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and Kelsey, and Joyce, and Mujda...
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Mary | The Alex Wellness Programs

During one of their medical appointments, Mary’s doctor referred her to the Wellness programs at The Alex. She started attending yoga classes, advocacy groups, and art therapy. Mary was grateful that the yoga classes were weekly, because at other agencies she couldn’t access yoga more than once a month. “It’s more consistent, so I have friends in yoga now, and good relationships with the instructors. If I have trouble with the moves it doesn’t even matter. It gives me a good sense of stability because I know what I’m doing on those days. It also encourages me to exercise regularly.”

Click to read more about Mary

In 2017, Mary found out her family doctor was retiring and was worried about finding another doctor. She found out about the medical services at The Alex through another program and her first appointment was with Dr. Christine Gibson. “I was impressed the first time I met with her. My dad came with me, and she asked him to step out of the room and asked me if I was sexually active and or not, which I’d never been asked by doctor because of my disability.” During one of their medical appointments, Dr. Gibson referred Mary to the Wellness programs at The Alex. She started attending yoga classes, advocacy groups, and art therapy.

Mary was grateful that the yoga classes were weekly, because at other agencies she couldn’t access yoga more than once a month. “It’s more consistent, so I have friends in yoga now, and good relationships with the instructors. If I have trouble with the moves it doesn’t even matter. It gives me a good sense of stability because I know what I’m doing on those days. It also encourages me to exercise regularly.”

As a community activist, Mary is also involved with several advocacy groups in Calgary such as Disability Action Hall. Using her experience and skills, she worked with The Alex staff to develop the Mobility Advocacy group at The Alex, where community members thought critically and took action on systematic contributors to some of their challenges. “I liked listening to everyone’s stories of lived experience, because that’s what’s needed to make change happen. It’s great to listen to stories and learn how much work we still need to do.”

The Wellness programs at The Alex have had a very positive impact on Mary’s life. “It’s nice that I don’t have to prove I have a disability or mental illness to participate in any of the programs. That’s what’s kept me out of agencies before. I like that I can come in and take a program at the Alex without having to constantly say this is my disability, this is my mental illness.”

“I don’t have to show proof of income either. Why would I go to an agency that puts up barriers right away? I like it when I can come and they say my name and I can say hi to them and they know who I am. They ask ‘how’s your day?’ ”

Mary believes the Wellness programs at The Alex are important because “I see a lightbulb going off in people’s heads when they’re here. This is a place where they’re accepted and many of them for the first time.”

When she finishes her Social Justice degree at St. Mary’s University next year, Mary plans to continue her advocacy work, and work for PDD or Access Calgary to make change that benefits her community.

Kelsey | The Alex Youth Health Centre

Kelsey, aged 21, had been struggling with increasingly severe anxiety and depression for years.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Kelsey began searching for a job. She hoped to secure her own income to support her mother with the household expenses. “I remember being so upset because I sent out 160 job applications and didn’t hear anything back from anyone. My anxiety and depression were getting to a point where I couldn’t leave the house.” Financial struggles and lack of job prospects, compounded by worsening mental health, caused Kelsey to spiral. “It was out of control. I was a mess.”

Click to read more about Kelsey

 

A close friend of Kelsey’s became concerned for her health and called The Alex Youth Health Centre for help. Kelsey was booked to see Sylvia, a mental health professional with the Access Open Minds program at The Alex.

Kelsey was experiencing dissociation, which causes a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory and sense of identity. On her first appointment at The Alex, “they instantly picked up on my dissociation and understood.” She started to feel like The Alex was a safe place where she could be supported.

“I didn’t want to go on medication at first. I wanted to see if I could heal with counselling alone. So I used the tools they gave me to bring myself back down, but I could never stay in that space – I would end up back in the anxiety. So they put me on medication and the combination has been working really well.”

Kelsey has been receiving support from The Alex for 7 months, working hard to address trauma and manage the anxiety well enough to feel safe leaving the house and riding transit. “You know, things normal people do,” she laughs. She began seeing Sylvia once a week, but is now down to one appointment per month.
Kelsey has seen a significant difference. “Things are great, I’m out with friends, we go downtown, and I’m able to be among other people.” She was even able to get a part-time job at the mall. “I can pay my bills, and because I don’t have anxiety I’m excelling at my job. And I have energy; my brain isn’t constantly running so I can sit down and rest. I can actually function like a human being.”

“I’m one of the lucky ones – I’ve got a home, I’ve never been homeless. I’ve never had problems with addiction, that sort of thing. But I see all sorts of people walk in through The Alex for all sorts of reasons, whether it be to see the doctor, for counselling, or for just a snack or shampoo or something. And it’s not just one person or one group of people they’re touching. It’s anyone within my age group going through absolutely anything. The Alex is amazing, and it can help anyone.”

Matthew & James | The Alex Youth Health Bus

Matthew and James are brothers who attended one of the Calgary high schools The Alex Youth Health Bus (YHB) visits. The oldest brother, Matthew, was sent to the YHB by his school guidance counsellor who was concerned about his health and well-being. During his first visit Matthew was quiet and extremely shy, but over time he opened up to staff about his struggles. He had some pain in his legs and feet, which the YHB physician determined to be caused by the old worn-out pair of shoes he was wearing. Staff found him new shoes, which, in combination with other treatment, helped him feel much better. After his physical health issues were taken care of, Matthew became a regular on the YHB for a few years.

Click to read more about Matthew & James

After Matthew left high school without having graduated, he still kept in touch with the YHB. When he needed to look good for a job, staff were able to find him interview clothes and a fresh haircut. He was so excited to visit a few days later to tell them that with their help, he’d landed his first job.

With support and encouragement from the YHB staff, Matthew decided to enroll in an outreach school to complete his high school education. Because the YHB also visits some outreach schools in the city, he was able to continue dropping in after the transition. With lots of hard work and dedication, Matthew finally got his high school diploma.

The Alex YHB only has the capacity to provide services to students in high schools, so after he graduated Matthew transitioned to The Alex Youth Health Centre across from Franklin LRT Station. Once he started feeling comfortable there, he signed up for a leadership and mentoring program. He made some great connections and created a whole new community for himself. This initiative demonstrated an incredible amount of growth from where Matthew started on the YHB so many years ago. He is now on a very positive path, looking into additional volunteer opportunities and employment programs. To this day he still pops in to the YHB to say hello. His yearly visits have become a favourite of the staff.

Matthew’s younger brother, James, visited the YHB a few times during his time in high school. Due to some emotional health issues though, James left school and wasn’t able to access care on the YHB.  He faced a lot of barriers that prevented him from returning to school and completing his education.

Matthew was eager to see James succeed, just as he had. He requested that he get back on the right track by attending the same outreach school, and James agreed. In the past, James had uncomfortable taking help from people, agencies, or medical practitioners of any kind because he had negative experiences with practitioners before. Matthew assured James that the YHB was different. When he finally came on board, he was very receptive to receiving care and community. He is currently 2 classes away from graduating high school. He often talks about his plans after receiving his diploma, such as post-secondary education and employment.  Recently, he visited the YHB and asked “if it’s no problem, could I get a chance at the haircut and lunch deal please?  And I’d like to spend some time with you too? I’ve got lots to talk about.”

Huda | The Alex Youth Health Bus

Huda is a 19 year old student, currently studying at the University of Calgary. She was first introduced to the Alex Youth Health Bus during her second year of high school, which was also the year she struggled most with issues revolving around school, family and herself. She was sixteen at the time and found it difficult to overcome periods of anxiety, which caused her to cope in very unhealthy ways. It was then that she realized she wanted to get better, and didn’t want to feel so bad about herself anymore. Huda decided to see her school counsellor, who recommended the doctor on The Alex Youth Health Bus.

Click to read more about Huda

Huda remembers feeling very anxious her first time on the bus. She had heard of it before, but had no idea what to expect. She first met with Nurse Jen, who made Huda feel less nervous the more she spoke. After talking to her about the way she was feeling, Huda then waited to see the doctor with Lyndon.

“Having Lyndon as part of the Youth Bus’s team was one of the best decisions ever made. It was always so fun waiting for the doctor when Lyndon was around. As someone who had major anxiety, being around Lyndon opened me up to talk more and feel less anxious.”

When Huda first met with Dr. Deb on the bus, she was really shy. It was difficult to explain what she was feeling, because she didn’t really understand what was going on herself. She realized soon enough, however, how easy it was to talk to Dr. Deb.

“She didn’t look at me weird or make me feel embarrassed. Each visit she would take her time with me and we would work together to develop better habits and coping strategies.”

Dr. Deb introduced Huda to new meditation apps to calm her down when she was stressed, and they worked on creating goals to achieve not only success in the classroom but in relationships with her family.

“Meeting with a doctor who understood me was one of the biggest reliefs in high school. I had a support system that would give me a shoulder to cry on when I needed it, one I knew I could rely on.”

The Alex Youth Health Bus brought people into Huda’s life who showed her that she could overcome obstacles, and that she could get better. Being a student on the bus really allowed her to see herself differently. Every week Huda noticed she would have a better attitude and found more things to smile about. She started looking forward to the day The Alex Youth Health Bus would come back to her school so she could see the team again.

“[The Youth Health Bus’] influence has allowed me to develop better character, better grades, and a deeper appreciation for the world. I appreciate them for helping me achieve a healthier lifestyle and for taking an interest in me and not only my problems.”

During one visit with Dr. Deb, Huda learned that a lot of our physical pain is related to our mental state. Huda had never thought about the way anxiety affected her overall. This discovery really helped her develop better thinking patterns, which allowed her to feel better physically, reducing a lot of the headaches and chest pains.

Huda began making positive changes in her life, like joining more sports teams, clubs, and after-school programs. These activities pushed her far outside of her comfort zone. In fact, she overcame her anxiety to the point where she performed one of her poems in front of a large audience. Not only was that moment significant because she discovered her love for poetry, it was also the first time she truly felt proud of herself. Hearing that Dr. Deb and the Youth Health Bus team were proud of her too meant the world to her.

“The Youth Health Bus transitioned me into being more confident, in ways my anxiety doesn’t get in the way. Their involvement in my life helped me in school as well, as I went from struggling in my classes in my grade 11 year, to being on the honor roll in grade 12.”

Many youth have a hard time accessing resources like food, condoms, and medical care but with the Alex Youth health Bus coming straight to high schools, they are able to obtain these necessities easily. Vulnerable Youth of any color, race, and background are able to come together and receive the support they need on the bus without judgement.

“We are all welcomed and know that we could rely on the Alex Youth bus to be there when we can’t go to a parent or teacher about a problem.”

“I don’t know where I would be today if I did not experience being on the Youth Health Bus. They were the best support system that I received in high school and my entire experience there has shaped me into the confident and resilient woman I am today. I am thankful to have had the Alex Bus attend my high school.”

Andrea | The Alex Dental Health Bus

Andrea, aged 25, sought help from The Alex Dental Health Bus (DHB) for pain and complications from untreated dental problems. At the time, Andrea had a full-time job that didn’t have health or dental benefits. The hours were unreliable and her income was not sufficient to cover the cost of a dental check-up, so she hadn’t been a dentist in years. “When I was young my mom couldn’t afford to fix one of my teeth so it was pulled. I also had pain in my teeth, and was dealing with a recurring abscess that hadn’t been fixed. At one point the pain was so bad I couldn’t even go to work.”

Click to read more about Andrea

Desperate to find help, Andrea researched programs in Calgary that could look at her teeth at no cost. She found the DHB online, called and asked to be put on the waitlist. “I couldn’t believe that something like this existed, because dental care is so expensive, especially if you don’t have benefits.” Though the main focus of the DHB is to provide preventative dental care and hygiene education to elementary aged-children, the rate of decay in Calgary is pervasive and affects all ages of Calgary’s working poor. The DHB saw Andrea to address her urgent issues before she aged out of the program.

“If I had something like that when I was younger, oh my gosh, it would’ve been phenomenal. I would’ve been able to afford to get stuff done, teeth wouldn’t have been pulled, cavities would’ve been filled, and I would’ve been able to go through my day without pain.”

Andrea saw the hygienist on the DHB. They did a check-up and cleaning, then started investigating the more severe problems. She was very nervous the first time. “I really hate the dentist, I’m so scared of it. But they were so nice and accommodating. They sat me in the chair and explained what they were going to do and walked me through it.”

Andrea was then referred to a Dental Access Clinic, which are local dentists who partner with The Alex to do restorative work with equipment and personnel in a professional dentist’s office. She had multiple fillings done and the recurring abscess looked at.

“I would be screwed without the bus. With the amount of cavities they found, it was a lot and they would’ve ended up being root canals and I could’ve lost all my teeth. I already don’t have one, and it sucks when you’re young and don’t have your tooth, and that’s going to be that way for the rest of my life.”

Since her first appointment with the DHB, Andrea found another stable and scheduled full-time job. After six months she’ll even qualify for health and dental benefits. “It doesn’t cover everything, but anything is better than nothing!” Now that Andrea’s urgent, major dental health concerns have been addressed with the DHB, she can now work on finding a dental home for ongoing preventative care.

“I’m glad you guys are here helping, because there’s a lot of families that can’t really afford it, regardless of age, or parents who can’t afford it for their kids. People have other things they need to handle, and shouldn’t have to worry about their teeth. It makes life so much easier.”

Mujda | The Alex Dental Health Bus

Mujda first visited the DHB when she was in grade one. She was very quiet, but cooperative on the bus, and not at all nervous. The hygienist looked in her mouth and found cavities and decay on her baby teeth as well as her newly erupted permanent molars. “It is always heartbreaking when we see rampant decay because we know if the child is not yet in pain, they will be very soon,” said the dental hygienist.

