Wellness Access for Youth (WAY) is a community-based organization that is focused on connecting youth age 12-25 with mental health and addiction services in the community.
WAY began in 2016 as a partnership between the Kemptville District Hospital (KDH) and Children’s Mental Health of Leeds and Grenville (CMHLG). Both organizations were looking at their strategic plans, and they realized that there was a real gap, particularly in Kemptville, for mental health and addiction services for youth and young adults. They were seeing a long line of youth, young adults, and their families being sent out of the community to places like CHEO or Hotel Dieu to access their mental health and addiction services.
However, many found there were long wait lists to access these services and, sometimes, if a youth didn’t meet their criteria, they were sent home.
“It felt like service providers, as well as families, were at a little bit of a loss as to where else to go for supports and services,” says WAY Project Lead Gwendy Lapp.
Initially, the idea was to have a brick-and-mortar location where a number of services providers could be housed to meet the community’s needs. “That part hasn’t evolved yet,” Gwendy says. “But service providers have definitely chosen to come together to see what they can do to bridge that gap and to be able to meet the needs of families in North Grenville with services that they don’t need to leave the area for.”
WAY strives to be the first point of contact for many mental health and addictions service providers in the area. Their partners include CMHLG, which sees clients up to age 18, Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Addictions and Mental Health (LLGAMH), which services people ages 16 and up, Parents Lifeline of Eastern Ontario (PLEO), which provides peer support for parents, and Connect Youth which helps at-risk youth who may not be at home anymore with things like housing, food security and income.
“We find, with mental health and addictions, it’s not just the counselling, but there’s lots of other things that are wrapped up in one’s mental health,” Gwendy says.
In April, 2019, WAY was able to help facilitate the opening of a walk-in clinic at the CMHLG location. This ensured that there was a dedicated counsellor in place weekly in Kemptville. They were also able to partner with PLEO to get a dedicated peer support worker there on clinic days, so when parents dropped off their child to see a counsellor, all they had to do was walk down the hall to get support for themselves. Unfortunately, the walk-in clinic is not running right now due to COVID-19; but CMHLG is still taking appointments and same-day bookings on Wednesdays.
Recently, WAY has been focusing on making themselves known to youth and their families in the community, particularly using social media. Through engaging with youth, they realized that in order to reach their target demographic, they needed to be on the social media apps that they were using.
“We decided we needed to jump on Instagram and Tik Tok," Gwendy says. "Dan, WAY’s Navigator, connected with the Kemptville Youth Centre, and some of the youth were very excited to be able to create the Tik Tok video; so that’s the route we’ve been going with.”
Engaging directly with youth in the community is something that is very important to WAY. At the beginning of February, they will be participating in a Youth Engagement Workshop, facilitated by the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health, which will focus on helping organizations like WAY to empower young people as partners in the mental health sector. Gwendy hopes this workshop will help them hone their youth engagement strategies, implement best practices, and evaluate what they are doing, to make sure they are engaging with youth in the community in a way that is meaningful to them. “Having this youth engagement workshop will be really helpful for us to remember and to think about how we include the youth to ensure that it’s their voice that we’re hearing so that we’re servicing them the best way possible.”
Looking to the future, WAY is hoping to have local youth more engaged in their decision-making process. They are also focused on supporting frontline organizations like CMHLG and LLGAMH, which have seen a large upswing in referrals due to COVID-19. “We want to make sure that that doesn’t translate into longer wait times before people are seen,” Gwendy says.
WAY is still hoping to secure physical space so that they can offer facilitated peer support groups geared towards mental health and addictions for youth in the community. Although this is largely dependent on the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gwendy says this is a service that could be extremely beneficial. “It can be really helpful to know that you’re not alone, and that there are others in your age group that have gone through, or are experiencing, similar experiences as you.”
While it has taken a while for WAY to find its footing, Gwendy says the organization has really solidified over the past couple of years in particular. “It’s really exciting to see this continue to move forward.”
Gwendy encourages any youth, young adults, or families who are struggling with mental health or addictions to reach out to WAY. Their team is trained to do intakes and are able to connect people with the services in the community which best fit their needs. Call WAY at 1-866-741-1929, or email them at email@example.com.
Hilary Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times