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  • Writer's pictureMission Inc.

Charity Spotlight - George Brown Foundation

The alarming truth of mental illness in Canada

It is an alarming fact that one half of Canadians will experience some form of mental illness or addiction problem at some point in their lifetime. With unprecedented strain during the pandemic crisis, experts say this will only increase. Right now, mental illness is the leading cause of disability both in Canada and globally. The financial burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year, which considers factors such as health care costs, lost productivity, and reduced quality of life.

Even though almost all Canadians will be impacted by mental illness, either personally or through a family member, friend, or colleague, stigma and discrimination attached to mental illnesses still present a serious barrier not only to diagnosis and treatment, but also to acceptance in the community (Canadian Mental Health Association).

George Brown removing barriers in education

So how did George Brown College take action to help remove such barriers? By creating the the Augmented Education program in 2004, which was an outcome of recognizing the critical gap in higher education supports for persons with mental health and addiction challenges in Toronto. As a sector leader for over 50 years, GBC designed an inclusive and enriching educational program targeted to best support the unique needs of these learners.

The program was launched through an innovative partnership between the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and George Brown College, and is a tuition free, employment-focused, supportive education model that provides persons with mental health and addiction histories an opportunity to attend school and improve their lives. The Augmented Education program delivers job-focused education and training either in the culinary arts by way of the Assistant Cook Extended Training Program or in the field of construction through the Construction Craft Worker Extended Training Program.

“All my life I’ve struggled with anxiety, panic attacks and bipolar disorder. Once I joined the Augmented Education program, everything changed. With thanks to the amazing team and the built-in support, I now hold my head high.” Donna Villeneuve, Graduate, Augmented Education class of 2017.

Since 2004, there have been 546 students like Donna, who have received industry-recognized training and certification from the Augmented Education program, with 83% of graduates securing and maintaining employment after graduation.

“This is done at no cost to our students as the program is partially funded by Government, with the College also supporting, and we rely heavily on other external funders…and we often get referrals from people's case workers that were first students to us.”, said Dr. Cindy Gouveia, President, George Brown College Foundation.

Fundraising with the Food Court Social

To help ensure the longevity and growth of the program, in 2014, George Brown College Foundation created an annual fundraising event called the Food Court Social. To date, the event has raised over $1 million to offset Augmented Education program costs. “We run the Food Court Social charity event every year and engage Toronto’s most talented celebrity chefs and culinary artists to help raise funds to maintain and expand the program, so more students can benefit from this life-changing opportunity”, said Gouveia.

In Spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a new challenge to in-person fundraising events, while students’ need for support was more urgent than ever. A recent statement made by the Canadian Mental Association, Ontario, indicated that 69% of Ontarians believed the province is headed for a “serious mental health crisis” as it emerges from this pandemic. Additionally, nearly eight out of ten Ontarians (77 per cent) said more mental health supports will be necessary to help society going forward, making the Augmented Education program even more critical now than before.

Because current social distancing measures are taking a toll on everyone but can be even more taxing to those with living with mental illness and addiction, George Brown College’s commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of all students has never been stronger. Choosing to leverage its entrepreneurial spirit and adapt the Food Court Social 2020 instead of cancelling it and risking losing much needed funds for the program, GBC creatively morphed the signature in‑person foodie fundraising event into a digital at-home dining experience, rebranded as “Food Court Social Distancing”.

“Traditionally we invite about 15 chefs to display their culinary creations. We get sponsors, invite donors, and we host the event at George Brown’s Waterfront Campus,” said Gouveia. “Now, this year is a little bit different because of the pandemic, but we are embarking on a new way of delivering an event like this to ensure we can support our students at the same time.”

Toronto's George Brown College has established a reputation for equipping students with the skills, industry experience and credentials to pursue the careers of their choice. Beyond academic skills and credentials, George Brown is known as one of the most diverse Colleges in Ontario, located in the heart of downtown Toronto, the most multicultural city in Canada. This offers students the invaluable experience of being part of a global village, which is not so easily measurable.

“[We] help people realize their career aspirations. I think in many ways, we play a small role in changing people's lives.” – Dr. Cindy Gouveia, President, George Brown College Foundation

For more information on tickets to attend Food Court Social Distancing on October 15th, 2020 click here.



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