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From Candy Factory to Vital Healing Hub

by | Nov 26, 2020

An illustrated graphic of the new building. The background is baby blue and there is a square rendered image of the new building overlayed on a small cartoon skyline with buildings and the CN tower. Floating above are small fluffy white clouds. At the top it reads "Building Together" in the bottom left is the Stella's Place logo and the Giving Tuesday logo. In the bottom right it says "Your investment today will allow us to open doors next fall" overlayed on a white paint swipe.

Donna Green, the founder of Stella’s Place, can’t decide if her favourite candy is a chocolate turtle or a kit kat bar. She’s also been known to keep a secret stash of red vines in her desk drawer. We asked her this as a nod to the new building Stella’s Place has purchased, which used to be a candy factory. Located right in the heart of downtown Toronto, at 54 Wolseley Street, the building will now be given a new life as the permanent home for Stella’s Place.

A photo of the future home of Stella's Place. This photo is taken on the outside of the building at the front, looking up from a worm's eye view. You can see the clear blue sky behind the red brick building. There are 6 visible windows which reflect the blue sky.

Donna says that as soon as she and our visionary and soon retiring executive director, Jenny Carver walked into the new building, she thought “Boom. This is it, where do I sign?” 

“It’s time to claim a space for emerging adults in their own right,” adds Jenny, whose favourite candies are wine gums and crunchie bars. “Young adults haven’t had their own space or community  – they have shared kids’ spaces and adult spaces. The space needs to support them to feel their own strengths and resiliency, and drive their journey, not be dominated by professionals who take charge in spaces that are not about young people.”

Our namesake, Stella Green Sanderson couldn’t agree more:

“I’m really proud to be the namesake and so continuously blown away by the work everyone here is doing. I’m so excited to have a permanent home here and just be able to help more people.”

A portrait of Donna (left) and Stella Green (right) in their home. They are standing in front of a brick fireplace with an oil landscape painting in the background. Donna and Stella are smiling into the camera and Stella is leaning with one arm on Donna's shoulder. Stella has short light hair and is wearing a red plaid button up shirt. Donna has dark mid-length hair and is wearing a plain black shirt.

Stella’s Place started in Stella’s actual bedroom. While Stella was away in residential treatment in the States, her mother, Donna Green, was home working on creating the kind of care for others that she wasn’t able to find for her child when she needed it.

“I remember walking home from Stella’s therapist’s office just so bewildered, so bereft, so fed up with the system as it was,” says Donna, “and I said ‘we need to start something and we’re going to call it Stella’s Place.’ And that was it, it was a crystallizing moment for me.” 

Stella’s bed, hockey trophies, and instruments were traded for desks, office supplies, and piles of papers. The early Stella’s Place team was busily researching, planning, brainstorming, and getting the word out. They didn’t want anyone else to be stuck in the same situation Stella had been in and they didn’t want to do the same thing everyone else was doing. Donna remembers four people working side-by-side in Stella’s old room while reporters waited in the kitchen for interviews.

A portrait of Stella sitting and looking into the camera with a serious expression. Behind her, large bright windows with white blurred background. Stella has short light hair and is wearing a red plaid shirt and black jeans. She is sitting forward with her elbows resting on her knees and her hands folded together in the middle.

Stella looks back at her time in treatment with mixed emotion. The treatment philosophy she encountered in the States was often harmful: “they drug you up, they assess you really quickly. You get a lot of meds, really intensive therapy, and then you’re released. Good luck.” And what was missing for her was any help transitioning back into her community. She found herself back home without a solid plan for reintegration and she struggled to find her place again.  

What Stella did find valuable about her experience in treatment were the relationships, the sense of community, and the people she met there. “For me, it was mainly the connections that I made with my peers and fellow participants.” It was important for her to feel like she wasn’t alone, that she wasn’t the only person going through what often felt like an incredibly isolating and abnormal experience. Even now, Stella keeps in touch with some of her friends from treatment and has been able to celebrate milestones with them, acknowledging each other’s progress.

The Stella’s Place that emerged from lived experience, co-design with young people and international research is all about community, connection and peer support, and young adults are coming in ever-increasing numbers. “They experience something different at Stella’s. They can connect online or in person and they feel seen, heard, accepted and validated, not ‘othered’ in spaces where the medical and clinical personnel dominate, despite their best intentions,” says Jenny.  

“Our flagship building says this,” she continues, “we aren’t going anywhere, we have strong foundations….we are here to stay. Our young adult community is here for you. We will welcome young people now and for years to come!”  

This news couldn’t come at a more critical time. Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and their mental health is going to take another dip as we are facing our second lockdown and a long, isolated winter.  The Toronto Fallout Report released by the Toronto Foundation earlier this month and a Toronto Star series published last week entitled “Generation Distress” outline grim statistics of a generation in crisis. The Toronto Star reports:

Nearly 30% of students said their failing mental health has caused them to consider self-harm and suicide. 1 in 5 respondents—21%—indicated “serious psychological distress,” up from 17% in 2017. 35% of students said they couldn’t find the help they needed to address their challenges—also a new high since 2013, when the level was 28%. The pandemic pushed up depression levels among Canadian respondents by 35%.

The Toronto Foundation reported additional findings: “Throughout the summer, the volume of Toronto calls to 211 Ontario for mental health were at staggeringly high levels. Total calls about substance abuse supports, crisis intervention, and counselling were 50% higher in September 2020 than in February 2020. Crisis calls spiked dramatically early in the pandemic but have declined slightly though are still much higher than normal. Calls regarding substance abuse and counselling continue to climb.” (Toronto Fallout Report, p.25)

Nearly 30% of students said their failing mental health has caused them to consider self-harm and suicide. 1 in 5 respondents—21%—indicated “serious psychological distress,” up from 17% in 2017. 35% of students said they couldn’t find the help they needed to address their challenges—also a new high since 2013, when the level was 28%. The pandemic pushed up depression levels among Canadian respondents by 35%.

When the pandemic is over, the demand for mental health services will be higher than ever before. With your help, our new building will be finished by the fall of 2021 and ready to welcome more young people who desperately need help. What stands between limited capacity now and our anticipated opening day is $1.7 million to complete the renovations of our new building. “Our growth happened so quickly and the demand was so great and people recognize what we were doing as the right thing – now we have to catch up to the funding, the support funding,” says Donna, who is the matching gift donor behind the $500,000 matching gift challenge launched today.

“We can do more of the good things that we’re already doing,” adds Stella, whose favourite candies are Skor bars by the way, just in case you were wondering…

Please join us and make this holiday season count by giving the gift of mental health to generations of young people to come. Your donation today will allow us to open doors next fall.

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