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Donation aids Sarnia mental health and addiction facilities

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An $850,000 gift from a Sarnia business has allowed a campaign to open a youth mental-health centre in the city to reach its $3-million capital fundraising goal.

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The donation by Dan and John Whitton, on behalf of their families and employees at Progressive Auto Sales, will also help the Ryan’s House addictions program facility in Sarnia.

Kathy Alexander, executive director of the Bluewater Health Foundation, said $700,000 of the donation went to Access Open Mind, the youth mental health centre set to open this year downtown, while $150,000 was gifted to Ryan’s House.

She described both as “significant investments into very worthwhile programs,” adding she’s “thrilled” the campaign goal for Access Open Minds has been reached as work continues to prepare the facility.

“There have been some delays, and I think that’s just the reality of the COVID construction era that we continue to live in,” she said.

“We were hoping to open the winter of 2022, but now our new occupancy date is the summer.”

The centre is a partnership between Bluewater Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association Chatham Kent and St. Clair Child and Youth Services, and renovations are underway at its site in a former bank building owned by Lambton County at the corner of Front and Lochiel streets.

It aims to provide 12- to 25-year-olds with mental-health and addiction services and support using an approach that began in Australia and has spread around the world.

“This new facility will remove barriers to care, transform the way service providers conduct their daily work and improve care through a co-ordinated approach,” Alexander said.

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“We know it’s needed,” she added. “We’re seeing significant” increases on the impact of mental health of youth and young adults in the community.

All of the partners involved in Access Open Minds have seen increased demand for their services, Alexander said.

“We know this will make a huge impact.”

The donation for Ryan’s House will help with ongoing operations at the 12-bed drug and alcohol rehabilitation support facility that opened on Exmouth Street in early 2021.

The family of Ryan Hicks stand in front of the residential withdrawal management stabilization and transition facility, known as Ryan’s House. From left are Laurie, George and Brienne Hicks. Not in the photo is Ryan’s other sister, Amanda Lyall.
The family of Ryan Hicks stand in front of the residential withdrawal management stabilization and transition facility, known as Ryan’s House. From left are Laurie, George and Brienne Hicks. Not in the photo is Ryan’s other sister, Amanda Lyall. jpg, SW

“That program – there’s really no other way to put it – is saving lives every single day, and we need it to maintain its services and offerings to the community,” Alexander said.

Dan Whitton, owner of Progressive Auto Sales, said they asked community leaders which causes had the greatest need, and Access Open Mind and Ryan’s House were the top responses.

Ryan’s House is named for Ryan Hicks, who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2015. Is mother, Laurie Hicks, has been an advocate for more support and services for those struggling with addiction.

Whitton said Hicks approached the business earlier about a donation to help establish Ryan’s House.

“We didn’t at the time, but we admire the fact she didn’t give up and has seen it through,” he said. “Mental health affects us all and we are very thankful for the community’s support and our employees’ efforts over the years to put us in the position to be able to give back.”

pmorden@postmedia.com

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