Coralee McIntosh, Chestermere’s Community Animator, describes how her community is reaching out during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rural Mental Health Project has been an opportunity for me, as a community development coordinator and Animator, to expand and practice my engagement skills in a more focused and meaningful way. When connecting with other community members or organizations to plan projects and initiatives I more consistently consider how we can incorporate features that positively impact the mental wellness of those participating. Animating in our community is being observant of the dots and working collaboratively and creatively to connect them, sparking conversations, staying connected, actively supporting what is happening, and driving community-led change.
What stood out the most for me during the Community Animator Training was that community was being created. We all come from different communities, backgrounds, and levels of experience, but we arrive with a common goal – to encourage and support our communities in being mentally well. As an Animator I have become part of strong network of like-minded people who share ideas, encourage one another, and are there to reach out to when I need help. The CMHA Team has done a wonderful job of asking about and listening to the needs of the Animators and developing a variety of avenues to connect us. The ongoing connection and support of Community Animators has made the training that much more valuable.
Our cohort completed the Community Animator Training in March 2020, just before COVID-19 struck. This made it challenging for us, in Chestermere, to start new conversations and initiatives as all of our energy was directed toward adjusting our current programs and services. However, the Chestermere and Area Mental Health Coalition was able to continue meeting to assess the changing mental health needs of the community, map the resources available locally, and bring awareness to those supports through the distribution of Community Wellness Resources posters and brochures. Through this process we have learned that our community has a diverse array of mental health services available, from preventative to high needs supports, but a lack of awareness and established referral processes between sectors. Our hope with the Mental Health Coalition is to improve communication, increase referral, and reduce barriers to service. The wholistic, community-led approach of the Rural Mental Health Project has been positively received and has helped guide us to do this collaboratively as we move forward with initiatives, such as the Chestermere Wellness Challenge. We look forward to having conversations with more community members over the next year, hearing what their ideas are, and working with them to continue our wellness journey.