by staying updated on new information and embracing emerging concepts.

Rebecca May

Rebecca oversees the Fighting Fentanyl | Rebecca’s Journey social media page, emphasizing education and advocacy to combat stigma and raise awareness about various social issues like mental health, substance use, behavioral addiction, and homelessness.

In addition to her advocacy, Rebecca is a Shelter Worker with Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.), channeling her passion for advocacy to contribute to the betterment of her community.

Our 2024 Organization Nominees are:

#Loveyourself Canada

#Loveyourself Canada was founded in 2018 by a group of individuals who understood the importance of mental health awareness and united to make a positive impact. Recognizing the widespread issue of mental health challenges, this group advocated for increased support and took meaningful action.

Their efforts included hosting a pamper-yourself gala with complimentary treatments, aromatherapy, and a photoshoot. They also organized a silent auction to raise funds for Youth Opportunities Unlimited, supporting counseling and youth group programs. In 2019, they continued their mission by hosting a ‘Terror Trail’ haunted house event, raising $750 to highlight mental health care.

During the pandemic, they transitioned to virtual events, including online auctions from 2020 to 2021, benefiting charities like Ways Mental Health and Stem2Stern. They launched a website to raise awareness, featuring a biography video and an online resources page providing free mental health support.

In 2023, they introduced the ‘Terror Squad,’ an indoor haunted house that set a new donation record of $1,556 contributed to The Community Counselling Centre Of London. By believing that confronting fear in a safe environment can enhance well-being, they discovered that both participants and volunteers experienced a boost in serotonin levels through their participation.

Community Access Partnership Program (CAPP)

The Community Access Partnership Program (CAPP) involves staff members from St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital and St. Thomas Elgin Social Services Department, Ontario Works. These teams have established a strong and cooperative partnership to address the needs of individuals in our community who lack a permanent address. Launched in August 2023, this program has been highly successful in providing support to over 70 individuals in our community. Specifically, the collaboration aims to tackle homelessness through an innovative approach that simplifies housing, income support, inquiries, childcare issues, and daily tasks, thereby breaking the cycle of repeated challenges faced by many vulnerable patients without a stable address. The program was rolled out across various locations to evaluate its efficacy for different subgroups.

Key benefits include enhancing the health, housing, and financial situations of individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness, facilitating access to healthcare, providing real-time support to discharged Mental Health Program patients without a fixed address, linking patients with appropriate service providers before leaving the hospital to ensure seamless information transfer and access, reducing the stress and confusion for patients navigating the system independently, enhancing collaboration and communication among agencies and hospitals to improve system navigation, engaging essential community partners, ensuring timely access to the right services for patients, and enabling community partners to collaborate, address challenges, and devise solutions promptly when patients are in need or crisis.

Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.)

In the realm of advocacy, Y.O.U. has been an unwavering voice for change, tirelessly advocating for increased awareness, resources, and support for young individuals living with mental illness and addiction. The organization’s advocacy extends beyond traditional channels, utilizing a variety of mediums to reach diverse audiences and spark meaningful conversations about mental health and addiction. Whether through direct service provision, collaboration with other agencies, or innovative program development, Y.O.U. consistently prioritize meeting the diverse needs of youth affected by mental illness and addiction. Community engagement is another area where Y.O.U. shines by actively engaging with community partners to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and foster supportive environments for individuals living with mental illness and addiction. Through community outreach events, educational workshops, and partnership initiatives, Y.O.U. has mobilized passionate community members, organizations, and stakeholders to join forces in tackling mental health and addiction challenges collectively.

In recent collaboration with the Youth Wellness Hubs of Ontario (YWHO), Y.O.U. has taken on the role of agency lead in partnership with CMHA Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services, London Abused Women’s Center, London Health Sciences Center (LHSC) and many more. Together, they are dedicated to co-creating services with youth and families, aiming to provide fast and easy access to vital mental health and substance use services. This collaborative effort extends to designing service pathways that are walk-in and low barrier, ensuring that youth in our community can readily access the support they need.

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