‘Better than I thought’ Mike Weir thrilled with his hometown’s new youth mental health hub

Mike Weir has been making a pitch for mental health support for youth in his hometown area for half a decade.

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Mike Weir has been making a pitch for mental health support for youth in his hometown area for half a decade.

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The Bright’s Grove native hosted a chip-in challenge for mental health in August 2019, a fundraising campaign aimed at collecting $400,000 for a proposed facility for local residents ages 11 to 25. That dream finally became a reality Tuesday amid the grand opening of the Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario Sarnia Lambton location, a facility officials called a transformative new space for youth to access mental health and addiction services.

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After cutting a ribbon and taking an official tour, Weir, whose foundation contributed more than $1 million to the $3-million project, met with reporters inside the facility, where he said he was very excited to see it open its doors.

“It’s been five years in the works. A lot of collaboration with a lot of people,” he said. “We’ve seen the renderings. We’ve seen everything. But to see it finally come to life is pretty incredible. It’s actually better than I thought.”

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Mike Weir cuts ribbon for youth mental health facility in Sarnia
Mike Weir claps Tuesday during the opening ceremony for the Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario Sarnia Lambton location, a facility his foundation contributed more than $1 million towards. (Terry Bridge/Sarnia Observer)

Kathy Alexander, executive director of the Bluewater Health Foundation, said Weir, the Mike Weir Foundation, and his family showed incredible leadership and dedication in getting the project completed.

“Mike, with fiancé Michelle (Money), you have been cheering us along from Utah, from places all over the United States and other parts of the country,” Alexander said to a crowd of about 100 gathered on a slightly rainy day in front of the new facility on Lochiel Street next to the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery.

But Alexander also credited the many other donors – too many to recognize, she said, while others want to remain anonymous – and pointed out the Sarnia hub was the first one in the province to be built and opened through community philanthropy.

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“You built this, donors, sponsors, partners. You made this a reality for our community,” she said. “Sarnia-Lambton – I say this a lot – is one of the most generous and kind and remarkable communities that we get to call home.”

The Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario Sarnia Lambton location opened Tuesday
Hannah Janzen, part of the Spoken Hope youth advisory council, leads a tour Tuesday of the new Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario Sarnia Lambton location. (Terry Bridge/Sarnia Observer) ver

The Lochiel Street site, in a former bank now owned by Lambton County, opened its doors last month, but Tuesday’s opening was held in part to coincide with an opening in the golf schedule of the 2003 Masters champion. It’s one of eight new hubs the government is adding to the 14 already operating to connect youth to mental health services across the province, Ontario said Tuesday in a statement.

Youth and their families can visit the facility to connect quickly to mental health, substance use and primary care services – they’re all free – through walk-in or virtual services or booked appointments, officials said. It has funding of $450,000 a year in place, with several agencies contributing staff and other resources, Paula Reaume-Zimmer, CEO of Bluewater Health, has said.

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It also offers a range of other services and supports including education, employment, training, housing and other community and social services, officials said.

Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey said the Sarnia location and the other 21 hubs across Ontario are part of the province’s roadmap to wellness, an initiative with a goal of offering high-quality mental health and addictions support.

“Young people from across Lambton County will now be able to access those valuable services in one convenient location,” he said.

The Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario Sarnia Lambton location opened Tuesday
Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey speaks during the official opening of the Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario Sarnia Lambton location, one of 22 facilities offering mental health services to youth across the province. (Terry Bridge/Sarnia Observer)

The Sarnia project started in 2018, when community agencies and volunteers started working to find a local site. St. Clair Child and Youth Services, Bluewater Health and Canadian Mental Health Association Lambton Kent, the Spoken Hope Youth Advisory Council and the Bluewater Health Foundation worked together to raise the funds and design the space. It offers comforting lighting, an open concept and various meeting rooms, Janessa Labadie, co-chairperson of Spoken Hope youth advisory council, said.

While it offers access to mental health and addictions education, assessments, counselling and treatment, the speed and availability of those services is key, officials said.

“A kid that’s in crisis can’t wait a few months to see somebody,” said Weir, named a member of the Order of Canada in 2007 partly for his charity work. “This is a place where they can come see somebody right away and get the help they need in a welcoming environment.”

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