At Shalem, our thoughts and prayers are with so many people during this challenging time. We think of first responders and healthcare providers, especially Personal Support Workers in long-term care facilities, nurses, doctors, ambulance personnel, and chaplains in those institutions. We think of inmates and guards in prisons, and of workers in meat-packing plants that have been riven by the virus.
Of course, we also think of people who have been stricken by COVID-19, of people who have cruelly lost loved ones, of family members who cannot visit their spouses, parents or grandparents, and of people who need to grieve together but can’t because of the restrictions in place.
We think of business owners desperate to stay financially solvent and care for their staff, and of workers who are unemployed. We think of children needing to do schooling online while they stay home and apart from their friends, of teachers who have needed to make the dramatic transition to online education, and of parents who must now oversee their children’s education at home. We think of government personnel who are scrambling to implement effective supports at break-neck speed.
More specifically, at Shalem, we think about our vital community partners, especially the churches in our network and beyond, who are searching for new ways of congregating safely and of providing pastoral care in a time of rising need, even as their finances take a substantial hit.
And of course, we think of our clients in all of our programs. We think of the mounting mental health needs evident all around us and in our work. We think about the traumas that so many people are experiencing, especially healthcare providers, traumas that will rise more and more to the surface as the pandemic subsides—they will insist on being dealt with. We think about the disturbing rise of domestic violence—which we are seeing at Shalem—and the unpalatable, unsafe situations that far too many people find themselves in today.
At Shalem, it is a privilege and an honour to walk alongside of people on their journey towards health and wellness. How do we do that during a time of physical distancing and isolation?
I am pleased to report that all of our work at Shalem has continued unabated during COVID-19, now done entirely virtually. Our Counselling Centre in Hamilton is busy with online psychotherapy sessions. Therapists are reporting surprise at how effective these sessions can be. The same is true with our Congregational Assistance Plan (CAP) and Counselling Assistance Plan for Students (CAPS).
Some churches and para-church organizations, driven by a desire to meet rising mental health needs during this time, have expanded their CAP partnership with us or joined CAP for the first time during the crisis. We are in awe of their desire to serve their members when they themselves are greatly challenged.
At RE-create, our drop-in art studio for marginalized youth, art studio times are happening on Zoom and Instagram—and we have been delighted at how meaningful and successful they are. Our RE-create mentorship program, which links community artists with aspiring youth artists, has expanded during COVID-19.
Our WrapAround program is conducting WrapAround family team meetings virtually and offering online Facilitator training.
With Restorative Practice, our Centre for Workplace Engagement has facilitated restorative circles online, helping staff at organizations, for example, work through the impact of COVID-19 on themselves and their work. And our FaithCARE program is offering online support to churches and church leaders during COVID-19.
Several Shalem trainings have had to be postponed, but they are rescheduled. In the meantime, we have provided online workshops on self-care and mental health support during COVID-19 with, for example, Edvance, Edifide, and John Knox Christian School, in support of Christian school leaders, teachers and staff. And we have developed curated resource lists and reflections through our blogs and Facebook page, all of which are available to everyone.
Because Shalem, like other mental health programs, has been declared an “essential service,” we are able to keep our office open to staff (though not the public). This has been a real blessing for staff. I am also pleased to report that Shalem qualifies, and is accessing, the federal government’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program. I want to express our gratitude to the government for this essential support. And I am grateful that all of our staff at Shalem, and their families, have been able to stay clear of the virus itself.
Last but not least, at Shalem we think of you, our supporters. We pray that you are healthy, free of the virus, free of debilitating anxiety, and finding even small things to be thankful for during this unprecedented time. If you find yourself able, please do consider adding to your donation support. Because many people are financially struggling during this time, some are not able to pay for services as they have in the past. But it is our ministry and calling to serve, especially now, regardless of people’s ability to pay. Through your support, you provide a lifeline to the people we are privileged to serve.
Support works both ways. You are in our prayers too at Shalem. If there are other ways that we can support you, please do reach out to us. We would be honoured to hear from you about that.
Above all, we wish you strength, health, peace, comfort, connection, rest and safety during this time of great challenge! Please do be in touch.
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W., is Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network