Queen’s University has many amazing student-run clubs that tackle and bring awareness to all kinds of issues facing students. This year, I was determined to become more involved in clubs (something I slacked on in my first couple of years at Queen’s), but I wanted to make sure I was joining a group that dealt with issues I was passionate about combatting. So, I became a volunteer for Queen’s Volunteers for Mental Health and Addiction (VMHA). I wasn’t sure what to think going into it, but it’s been a great experience, and because of this, I decided to use this platform to talk about the amazing work this club is doing.
I talked to the current co-presidents of VMHA, Zoe Flatt and Saffi Schonberg, who had a lot to say about the club and why it’s so important. Founded in 2018 by former Queen’s students, VMHA aims to assist not only Queen’s students but also the residents of the larger Kingston community. “While there are many amazing Queen’s clubs focused on advocating for mental health in the Queen’s community, none of them seemed to focus on the broader Kingston community,” Zoe said. “It was recognized that there was a gap, which VMHA has now filled.”
The objective of VMHA is to assist local organizations to improve the health of Queen’s students and Kingston residents. The co-presidents said that VMHA “gives Queen’s students the opportunity to connect with the broader Kingston community”, which promotes mutual respect between students and local residents.
Zoe and Saffi mentioned how the global pandemic has limited their volunteering opportunities within the club, but that during a normal year, their work would be more expansive: “Our club connects students to local volunteer opportunities with Kingston organizations such as Youth Diversion and Pathways to Education. These programs often involve our volunteers mentoring and/or tutoring local students to help them overcome the challenges they are presented with.” VMHA volunteers provide support for students who face “undue barriers to success due to direct or indirect impacts of low income, mental illness, and/or addiction”.
“Volunteers provide both academic and non-academic support to help these students reach their full potential,” Zoe and Saffi said.
However, COVID-19 has not stopped VMHA members from continuing to educate themselves and stay involved in the community as much as possible. “To keep our VMHA community engaged throughout this year, we have been participating in Youth Diversion’s free workshop series. These workshops cover important topics, such as lessening the mental health stigma and balancing priorities, with the most recent workshop focusing on identifying youth substance abuse.”
Additionally, VMHA is working with Queen’s alum Steph Currie, who graduated in 2017 and now works as an online trainer and SoulCycle instructor, to host a virtual workout class in the coming week. The class will be available to all Queen’s students on April 12 at 10 a.m. EST “to encourage the prioritization of mental and physical health during exam season.”
“By volunteering with local organizations, students have the opportunity to form meaningful connections and experience the impacts of their assistance first-hand,” the co-presidents said. “VMHA aims to raise awareness about mental health and fight the stigma associated with mental illness. We share various resources that students can reach out to for help and promote useful strategies for leading a healthy, well-balanced life!”
Queen’s VMHA is hiring until April 14 for 2021-2022 exec positions and is always open to students interested in volunteer opportunities.