Sarnia mental health and addiction facilities supported by donation


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An $850,000 donation from a Sarnia company helped a campaign to open a youth mental health center in the city reach its $3 million fundraising goal.

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Dan and John Whitton’s donation, on behalf of their families and Progressive Auto Sales employees, will also support the Ryan’s House addiction treatment program 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 center slated to open downtown this year, and $150,000 to Ryan’s House.

She said these were “significant investments in very useful programs”, adding that she was “delighted” that the Access Open Minds campaign goal had been achieved as work continued to prepare installation.

“There have been 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 winter 2022 but now our new occupancy date is summer.”

The center 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 Lambton County-owned bank building on the corner of Front and Lochiel streets.

It aims to provide mental health and addictions services and support to 12 to 25 year olds 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 do their daily work, and improve care through a coordinated approach,” said Alexander.

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“We know it’s necessary,” she said. “We are seeing significant increases” in the mental health impact of youth and young adults in the community, she said.

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

“We know it will have a huge impact.”

The donation for Ryan’s House will help with the ongoing operations of the 12-bed drug and alcohol addiction support center which opened on Exmouth Street in early 2021.

The family of Ryan Hicks stand in front of the residential stabilization and transitional facility for withdrawal management, known as Ryan’s House. Left to right, Laurie, George and Brienne Hicks. Ryan’s other sister, Amanda Lyall, is not pictured. jpg, SW

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

Dan Whitton, owner of Progressive Auto Sales, said he asked community leaders which causes were most needed and Access Open Mind and Ryan’s House were the top answers.

Ryan’s House is named after Ryan Hicks, who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2015. His mother, Laurie Hicks, advocated for more support and services for people struggling with addiction.

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

“We didn’t at the time, but we admire the fact that she didn’t give up and that she was successful,” he said.

“Mental health affects us all and we are very grateful for the support of the community and the efforts of our employees over the years, to put us in a position to be able to give back,” said Whitton.


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