The Sundre organization strengthens personal and community well-being through inclusive conversations

Greenwood Neighborhood Place Society initiatives respond to needs identified by residents of all ages in an assessment survey

SUNDRE — A few programs currently offered courtesy of the Greenwood Neighborhood Place Society were developed in response to needs identified by residents during an extensive community-wide assessment.

“We invited the community to the table just over a year ago and our goal is to promote mental health and wellbeing,” GNP executive director Sari Werezak wrote in a statement highlighting the initiatives.

“We also want to bring people in our community together to raise awareness and help each other,” said Werezak, who is also known as what is called a Sundre Rural Mental Health Program Facilitator.

“Facilitators create short- and long-term mental health plans with rural communities to support local community wellbeing,” she said.

There are three trained facilitators in Sundre.

“Basically, ‘animating’ just means bringing life or movement into the conversation,” Werezak said, adding that the focus isn’t so much on being a trained expert, but rather a facilitator of discussions who brings energy and empathy to dialogue.

In times of emergency, people are generally familiar with the more formal approach of relying on reputable professionals, she said.

“They focus more on the symptoms and how to treat them, sometimes less on the upstream causes,” she said, adding that the cost of accessing these services could be an insurmountable financial barrier for some people. .

So, GNP has chosen to offer the community another option through support from Alberta’s Rural Mental Health Project, which works to build community capacity to improve mental health in up to 150 rural communities and away through continuous training and the development of networks.

“You could say we use a community-based approach, in the context of local experience and driven by curiosity or passion,” she said.

This process involved a lot of listening, thinking, respecting other ideas and being responsive, but also remaining open to change with an ability to adapt, she added.

“It’s such a big topic,” she said. “Our journey is with the understanding that we can’t fix everything and that all voices are important.”

For example, she said, developing a plan to address homelessness without including people who are truly homeless in the consultation process is not an ideal approach.

“We want to generate solutions by prioritizing the perspectives and desired actions of our community.”

After collecting data from the community needs assessment conducted last year, several issues in the area came out on top, she said.

“In the midst of COVID and the loss of connection people were facing, it was no surprise that mental health was a big concern,” she said. “It’s a complex question, but we agreed that we needed to focus on how to create connecting conduits.”

Success of the youth center

Among the needs identified by the community assessment was the lack of places where local young people could hang out, she said.

“Most didn’t know how to find support,” she added.

The resulting brainstorming between some volunteers and GNP representatives, she said, led to the idea of ​​creating a safe and positive space for teenagers.

“They immediately responded to this huge undertaking,” she said, adding that Sundre’s new youth center, dubbed The Den, officially opened late last year.

“Through donations, a first grant through the Rural Mental Health Project and now a second grant through the Government of Alberta’s Community Initiatives Program, this initiative has been completely community driven,” said she declared.

Since opening last November, she added, the Den has been able to stay open five nights a week under the supervision of screened and trained volunteer staff, a part-time engagement and program coordinator, and of several animators, leaders and volunteer employees.

“This youth hub and its success has exceeded expectations,” Werezak said, adding that although still early, she anticipates the eventual introduction of an international mentorship program.

Sharing Circles

Additionally, another initiative called Sundre Welcome All Circles was launched in the wake of the pandemic.

“Small circles of people, who started out as strangers even though they were neighbours, have been meeting monthly in safe spaces in Sundre for the past year and a half,” she said. “The circles remain open, inviting every adult in the community who feels called to attend.”

The circles were adapted from processes observed and adopted by the Nehiyo and other First Nations community traditions and mentors, she said.

“The Rural Mental Health Project initiative in Sundre acknowledges deep gratitude for these learnings and for the deepened respect, understanding and trust they facilitate in community relationships,” she said.

“There are beautiful applications of this process being used across the continent in the areas of conflict resolution, restorative justice, family, work, community dynamics and schoolyard struggles.”

Program facilitator Heather Plazier further explained that people who participate enter into a circle of peers.

“We are invited to quietly connect with our own center of consciousness and then take uninterrupted turns to share our thoughts, joys, challenges, hopes, and any other diversity of personal experiences and perspectives,” Plazier said. .

“We are asked to listen attentively and respect the different backgrounds. We are invited to share only to the extent that we feel trust in the group, knowing that the depth of sharing increases if – or as – the depth of understanding and trust grows.

Anything shared in a circle is confidential to the participants, she said.

“Circle participants can choose to listen only and not speak for any round of sharing,” she said, adding that sessions ended with casual conversation and the sharing of simple foods. .

“Project members in Sundre recognize that circles stimulate personal and community well-being. They have expanded to include zoom options, an LGBTQ+ group and also an Open Circles or Inspire time with young people at The Den.

The society was founded 20 years ago and operates the Sundre Resource Center in recognition of the importance of identifying needs when solving social problems. GNP strives to inclusively bring together people of all ages, genders, abilities, and financial backgrounds.

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s annual Mental Health Week kicked off May 2 and will run until May 8.

Visit for more information about the company and the programs and services offered by GNP, or visit to learn more about the Rural Mental Health Project. The GNP office can be reached at 403-638-1011.

Aubrey L. Morgan