Hope in Action

June 2020


With the pandemic continuing and so much sadness and anger in the news recently, it’s easy to get discouraged. But even in the middle of darkness, there’s light. Learn how our Youth Addiction staff overcame the challenges posed by COVID-19 and continue to help kids overcome substance abuse. Then hear how one guest’s experiences at the Community Centre inspired her to help others.

Thank you for reading and sharing these stories of hope. It’s your support that makes them possible!

Addictions treatment goes virtual

Community-based and day treatment programs continue to help youth overcome substance abuse

On March 16, when Ontario went into lockdown, Ray of Hope’s Youth Addiction Services (YAS) team faced a very real problem: How could they continue to care for young people struggling with substance abuse?

YAS runs three separate programs – community-based treatment, day treatment and residential treatment – that provide increasing levels of support for people as young as 12 years old.

Knowing that face-to-face contact would no longer be possible, the YAS team sprang into action to deliver treatment remotely.

Moving online presented a number of challenges, says YAS Program Director Glynis Burkhalter.

“We needed to evaluate how to keep clients’ personal health information secure while continuing to provide service. We also had to figure out how to connect our staff to key files and data on Ray of Hope’s servers, and ensure they had the equipment they needed to work from home.”

Within two weeks, all community-based treatment (CBT) staff were connected to virtual tools like video chat, as well as continuing phone and text capacity. Glynis later learned from colleagues at Addictions and Mental Health Ontario that YAS was one of the first AMHO agencies in the province to implement video meetings with clients.

By March 30th, day treatment staff were offering their first virtual support group. A few weeks later, teaching via the Waterloo Region District School Board went online, allowing program participants to keep up with their studies.

Responding to kids in crisis

Though rapid, the transition hasn’t always been easy.

Aside from the pressures of the pandemic, many of the young people in treatment are dealing with complicated family situations and trauma. Not having in-person contact with the youth makes it harder for counsellors to respond when kids are in crisis.

“We’ll get a text from someone in distress who says they’re suicidal – and then they’ll stop answering messages,” Glynis says.

“Our staff had a number of these hair-raising situations. As a result, we changed what we do at the beginning of a conversation. We ask, ‘Where are you? Who is around you? Where are you staying?’ We’ve also changed our informed consent process to allow us to connect with the youth’s emergency contacts if we think their level of risk is escalating.”

Coping with isolation

The stress of living under COVID-19-related restrictions isn’t just affecting youth. Working from home has been tough, especially on the CBT team, Glynis says.

“They’re having challenging conversations with youth in the same place where they live the rest of their life. Most of my staff don’t have a dedicated office space at home and even though they’re conducting conversations with clients in private, it’s difficult to separate work life and home life.”

Feelings of isolation can also be a problem.

“At the office, we have a common workroom where people come in and out. Normally, it’s easy for staff to have a five-minute debriefing conversation with me or chat with our office administrator. Within the first couple of weeks of the lockdown, we realized that we were missing all those connections.”

To help staff feel more connected while working remotely, Glynis instituted a daily Zoom meeting every morning where they can check in if they wish.

“They know that every day there’s an appointed time where others are going to be available to listen or brainstorm or just chat.”

Positives in the midst of a pandemic

Despite the challenges, YAS teams have seen some positives coming out of the pandemic.

With fewer distractions available, “the vast majority of young people in day treatment have continued to attend the online support groups we run each weekday afternoon. And they also have at least one individual appointment a week,” Glynis says.

In the CBT program, staff are noticing fewer cancellations and participants are opting for longer appointments. Instead of relapsing, former clients are connecting with YAS for support. And because border closures have decreased the flow of drugs into the Region, many young people are using less.

“It will be interesting to see what happens when the border reopens,” Glynis says.

In the meantime, YAS staff continue to support the young people who turn to them for help.

“I’m unbelievably proud of my teams,” Glynis says. “It’s amazing how, in such a short amount of time, they were able to turn everything around. They have adapted brilliantly.”

Next month, learn how both staff and participants in the Residential addictions program are coping during the lockdown.

Ripples of hope: Melissa's story

This story was written by Melissa, a Ray of Hope Community Centre guest and volunteer.

Hope. What does it mean to me? It’s something that pushes me to move forward. Something that is more than a desire. Something given to others by others that makes life worth living. Hope is the light at the end of the tunnel. Hope is seen in the eyes of the ones who were once lost in the darkness. Hope to me is moving forward despite the turbulence and chaos that surrounds me, which very few are aware of. Hope is a beacon of light that everyone searches for yet don’t realize that they are the very beacon when they impact someone in a positive way.

In March 2018, I came to Ray of Hope for the very first time. I knew very little about the organization, yet knew there was, and still is, a heightened stigma of the individuals that are served at such a place. I was afraid to enter the doors because of the stories I have heard about such places. The drugs, the fights, and other odd things that society seems to frown upon at such places. Yet the more I came to the community centre, the less alone in the world I felt. I was very introverted and it was difficult for me to open up due to trust issues that still tend to linger. I came to realize that the people that the community centre helps in some way, regardless of struggles and backgrounds, have one thing in common. They all come to the community centre for hope, a warm meal, someone to talk to, an opportunity to give back, or just somewhere to get a hot cup of coffee on a cold day, just to name a few.

After a while, my introverted shell was beginning to crack. I saw a lot of great, inspiring things occurring in the community centre. Compassion, sympathy, a wanting to understand, hope being given to the seemingly hopeless, and people wanting to give hope to others that they received themselves. Slowly but surely, I started to notice that I somehow wanted to give hope to others in the way in which I received hope.

After a few months, I wanted to give back to the community centre that seemed to give so much to me. Yet I didn’t know where to begin, though I had an interest in helping out in the kitchen. Shortly after making the appropriate connections, I was volunteering with the Wednesday night meal team, which was called StreetWise when I began. I began learning a new skill set and gaining confidence that I had long forgotten. With the transition of Streetwise to Warriors4Hope and with having a month off, I wanted to explore other volunteer opportunities within the organization sooner rather than later. During the transition, I started packing bread and other foods for the community centre’s Marketplace. I also served coffee briefly in the community centre.

Putting words into action gives the words more meaning. Seeing where I came from when I first came to the Ray of Hope, where I am now roughly two years later, is definitely a change. Especially after having been given a bit of hope that seems insurmountable now.


stones rising out of rippled water against a rising sun

Hope is a pebble that gets thrown into a vast lake of seeming despair, which has a constant and lasting ripple effect. Seeing how lasting the pebble of hope can be in my life when it was given to me, I chose to continue the ripple. ~ Melissa, Community Centre guest and volunteer

Giving the hope that was given to me to someone else in some capacity in the very environment in which I received it is fascinating.

Hope turns into gratitude and appreciation once one sees some of the behind-the-scenes aspects that is put into the hope that is received. That is why I choose to give hope through volunteering. To me, volunteering may be a small thing to do, yet to someone else, it may be the very thing that gives them hope in this world and the will to carry on.

Without hope, so much in this world wouldn’t be in existence so what does hope mean to me? Hope is a pebble with a never-ending ripple effect that keeps on giving.

Help a neighbour in need

When you give, you make life a little easier for struggling neighbours. Thank you!

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re not able to accept donations of food or clothing. But you can still provide meals for hungry people through our secure donation page.