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Here4Peers Expands to Sooke

The Here4Peers Youth-Led Mental Health Awareness & Skill Building Program (Here4Peers) has benefited elementary school classroom audiences since 2017, when its youth-to-youth workshop was first launched in the Vancouver school district. The Here4Peers Program has grown substantially since then, and today over 440 mental health awareness workshops have been delivered to grade 7 classrooms by trained and supervised secondary school Youth Facilitators. Currently partnered with select secondary schools in Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, and Delta, the Here4Peers Program has effectively reached operational capacity. However, this didn’t stop one district from paving a way to directly fund the training of youth interested in participating in the Here4Peers Program. That district was Sooke (SD62) – which, through a motivated initiative, became the first district outside of the Lower Mainland to offer the Here4Peers Program.

It was early in 2023 when a small team from the Sooke School District first became aware of the Here4Peers Program through a presentation provided to the Provincial Mental Health Leads Network. Identifying the program’s value, this team quickly reached out to CMHA, Vancouver-Fraser to express interest in bringing the program to Sooke. It wasn’t long before funding was secured from Island Health that would allow the Here4Peers Program to launch in Sooke in the fall of 2023. What followed was a whirlwind of preparations that culminated in the successful Here4Peers Facilitator Training sessions on October 11th and 12th at the Esquimalt Military Family Resource Centre in Sooke, where three cohorts of secondary school students and their supportive Adult Mentors joined the Here4Peers training team to become the first Vancouver Island participants in the Here4Peers Program.

Prospective Youth Facilitators participating in the Here4Peers training.

The Here4Peers team maximized their short time on Vancouver Island preparing grade 10-12 students to become future Youth Facilitators with back-to-back training and coaching days. During their time together, the Here4Peers team and the high school students discussed what is expected of youth facilitators (such as volunteering a minimum of 30 hours of their time, which goes towards their volunteer hours needed to graduate); mentally put themselves in the shoes of grade 7 students; brainstormed calming skills; and worked on understanding mental health, stress, and emotional challenges that these younger students may be struggling with. By the end of their training, the prospective Youth Facilitators were equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to become compassionate role models and knowledgeable mentors for grade 7 students experiencing a transition into adolescence, and a transition to high school.

On the surface, Here4Peers is most recognized for the 90-minute workshops delivered to grade 7 students by Youth Facilitators. But behind every workshop are countless hours of hard work, which is why the Here4Peers Program is also considered a leadership development program for these facilitators. Supporting the youth during the year are the program’s school-based “Adult Mentors” (typically school counsellors) who also attend the training. These mentors will manage the administration of the program, accompany their students to the workshops, and continue to coach, debrief, and further develop the abilities of the facilitator. The Here4Peers Program is not just a mental health workshop for grade 7’s – it is also a skill-building and leadership opportunity for secondary school students interested in taking up the meaningful challenge of promoting mental health in their school communities.

If you would like to help bring the Here4Peers program to more schools across the Lower Mainland, please consider donating to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Vancouver-Fraser branch and selecting “Here4Peers” from the drop-down menu on the donation page.

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