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Let’s Catch Up for Giving Tuesday

by | Nov 29, 2021

A triptych photo collage of 3 people, from left to right is Norah Oulahen, Eren Deran and Khalil Dorival.

It’s been almost two years since Stella’s Place turned virtual. During that time, the mental health needs of young people in this city have never been greater.  Youth, especially racialized youth, are experiencing disproportionate employment, housing and food insecurity, and high levels of anxiety and depression. The Toronto Foundation’s Vital Signs report released this October states that ​​in the Greater Toronto Area, 15% of youth reported considering suicide in the previous three months.

As an essential service provider, we have faced many of the challenges common to our sector: skyrocketing demand, stagnant capacity and revenue, staff burnout and turnover. It’s a serious challenge to meet the needs of our participants and our staff during these times, and, like many other organizations, Stella’s Place needed to change to adapt. It was clear that we needed to prioritize two areas: EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) and increasing access. We are proud of how we stepped up. And now it’s time to fill you in, so let’s catch up.


Let’s Talk EDI

As individuals and as an organization, we have been learning more about how colonialism, racism and discrimination affect mental health.

“There’s a lot of stress and pain and suffering associated with racism, and people treating you differently or badly,” comments our Peer Development and Training Manager, Asante Haughton.

We have diversified our staff team and programming. Having program staff who are reflective of our racialized participants’ identities and have similar lived experience is important in increasing safety for young adults. “It removes the added layer of navigating whiteness and having to explain racism,” explains Alex Gosselin, Manager of Clinical and Recovery Services.

“Western psychotherapy often is focused on behaviour change without the acknowledgement of the larger social structures that contribute to people’s mental health, whether that be housing or access to health care, systemic oppression like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc.,” she adds.

New Clinical Programs

This March, Stella’s Place launched a new co-designed 12-week Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) program for racialized young adults. This intense therapy combines weekly group sessions with one on one counselling and is delivered by racialized staff members. Currently in its second delivery cycle, this program is seeing high retention rates (80-92%) and is receiving very positive feedback.

“Reflecting back, I wish there was a group like this when I was in my early twenties,” says Nakeesa Kooshafar, one of the mental health clinicians co-facilitating the group.

“It would have given me so much comfort to be with other people who looked like me, sounded like me and were going through similar experiences like me. I’m so pleased that I am able to provide this experience for other young people now. Our DBT BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) group is increasing access to vital, life-changing programs for racialized youth and is an important step towards achieving greater equity in our mental health care delivery.”

Eren Deran, who runs the group together with Nakeesa, agrees:

We created a safe and inclusive space for racialized folks to teach and learn together.”  As a newcomer to Canada, Eren also highlights the importance of BIPOC programs for new immigrants and refugees.

An infographic showing retention rates in 2019. On the left, "87% Stella's Place retention rate" and on the right, "42 to 76% standard DBT retention rates"

By the end of 2021, 84 young adults will have participated in one of our Dialectical Behaviour programs, a 50% growth in participants since 2020, which served 56 young adults. 24 program participants opted for the specialized BIPOC DBT groups.

Going forward, Stella’s Place will offer additional services that are evidence-based and trauma-informed, such as somatic and embodied practices based on polyvagal theory. Many therapies focus on the cognitive work of changing thoughts and behaviors. These new additions to our programs will complement those methods by focusing on visceral and physical experiences and responses.

Stella, Corrina and Michelle are standing side by side, talking and laughing, looking at each other. They are standing in a park on a summers day.

Siman Ibrahim, Manager, Community Healing Project


The Community Healing Project

The Community Healing Project is a trauma-informed and peer-based approach to addressing the impact of exposure to community violence on youth. Stella’s Place has been the City of Toronto’s program partner since 2017, delivering our Peer Support Training Program to young people from marginalized communities. The program helps young adults to build capacity, protective factors, coping skills, and resiliency. Participants learn how to better understand and respond to trauma, suicide, gun and gang violence, mental health challenges and emotionally triggering situations.

Under the leadership of our Development and Training Manager, Asante Haughton, and our new CHP Program Manager, Siman Ibrahim, the program has been delivered entirely virtually and is thriving.

