Gabrielle Cometa is helping to change the direction of youth-centred care at Foundry Richmond.
The peer voice is a crucial element of the model, which brings services including walk-in counselling and sexual health assistance together under one roof for anyone aged 12 to 24.
Cometa, 25, is a member of three different advisory councils at Foundry Richmond, making sure the youth voice is present when making decisions. A former user of its services herself, she says it’s been impactful to help shape youth-based offerings.
“The Foundry model is very peer support oriented,” says Cometa. “The best people to serve those who need mental health help, or help in general, are those who have experienced the (same) struggles they’ve been through.”
Cometa adds that she appreciated the counsellors’ interest in learning about many aspects of what she was struggling with, to try to connect pieces and provide appropriate help.
“It made me feel hopeful that there’s a place that knows there’s not just one thing and that’s it—they’re aware that all of these things are connected.”
She’s also a member of the space planning council, helping to make plans for the permanent home of Foundry Richmond—currently operating in an interim location. Opening during the pandemic also created some logistical challenges as staff were getting set up in the community. Walk-in, in-person appointments became pre-booked virtual ones.
But Foundry Richmond director Tania Wicken says the virtual option has worked well, given the smaller size of the current interim space—and allowed even more youth to find accessible local help.
“I think you get the clients you would get in a lot of traditional agency settings, and then you get a whole bunch of clients that might have fallen through the cracks (at another agency) because they couldn’t have fit into the structure that was there,” says walk-in counsellor Sean Ford. “Not a day goes by that I don’t notice the diversity.”
Ford adds that the virtual sessions have been “quite convenient,” and he hopes to implement some of the things he’s learned in his post-pandemic practice.
“It’s been really wonderful and encouraging to be part of a team that keeps adapting and embracing change.”
For example, although many of the sexual health nurses were redeployed during the pandemic, doctors came in to pick up additional shifts, which Ford says allowed the sexual health services to continue.
Despite the drop-in nature, Ford says it’s still possible for clients to build a trust relationship with a counsellor—they can request to see the same counsellor each time to further a connection.
Wicken adds that some clients whose needs might be a better fit for other services are connected to those services via staff, who work to bridge the gap. She says the centre currently serves about 200 people a month, and those numbers keep growing.
“We can see the integration starting to happen: (people) are coming in for one thing and getting other services on site,” Wicken adds.
She says the centre’s greatest achievement has been improving accessibility for counselling in the community.
“It’s been great to see how many youth are calling up for appointments with a variety of things going on for them, and being able to provide that counselling on the spot,” she says. “(We have) a passionate, dedicated professional team, and I think you really feel that and feel that it’s a non-judgmental inclusive space for youth to share what they want to share.”
Ford works with a variety of different people every day, a sign that the service is working for the entire community.
“I get these smaller moments in my day when I talk to a few different youth who are struggling with wildly different situations, and the support I offer is different,” he says. “We’re not just a niche—we’re here for everyone. That’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
And the accessibility of Foundry’s services is an advantage: a central location, lack of financial barrier, and in-the-moment help are beneficial, and young people can access services without parental permission. Cometa adds that being able to take your care into your own hands is empowering.
“If something like this had existed when I was in high school, I would have felt much more comfortable seeking help,” says Cometa. “Just knowing that Foundry is a place for youth where they can have a voice—I think that’s really important.”
Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel