September 29, 2023

Congratulations to our 2023 Spirit of Hope Award Nominees!

Every year, our Foundation has the honour of presenting the St. Joseph’s Spirit of Hope Awards to acknowledge and celebrate those who have overcome mental health or addiction challenges, or made impactful contributions to these fields.

The 2023 awards will be announced during A Mental Health Morning on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, featuring keynote speaker Lynn Keane, an author, former broadcast journalist, tri-athlete and mental health advocate.

Below are brief summaries from each individual and group’s nomination package for the Spirit of Hope Awards. Their contributions are so vast and varied, that it’s difficult to summarize their accomplishments in this way, but each is deserving of being recognized for their nomination for a Spirit of Hope Award.

Youth Category

Farhana Chowdhury – Farhana is also a member of the Youth Council at St. Joe’s Youth Wellness Centre. Farhana uses her lived experience and personal knowledge of accessing mental health services to inform the work of the YWC and give back to youth who are going through their own mental health journey. Farhana has also supported the YouThrive program at the YWC, a service stream dedicated to helping racialized youth who have experienced racial trauma and race-related stress. Pulling from her own lived experience as a racialized young person navigating the mental health care system, Farhana helps to inform programming and youth engagement efforts. Farhana’s dedication to supporting youth mental health services in Hamilton extends beyond her involvement at the YWC. She has also served the community as a Program Coordinator at THE SPACE and a facilitator of a group called OKRA, a peer support group for racialized LGBTQ+ youth. At Recreate, Farhana pulls from her talent and passion for art and graphic design to engage youth in services. In this role, Farhana would visit various community organizations like the Living Rock to connect with youth, many of whom experience mental health and/or substance use concerns.

Alex Schulz – Alex is a member of the Youth Council at St. Joe’s Youth Wellness Centre (YWC). They leverage their lived experience and knowledge of the healthcare system to give back and support the development of services for other youth who are struggling. Alex openly shares their mental health and substance use experiences to offer hope and incorporate a framework of recovery into their work. Alex has helped to plan and facilitate the relaunch of the YWC’s S.A.D. Club, a support group for those experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder or those needing social connections while struggling with the effects of winter. Alex has also assisted with planning and facilitating SAGE (Support Around Gender Experience), a support group for trans youth and those exploring their gender. Alex’s passion to support their peers and increase the accessibility of mental health and addiction supports drives them to connect with others and take action on issues.

Giorgia Woolfe – Giorgia played a pivotal role in The Hamilton Me Project initiative, a youth engagement and communications campaign that was developed by secondary students in our city. This group was created at the end of 2020 to combat the COVID-19 fatigue that many youth were experiencing. Giorgia was one of the inspiring students working to identify issues surrounding COVID-19 messaging for teens. She demonstrated leadership by becoming involved in creating meaningful and encouraging messages through Instagram posts to address her peers and share information  on the topics of COVID-19 prevention, ways to deal with pandemic fatigue and the importance of mental health and wellbeing.

Individual Category

Ben Bailey – Ben has been part of St. Joe’s Youth Wellness Centre since shortly after it first opened in 2014 as a service user, and then as a member of the clinical team in the role of Peer Support Worker. He has provided peer support and care to countless transgender youth in Hamilton, sharing his own lived experience as a trans man to help youth explore their gender and gender presentation, process their experiences, navigate services, address barriers to healthcare, and move forward in their recovery. The scope of Ben’s impact reaches far beyond the YWC. Ben has served as a Youth Council member and helped to develop programs and services for youth at several local organizations. Ben’s expansive work as an advocate, a healthcare provider, an artist, and a community member, has been influential and transformative in the areas of mental health and addiction in the Hamilton region.

Bill Baker – Bill is a registered psychotherapist at St. Joe’s who works in the Concurrent Disorders Capacity Building Team, and can often be found helping patients and clients in the Emergency Mental Health Service at the Charlton Campus. Bill’s nominators say that his commitment to helping his at-risk clients to navigate the complex healthcare system is commendable, but it’s the hope he sees in every situation, no matter how dire, that truly inspired them to nominate him for this award.