“I had done virtual programming, but I’ve never seen it done the way that CHP does it. They have this ability to just be very authentic and I think that’s what people are really drawn to. Even though it’s virtual, you feel like everyone is connected. But also, they’ve created a space where people feel safe and people feel open enough to be vulnerable. And this is just me going into one session,” Siman describes her introduction to the program.

Each year, Stella’s Place trains two cohorts of 25 young people in our 12-week training program. Training for the second cohort wrapped up on August 28th. These Healers then continue to run 12 weeks of workshops for youth in their communities between September and December.

Youth in marginalized communities have fewer opportunities. Peers can offer the skills needed to navigate the employment, education, and social disparities that they face. This program gives young people tools to manage adversity from a new perspective; a perspective that can reduce the impact of traumatic events on their lives and give them the strength and confidence to achieve educational and occupational goals.  

“It’s lived experience that’s the most valuable here. It’s not just someone coming in with a degree saying ‘this is what I know,’ it’s people that are coming with the experience. And I think that’s why CHP is so impactful, because it’s just real. I think that’s what really resonates with the young people,” explains Siman.


Let’s Talk Access

Almost two years into the pandemic, the volume of requests for service continues to soar.

“We have seen a significant uptake in the number of requests for service including our DBT skills group and our individual counselling delivery,” reports our Access Coordinator, Ajay Gallacher.

This summer, the list of young people waiting to hear back from our Access Team had built up to 1,000. We responded by creating a new Access Counsellor Navigator position to provide individual support, brief counselling, online text counselling and service navigation to participants. Now our four new Access Counsellor Navigators have responded to every young person on this list and are providing quick, responsive services to participants waiting to meet with a Clinician.

In terms of clinical services, one of our most effective and immediate responses has been our drop-in virtual counselling. This is an opportunity for young adults to have a one-on-one conversation with a clinician. Our clinicians work from a strength-based and solution-focused approach called Focused Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (FACT). Participants are supported in taking values-based actions while coping flexibly and effectively with difficult challenges, thoughts, memories, and emotions. The program focuses on working with the participant to take small steps towards a life aligned with what is important to them.

We currently offer drop-in counselling on Thursday afternoons. Demand for this service has been increasing steadily and recently spiked at 14 requests in one day compared to the usual 5 or 6. So we are stepping up and will be offering drop-in virtual counselling twice weekly in 2022. 

“I routinely hear from our community the impact that these sessions have and how our programming supports a holistic approach to wellness and care,” says Ajay.

Here’s what our participants say about our drop-in counselling program:

  • “The Drop-in session gave me tools to make small steps forward”
  • “What I liked best about the session was having a sounding board who genuinely cared”
  • “It was 100% perfect!” 
  • “I received reassurance about the future; small and big tasks will be doable.” 
  • “I was very pleased to be able to talk about my thoughts and feelings in a safe and non-judgmental environment.”
  • I didn’t feel rushed. The counsellor whom I met for the first time was really understanding even when I felt confused.”

We have dug deep to find ways to serve more young people during these times of heightened stress and need. We have found creative solutions to increase capacity without a corresponding increase in funding. We have restructured roles and focused on building strong cohesive teams so staff members feel supported, secure, and energized in their work.

Recognizing the substantial contributions of our social work placement students, we have developed an 8-week counselling training program that benefits both the students and Stella’s Place. Students feel valued and are supported in their learning by the whole clinical team while providing counselling services to our participants. To solidly prepare young students for the workforce is something Clinical Manager Alex Gosselin is extremely proud of. 

Much more is needed to close our systemic funding gaps and sustainably meet the mental health needs of our young people. Stella’s Place is prepared to do our part as a learning organization committed to continuous improvement and innovation. In the words of our Research and Evaluation Manager, Ashley Ward, “We seek to create a long term impact that empowers young people to live their fullest and most vibrant expressions.” 

In just a few short months, we will be moving into our brand new building at 54 Wolseley Avenue where we will be able to provide in-person services again. We can’t wait to welcome back our community, and that includes You!

In the meantime, we welcome your virtual support. Every donation between Giving Tuesday and the end of the year will be matched by Norah and Paul Oulahen and family.

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