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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

How corporate volunteers are making a difference for CAMH clients

Volunteer Week
Addiction treatment is often said to be more about learning to live than about how to stop substance use. CAMH’s Drug Treatment Court Program (DTC) clients come to CAMH from jail and most live in poverty. For so long, much of their day-to-day living has consisted of finding ways to obtain drugs to use in order to block their emotional and physical pain. Time in the criminal justice system creates an external control mindset. Even when drug use is reduced or eliminated, with a social assistance cheque of just over $600, once rent is paid, there isn’t anything left over for recreation or nutrition. Healthy socialization has been virtually absent from many of their lives for a long time.

That’s why CAMH’s Corporate Volunteer Program is so important.

“The Corporate Volunteer Program and the Drug Treatment Court have collaborated on 19 different Corporate Volunteer events in 2014, engaging over 220 corporate volunteers,” says Jim Davey, coordinator of the Corporate Volunteer Program. These volunteer events include hosting Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, LinkedIn, Softchoice, NHL Alumni and many more companies in their Friday morning floor hockey games. “It is now commonly referred to by our returning corporate volunteer groups as the ‘DTCHL’.”

Floor hockeyDTC Addiction Therapist David Lucas (L) high fives the NHL Alumni after a floor hockey challenge

DTC is a long-term program which seeks to reduce problematic substance use and criminal involvement, increase quality of life and community involvement and create internal motivation for positive change. Clients in the program have a sense of community and belonging and are developing hope and skills.

DTC Manager Robin Cuff relates a story she heard from a DTC therapist, Linda Wagner. “One of the Corporate volunteers commented to [Linda] after their volunteer experience, ‘I can’t believe how much joy there is here’,” says Robin Cuff, Manager of DTC. “She was expecting that clients would appear sadder or more depressed and she was overwhelmed by the positive energy.”

The events provide opportunities to contribute to destigmatizing addiction and mental illness and the added stigma of criminal involvement. The Corporate Volunteer sports events provide clients with recovery-enhancing activity in a safe environment. DTC clients often face discrimination in accessing services in the community along with associated anxiety. These events allow them the opportunity to feel included, on the same footing as the volunteers.

“As one of our volunteers from the NHL Alumni said, ‘I’m not here to score, I’m here to set up people’ to score,” says Jim. “That’s what the Corporate Volunteer Program is all about: setting up our clients for success.”

While the events are recovery focused, the funds also allow DTC to provide supplies and experiences to further enhance work with clients, such as:

  • a breakfast group
  • a lunch group
  • client and alumni barbeque
  • food for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve groups
  • craft supplies
  • bus fare for a client to go to out-of-town treatment

Drug Treatment Court Staff
DTC staff (L to R) Paulette Walker, Linda Cartain, David Lucas, Laura Day, Linda Wagner, Robin Cuff, Mark Blackstone

“The relationship between the corporate volunteer program and Drug Treatment Court is invaluable – it keeps our boat afloat,” says David Lucas, DTC Addiction Therapist. “The generous donations help us provide snacks and refreshments for our clients on an ongoing basis, but the events themselves provide something just as important: fun. They are something our clients look forward to and are energized by. The connection and camaraderie that comes from battling it out as teammates in the gym is immeasurable but lasting. Nothing works better at reducing stigma and isolation than creating opportunities for our clients to feel a sense of belonging with the broader community.”

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