Click to read more about Mujda

The Alex Dental Health Bus (DHB) is a dental office on wheels that provides preventative dental care and education to children at up to 40 schools in Calgary’s highest needs areas. It began in 2013 as a pilot project to offer oral health education, screenings, sealants, and fluoride varnishes to children in designated high needs elementary schools in partnership with the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District. Once the program began, we found an unforeseen crisis in decay rates among the students we were seeing. We saw an approximate 50% rate of active decay, with one-in-three of these students experiencing pain or infection. Through phone calls to families, we learned many are unable to qualify for government funded dental programs and have no employer benefits. These families are not able to keep up with Alberta’s high dental fees, and it’s the kids who are paying the price.

Mujda first visited the DHB when she was in grade one. She was very quiet, but cooperative on the bus, and not at all nervous. The hygienist looked in her mouth and found cavities and decay on her baby teeth as well as her newly erupted permanent molars. “It is always heartbreaking when we see rampant decay because we know if the child is not yet in pain, they will be very soon,” said the dental hygienist.

Mujda’s teeth needed to be urgently addressed, so the DHB staff called home to find out if the family had the means to access dental care for her. They learned her father had been trying to get dental coverage through a government program for the first time, but the family had been denied because their income was just above the poverty line. Mujda’s father expressed that he could not afford the high cost of dental work for his family, so Mujda had never been to a dentist.

Now in Grade 4, Mujda has been to seven Dental Access Clinics, where local dentists have generously volunteered to do restorative work at no cost to the patient, saving Mujda’s family over $2000 to date. The staff on the DHB also taught her how to properly brush and floss to maintain good dental health and hopefully prevent future problems. The urgent care Mujda required has been completed and it is the hope that her parents will be able to find a family dentist for on-going care. Mujda expressed that she’s very happy her teeth are all fixed, and her father has said she’s smiling now more than ever!

Joyce | The Alex Community Food Centre

Joyce begins her story a few years ago. She was experiencing health problems and was recently let go from her job of 8 years. She was living alone, and after losing many of her family members to alcohol addiction, she didn’t have a support system in place to guide her through challenging times. Joyce admits that the effects of isolation and loss caused her to consider suicide. She discovered The Alex Community Food Centre (CFC) through a social worker. “It took everything I had just to come the first time. I was lonely, and I thought, there has to be a better life for me.”

Click to read more about Joyce

During a busy meal at The Alex Community Food Centre, Joyce can usually be found at a crowded table with a cup of coffee or a plate of healthy food. With kind, welcoming eyes and a slight smile, she’s often sitting quietly, offering a listening ear to those around her.

Joyce begins her story a few years ago. She was experiencing health problems and was recently let go from her job of 8 years. She was living alone, and after losing many of her family members to alcohol addiction, she didn’t have a support system in place to guide her through challenging times. Joyce admits that the effects of isolation and loss caused her to consider suicide. She discovered The Alex Community Food Centre (CFC) through a social worker. “It took everything I had just to come the first time. I was lonely, and I thought, there has to be a better life for me.”

During her first visit to the CFC, a volunteer welcomed her with a kind greeting, a hot coffee and healthy meal. She instantly felt welcome and began visiting the CFC several times a week. As a diabetic, Joyce was having difficulty keeping her blood sugar regulated. “I would go to the other Alex [Community Health Centre], and I would eat at the community kitchen there, so all of a sudden I was eating one healthy meal every day.” Joyce’s blood sugar began stabilizing and she remembers feeling much better. “I started to look forward to coming here. This was a place where I could come and connect with other people and talk to other people.”
Once Joyce was feeling better physically and making connections at the CFC, she began volunteering as a Peer Advocate. “I wanted to volunteer and give back. By giving back it made me feel better. I didn’t have to worry about being lonely or not having enough food.”

As a Peer Advocate, Joyce utilizes her skills and lived experience to listen, support, and facilitate referrals to members of the community. She expresses how much she loves helping others. “I enjoy it a lot. I like meeting different people and I’m a really good listener, so I just listen and if they ask me a question I answer it. If I can do something to help I will. I have a lot of knowledge and I like sharing my knowledge to give them a better life.”

Today, Joyce is thriving. Her granddaughter and grandson-in-law moved in with her, and she has built some meaningful friendships at the CFC. With an interest in community leadership and development, she even started taking humanities classes at St. Mary’s University. She admits that because of her busy schedule, she doesn’t attend community meals everyday anymore, but remains in her role as a Peer Advocate.

“Volunteering helps me counteract the effects of loneliness, stress, anger, anxiety and depression. Also, volunteering helps me to connect to my community and make it a better place. Volunteering is a two-way street. It can benefit community members and me.”
Joyce intends to continue a path of supporting her community to ensure all members feel accepted, connected, healthy, and heard.

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A gift of $50 can make a huge difference in someone's life. Read the stories of Alex community members,  and learn more about the impact of your donation.

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The Alex Community Health Centre

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Learn more at www.thealex.ca

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