Meet Colleen Pidzarko-Armitage
Colleen Pidzarko-Armitage is a Community Animator in Vegreville, Alberta. When Colleen moved to Vegreville many years ago, she had anticipated the town to be a temporary home. Almost 25 years later, Colleen proudly calls Vegreville home while working at a job she enjoys.
Colleen has been passionate about mental health and addiction support for as long as she can remember. She emphasizes the importance of remembering we all have mental health and acknowledging that we can all use some form of support to improve our coping skills. Colleen recognizes that there are gaps within mental health support. These gaps can create challenges when everyone works within silos rather than together in the community. "There's a lot of paid people doing mental health work, but there's also a lot of community people and groups that talk about mental health. We don't know about them; they're not acknowledged. That's an area where there have been gaps."
Finding Assets in the Community
Colleen engaged with her community to learn more about the mental health gaps and found that while paid services and community engagement opportunities were available during the week, there was nothing for community members to attend on the weekends, which resulted in increased feelings of isolation.
Colleen took this concern head-on and developed a community-driven club intending to fill the needs of community members. However, she found that community members initially hesitated to attend a new and unknown group. Colleen understood this hesitation but was persistent, which paid off; her group, which started with five members, has now grown to have 19 consistent members.
The group's goal was to offer a supportive place for community members on the weekends and connect participants to various services. Colleen's many discussions with participants helped guide the type of community partners she would reach out to. Colleen faced new challenges as many services were unavailable to speak to their community on the weekends. However, this did not dampen Colleen's vision to support her community. "Community members have been given resources about the food bank, Alberta Works, and other really beneficial information. They've been provided those resources, and that's been good for them."
The Planning Process
With participants being a vital part of the planning process, Colleen's team was able to look into specific types of support; however, they also recognized some of the barriers to being able to provide these supports (i.e., costs and budget restrictions). The key component of the process was education, helping community members learn and educate themselves on the type of support most beneficial to their mental health. Colleen ensures that community members understand the idea of a sustainable program and how they can have the group continue with the required funding while also providing the appropriate supports.
Colleen shares the group's most significant success, "The biggest accomplishment for that group has been the fact that it's grown and the group members have built relationships." Colleen is proud that the connections between members have developed beyond just their group meetings. The goal of reducing isolation in the community has already started to take its course.
Spreading the Word
The primary mode of advertising for the group has been through word of mouth, with members taking pride in sharing their positive experiences when attending the group. Beyond this, posters and social media have continued to circulate to groups that identified this mental health gap resonated with them. Colleen shares the power of posters to advertise in a smaller, rural community, "It's amazing when you put the posters up in the grocery store, people see it. At the doctor's office, they see it everywhere. The posters are up in storefront windows, and we find it is one of the most effective ways to promote the group.”
Learning & Words of Wisdom
Colleen shares that her most extensive learning concerns communication with coordinators. Connecting community members and learning about the supports out there can be challenging, and navigating the process with a coordinator, although helpful, has been a significant learning opportunity for Colleen and her team.
Colleen acknowledges that it can be intimidating to go out and talk to community members about mental health. Remembering that the community wants to and is ready to have such conversations is the key. Colleen has provided some amazing tips for Animators:
- Learn to listen to the community members while letting your agenda take a backseat. This can be challenging, but Colleen encourages everyone to go into discussions with an open mind to ensure you understand the community's needs.
- Be authentic and share why you are invested in the project you are working on. This can help community members see your passion and drive to support the community and build further trust in your investment.
- Include members in the process and follow up with relevant information about progress and any challenges. This again helps members establish their trust in you and see that you are determined to support them.