Seeds of Hope in Bloom: Training for a Safer Community
One Became Four
Chalmers Community Services Centre, a United Church of Canada Outreach ministry in Guelph, ON, strives to provide a safe space to all who enter. Though primarily a food pantry, their services have continued to expand over the years. Most importantly, they offer a safe space to those who may not find safety or a sense of community elsewhere. Buoyed by a Seeds of Hope grant, they convened a training in handling difficult situations and building safer community. In carrying out “Training for a Safer Community”, they modeled leadership around mental health support for community services like theirs.
They began with a four week session of ‘Mental Health First Aid’ with expert facilitator Irene Thompson. In response to volunteers’ suggestions, they then provided the opportunity to complete Emergency First Aid through St. John Ambulance. In response to the growing opioid crisis, they hosted an Overdose Prevention Coordinator to provide workshops on opioids and naloxone. They also invited peer support workers from the Welcoming Streets Initiative to speak about de-escalation strategies.
This project has given them the permission, confidence and tools to just “do something” in the midst of a crisis. Says Sarah Dermer, Program and Volunteer Coordinator at Chalmers, “We learned that we don’t have to have a background in social work, psychiatry, medicine or policing to be able to be a skilled community support person”. They noted that the training has helped them:
-feel less fearful and more confident to reach out to someone who is experiencing a mental health setback
-feel more confident in their ability to identify signs of opioid overdose and know what steps to take to intervene
-know that they can lean on each other when a crisis occurs and respond side-by-side, as a community, rather than hoping there might be a willing “expert” among them
Ms. Dermer tells us she sometimes can “struggle to find meaningful ways to thank our volunteers and show appreciation for the many ways they are ensuring our organization continues to do steady and important work in the community”. This project changed the way she views volunteer appreciation. “The ability to provide [this] training has been a wonderful opportunity to tell volunteers that we value the work that they are doing and that we are listening and responding to their needs.”
An unexpected learning came in the form of camaraderie, friendship and support that was built during these trainings. The Emergency First Aid course provided plenty of opportunities for laughter and group “commiseration” when tasked with demonstrating certain procedures. In the naloxone training, one volunteer felt comfortable to share about a loved one’s struggle with addiction. During Mental Health First Aid training, several volunteers shared their own journeys through mental health challenges. Says Dermer, “[It] allowed for us to build a stronger community of volunteers with opportunities to get to know and rely on one another in different ways”.
One volunteer views her role with Chalmers as an extension of the ministry she provides in her community of faith, finding the Mental Health First Aid particularly helpful. While in a meeting with others from the Region, she referenced the trainings and learnings that she’d had access to, and other attendees requested more information about Mental Health First Aid. “Training for a Safer Community” is not only providing support to volunteers and staff at CCSC, but could share knowledge with the wider church community.
Providing in-depth training to staff and volunteers is an excellent way to ensure United Church organizations of all kinds are well-equipped to respond to the current needs of their community. As advice to other interested ministries, Ms. Dermer says that anywhere “volunteer-driven like Chalmers Community Services Centre [should] invest in ongoing volunteer training and take advantage of available funds to be able to access local expertise and experienced facilitators”.
Seeds of Hope
Seeds of Hope grants support unique and innovative United Church ventures making an impact in our communities. If you have an idea that strives to seek justice, lives with respect in creation, and works to love and serve others, we want to hear about it! Visit the grants information on our website, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to chat about your project.
Of course, Seeds of Hope grants are made possible by the faithful generosity of United Church people. When you donate to the Foundation, you are making projects like “Training for a Safer Community” happen. We invite you to make a gift to support this important work into the future. Thank you!