A new program in two Hamilton high schools aims to support the mental health of Black and racialized youth.
Students at Bernie Custis Secondary School and Cathedral High School, both in central Hamilton, will have access to a “health and wellness connector” who will connect youth to services to support their overall health and well-being.
“It's really important for us to give hope to the kids and to give hope to our youth, particularly the Black and racialized youth who seem, based on the data, to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” said Terri Bedminster, co-founder and executive director of Refuge Newcomer Health, the organization leading the program in partnership with the Hamilton School Based Network.
“This program is to support Black youth in accessing community services around mental health, and other services, but also to have a familiar face or someone who identifies as the population.”
A Statistics Canada report in October found that youth have experienced the greatest declines in mental health since the pandemic began. Visible minority groups were more likely to report “poor” mental health.
The service was made possible by a $30,000 grant from Hamilton Community Foundation’s pandemic response fund.
This service is an addition to an existing nurse practitioner program that Refuge piloted in 2012. When COVID-19 hit, the group began to consider other ways to support the youth hardest hit by the pandemic.
“What we saw was that Black and racialized youth, based on a lot of feedback from community partners, were needing some support,” Bedminster said.
Refuge will continue to work with community partners serving Black and racialized youth “to further understand ... the specific needs of these youth,” she said.
With the funding, Refuge hired two Black young people — Dejehan “Lucky” Hamilton and Ashleigh Montague — on a part-time basis to spend time in both schools.
“We know that relationships are key to Black youth,” Bedminster said. “The ability to connect and identify with someone who looks like you and may have experiences like you, that's key.”
Hamilton, a lifelong Hamiltonian with expertise in arts education and youth mentorship, said he is excited to be “an additional resource for (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) students” — a group he has been passionate about for nearly a decade.
“I’m a firm believer in the power of one,” he said. “If we can help, change, improve, or empower one young person that would be a win.”
Sue Dunlop, superintendent of education responsible for Bernie Custis, said the school community is grateful to the team that is “enhancing opportunities for students.”
Bernie Custis is part of a family of schools deemed “high priority” by the board.
“This partnership removes barriers for students who are historically underserved and provides them with supports that will lead to success in school and beyond,” she said.
Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator