A new program designed to connect people with lived experience of mental health issues, with others that are actively suffering, has been a big hit in Haliburton County.

The Canadian Mental Health Association Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge launched the H.O.P.E. Learning Centre in April, offering a wide variety of recreation and educational courses to local residents that promote recovery, empowerment, possibility and connection.

Shellie Preston has been working on the initiative since the beginning of the year. Based on the organization’s recovery colleges model, Preston said she sees a lot of potential in the venture and called on people from across the Highlands dealing with mental health concerns to reach out, share their experience and get involved.

“This whole thing is about collaboration and communication … We bring people with lived experience together with mental health professionals and those looking for help to build programs and an overall curriculum that caters to everyone’s needs,” Preston said. “Everybody gets their say.”

Around 45 people across the region signed up for H.O.P.E. Learning Centre’s initial intake last month.


“We ran a program on experiencing the power of music, we helped build facilitation skills. We had one, which was quite popular, on challenging isolation and loneliness, another on conquering negative thoughts, being more assertive and self-expression,” Preston said. “They were quite thought-provoking.”

Looking ahead to the summer semester, Preston said there will be courses focusing on art therapy, peer discussion, photography, and sports.

CMHA has struck a partnership with area resident Kelly Outram to run a movement and meditation class outdoors at Rotary Park, something Preston said she’s particularly excited about.

“Being outside, in a positive environment like that can do so much for someone’s mental health. We’ve partnered with Kelly, and we’re looking to collaborate with others from Haliburton County to build on our options and offerings to our community,” she said. “Our hope is to have something for everyone. So, if you’re feeling like you’ve lost connection and are wanting to be involved in something with likeminded people, who are non-judgmental, in an environment where you’re supported and valued, this is for you. We want to empower people and build them up as much as possible.”

Worth noting too, all programs run through H.O.P.E. Learning Centre are free. Participants need only register, which Preston said can be done over the phone or online. There are options for both virtual and in-person participation.

Jack Veitch, community engagement and education manager with the local CMHA branch, said this new venture is a long-term commitment.

“For years we’ve been involved in peersupport delivery and helping people with lived experience share their voice. Now, this is sort of like an evolution. We’re ensuring these people have the opportunity to help others on their same journey of recovery,” Veitch said.

Preston added, the real goal is to have this program running full circle. Start off by getting these courses up and running, have people sign up, join in, learn and then, eventually, be kind of like that next generation who can share their knowledge and lived experiences with other people. Almost like an ongoing, never-ending cycle.”

To learn more, visit cmhahkpr.ca/h-op-e-learning-centre, or email hopelc@ cmhahkpr.ca.

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