Sonia Kumar – Sonia is CEO of Body Brave, a community-based charitable organization that offers online eating disorder treatment and support services. Sonia’s lived experience as someone who has recovered from an eating disorder gives her a deep understanding about the suffering that this illness creates. Her commitment to a strengths-based, recovery-centred approach to this illness has helped so many people accessing Body Brave’s services.

Shannon MacKinnon – After the sudden loss of her best friend and an addiction-related passing of an ex-boyfriend, Shannon experienced bouts of depression and has dedicated her time to helping others whose lives have been touched by mental illness through poetry, theatre, advocacy and support.

Patrizia McEachren – Pat has been a member of the Peer Advisory Committee for the Mental Health & Addictions Program at St. Joe’s for more than two and a half years. She facilitates peer drop-in support groups at the Hospital, volunteers with numerous patient and family advisory groups and activities, shares her story, her experience and her expertise to selflessly help others.

Henriette Pinto – Henriette was nominated for a Spirit of Hope Award in light of the remarkable service and support she provides to the staff of the Hamilton Wentworth Catholic District School Board. She is the first person that employees encounter when seeking help through the School Board’s Employee Assistance Program. Henriette makes every staff member feel heard but not judged, supported but not helpless. She is a champion for connecting staff with the supports they need for their mental well-being.

Kim Ritchie – Kim has lived experiences with homelessness, substance use, sexual exploitation, and criminalization. After many years of living on the margins of our society, she has become an advocate for harm reduction and trauma-informed practice. She is currently completing her Master of Social Work at McMaster University. Her career has focused on leadership roles, engineering novel harm reduction programs and peer-based programs. She co-founded the National Overdose Response Service and  volunteers with the Canadian Drug Policy Harm Reduction Working Group. She is also a Board member of the Student Overdose Prevention and Education Network. Kim shares her lived experience and hybrid forms of knowledge in the hopes of creating change within social consciousness and structures.

Sarah Simpson – Sarah has been a social worker in the Women’s & Infants’ Program at St. Joe’s for more than 25 years. She provides exemplary care to each and every family she encounters, but her nomination for the Spirit of Hope Awards was inspired by her compassionate and non-judgmental approach to caring for infants and families affected by substance use.

Tom Varley – Tom is the manager of Colours Café, a social enterprise café that sells food, beverages, coffee, clothing and supplies to clients and staff alike inside the Margaret & Charles Juravinski Centre for Integrated Healthcare on St. Joseph’s West 5th Campus. He hires and trains the Café’s staff – 80 per cent of whom are living with mental illness, as is Tom himself. But people are not their diagnosis. And Tom works hard to dispel stigma and instill purpose, trust and confidence in all those who have the pleasure of working with him or meeting him during a visit to Colours Café.

Sadie Wolfe – Originally from Chatham, Ontario, Sadie calls Hamilton her adopted home. It’s where she found help when she was struggling with her own mental health, and it’s where she now helps others to find the help they may need through her advocacy work, her training in mental health first aid, and her PR savvy to start up peer support groups like ALPHABET SOUP and HAPPY PLACE.

Christine Yanke – An author and a trauma-informed senior master yoga trainer with lived experience of mental illness and addiction. In a full-circle story, Christine now offers her yoga training at Womankind – a women’s addiction service run by St. Joe’s which also happens to be the place where Christine sought and received help for her own addiction.

Christopher Yendt – Christopher graduated from Brock University with a Master’s Degree in Adult Education. He was president of the Brock Graduate Students’ Association, a member of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Niagara Branch Board, and was Chair of the Board for Rainbow’s End Hamilton. But while achieving all of this, he was experiencing episodes of mania, paranoia and suicidal ideation. Christopher felt like he was going to lose it all. But instead, he reached out for help. He found recovery. And resilience. Now he helps others who find themselves facing a mental health crisis.

