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Published on November 3rd, 2014 | from CAMH

Paying it forward

Jim-Gina-OT-AwardsGina Oades is an Occupational Therapist (OT) with CAMH’s LEARN program, a program that facilitates recovery and community integration for clients recovering from a first episode of psychosis. OTs at CAMH help people to recover and stay well by supporting them while they engage in meaningful occupations in life (Self-care, Leisure, and Productivity).

A few weeks ago, I paid forward an act of kindness on behalf of the clients and staff at LEARN. I secretly nominated two of my CAMH colleagues, Jim Davey and Bill Markakis, for the Excellence in Interprofessional Support of Occupational Therapy Services Award, in recognition for the work that they’ve done connecting our clients with volunteers from the CAMH Corporate Volunteer Program. This program offers hands-on volunteer opportunities that match the values of participating company. This year, the LEARN program, with the help of Jim and Bill, hosted 10 different companies in our Sports & Gym Group!

And what is even more remarkable? They won the award!

Officially, the award is meant to recognize someone who “demonstrates ongoing support in their day to day practice of occupational therapy”. In the case of Bill and Jim, I want to recognize their contributions in assisting us OT’s to deliver client-centered, recovery-focused programming at CAMH. Our Sports & Gym group enables clients to engage in meaningful, fun, and healthy activities such as team sports and fitness exercises.

As an OT, part of my job is to encourage clients to engage with their community, which helps in de-mystifying mental illness to the community at large. Our clients have really enjoyed the volunteer events. There are more players to play a full court game of basketball and soccer. Plus, the volunteers bring this positive enthusiasm and energy that is exciting, and our clients feed off that.

But Jim and Bill didn’t just receive this award for their work with our clients.

Volunteering is a two-way street and we realized that the corporate volunteers were getting much more out of the experience too. Sometimes volunteers come in with certain expectations and attitudes towards mental illness. These ideas and expectations are quickly shattered once they volunteer with CAMH and actually spend some time with our clients.

In a recent session, a corporate volunteer told us that “Today felt… normal. I didn’t realize it before, but when we played basketball and hung out, it was just like playing basketball with the guys.” I have noticed the power of occupation – in this case, sports – succeeds in truly connecting the volunteers and clients to something more than just throwing the ball around.

When clients and volunteers are giving each other high fives and working together they embody teamwork, socialization, and most importantly, are debunking the stigma of mental illness. The volunteers walk away feeling like they were part of something special – and they are.

Thanks to these events, we’ve seen our clients really come out of theirs shells and increase their skills. Not just with the activities we do, but more importantly, with each other. And whether our volunteers know it or not, they have made a difference in people’s lives.

I could go on forever about all the wonderful work that people like Jim and Bill do to support OT projects at CAMH (and I might in future blogs)! On top of this, Jim and Bill are so full of energy and positivity and really live and breathe the recovery model which is very much in line with OT.

As we wrap up Occupational Therapy week at CAMH and OT Month in Ontario, I want to recognize the contributions of people who support our work. They really ‘get’ what we do as OTs. People like them make this job that much more fulfilling, exciting and a little easier, which in turn helps us do the best we can for our clients.

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