'I volunteer Because I Want to Support People Living with Mental Illness'

When I started volunteering at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, I quickly became aware that it is a dedicated patient-centered environment.

Ontario Shores uses a recovery model of care for its patients. This model is based on the principles of empowerment, hope and responsibility. During my time volunteering at Ontario Shores’ Vocational Services, I have seen how the hospital puts this principle into practice.



I volunteer in the Ontario Shores Supported Education Program (OSSEP), where I help students complete their high school education. The students come voluntarily; they take charge of their own education.  Some want to find jobs for themselves; others hope to enrol in college programs or university.

The students use SMART goals to set objectives for themselves, which involves making a specific goal they want to achieve, and a time frame of when they want to have it completed. For example, some students may set their goal as: “to get my high school education.” Then, however, they realize that they first need to break this goal down into smaller steps. This is part of the beneficial process as outlined by SMART. The smaller steps are achievements on the way to the bigger goal, things like completing assignments by a certain date, or graduating from their current grade. Splitting up  large goals into smaller steps helps to keep students interested in completing the work, and provides encouragement along the way to their goals.

I often hear the students keeping checklists for themselves of work they still have left to do. 'Just a few more chapters before I can write my final exam! Then I’ll be done my history course.' I can really see how this keeps them motivated, knowing that they are taking steps towards achieving what they ultimately want out of the program.

Of course there are the tough days for the students. Sometimes they can feel like the work they have done isn’t good enough. Sometimes they look at their checklist of things they have to do and feel overwhelmed by how much work there really is.

That’s where the great staff and volunteers come in. We help them recognize that this is something that everyone experiences, and that they are on the right track to achieving what they want – they just need to continue following the plan that they have laid out for themselves.

When a student feels this way, I will often ask them what task they are currently working on, and I will help them complete as much of it as possible in the few hours we are together in OSSEP. Then when the class is over they leave feeling better, because they know they used their time well, and maybe they have crossed more items off their checklist.

I volunteer because I want to support people living with mental illness, and let them know they are not alone in their experiences. I love volunteering in OSSEP because I feel like I can be helpful to the patients there.

Education is important in a patient’s recovery – it can help them find jobs, and become active members in the community. This in turn will help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Everyday I see students working hard, persevering through their frustrations of overwhelming schoolwork, and I can relate to how they feel. By sharing in their feelings, and supporting them, I can help them achieve their goals, and encourage the belief that they can do anything they put their minds to.