Group/Organization Category

Body Brave – Body Brave is a community-based charitable organization providing accessible eating disorder treatment and support, as well as advancing community training and education. It assists more than 3,000 people annually through its innovative online Recovery Support Program and through participation in groups. People with disordered eating can access services within 48 hours of reaching out. Currently Body Brave’s team consists of 12 people, including 6 clinicians. All services are provided without cost, and are primarily offered online, to increase accessibility to people living in remote and rural areas. Body Brave has become well-known both provincially and nationally, with a large social media reach (40,000). The organization works to provide virtual and in-person treatment and support, educate and train health care practitioners with programs to help them better assist their patients with eating disorders, wipe out the stigma of eating disorders and advocate for more research into and resources for this deadly disease.

Comeback Snacks – Emily O’Brien founded Comeback Snacks after battling back from addiction and serving a federal prison sentence for drug smuggling. The company, which produces delicious popcorn snacks, supports other people who have made a mistake in the past and who are trying to make a comeback. The growing business not only raises awareness about the benefits of giving people with criminal backgrounds a second chance — a portion of profits also support reintegration programs, prison reform measures, and the reduction of recidivism rates (the rate at which someone reoffends).

Rapid Intervention and Support Team – The Rapid Intervention and Support Team (RIST) is a multi-disciplinary outreach team of experts from the community who work together daily to provide resources and support to the most complex and marginalized individuals in our community.  This team is an extension of the Social Navigator Program and was piloted in the summer of 2022 to help police and paramedics respond to the needs of those living in encampments, accessing shelters or those struggling to access traditional social and healthcare services in the City of Hamilton. The RIST team works collaboratively to provide wrap around supports to help address housing, substance use and mental health needs. The program helps clients to obtain basic needs, navigate systems and refer them to the appropriate social and healthcare services in the community. The RIST team meets clients in their environment and is able to offer one-on-one support.

Wayside House of Hamilton – Wayside House of Hamilton is a community-based not-for-profit organization committed to residential addiction treatment and supportive housing for males and transitional male youth. The organization provides quality, evidence-informed programming through integrated services and partnerships within Ontario that support recovery from substance dependency.

Womankind Addiction Service – Womankind Addiction Service is a program offered through St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. The service provides a range of gender-responsive programming and supports to women seeking to change their relationship with substance use. A 26-bed facility located in west Hamilton, Womankind offers a safe, inclusive and caring place where all women and people who identify as women are welcomed and assisted by a specially trained team to assess and define next steps regarding their substance use and recovery with a whole-person approach.

Women’s Health Concerns Clinic Community Advisory Committee (WHCC CAC) – The Women’s Health Concerns Clinic provides assessment, consultation and treatment for women 18 years of age or older who are experiencing emotional symptoms related to the reproductive milestones (i.e. menstrual cycle, pregnancy/postpartum, and menopause). The Clinic’s Community Advisory Committee is made up of members who have experience with the WHCC programs and can provide their lived experiences to support the wellbeing of women in our community. Committee members helped draft and develop logos, speakers’ panels, community partnerships and communications for the Hospital’s annual Opening Up event. CAC members also spearheaded the creation of an informational pamphlet for new mothers on signs of maternal mental health issues following the birth of a child. Members spoke about their own experiences during the postpartum stage and created a tool for parents to spot the signs of warning, and provided solutions for speaking to their health care providers and the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic for help. The graphic design, research and coordination with clinic and Hospital staff was all completed by CAC members.

YouThrive – YouThrive is an innovative mobile mental health and addiction program dedicated to delivering care to Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth and families in the Hamilton community. The team regularly visits local community groups and organizations, such as schools, community centres, and cultural centres, to build connections with BIPOC youth and provide direct access to culturally appropriate mental health and substance use supports. Youth can also self-refer to YouThrive services through St. Joe’s Youth Wellness Centre, or be referred by family, friends, a medical professional, or other service providers in the community. This program was conceived in March 2021 and is a partnership between Youth Wellness Centre, Thrive Child and Youth Trauma Program Lynwood Charlton Centre, Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, De dwa da dehs nye>s and City School at Mohawk College.

Thank you to our Spirit of Hope Award Sponsors


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