Youth mental health program fundraises to stay afloat

The Spot held an auction on March 29 to raise funds after not receiving a government grant to help with its operating costs this year.

Ash MacDougall sits in a plastic chair, reading sheet music from her lap and practicing the Beatles’ Hey Jude on her flute. Beside her, her friend Avery Muir compliments her progress.

At another table, someone is playing with art supplies. Sounds from an electric guitar and drum set sneak through a separate, closed off room.

Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

This is a common scene at The Spot, a drop-in mental health program for youth held at the Pavilion on the Halifax Common. The Spot, partnered with Connections Halifax, is described as a safe space for youth to create and express themselves through music and art.

“Honestly, I love the people here. The people here are so open. Everybody is going to accept you, no matter what,” said Muir. “You’ll never feel left out or outcast here.”

The Spot recently held an auction where it raised approximately $5,500. The fundraiser was held because The Spot did not receive government grant funding, like it has in the past, to help with its operating costs this year.

Michael Nahirnak, a co-ordinator of The Spot, says the money will probably keep The Spot running until summer. He says he doesn’t know why The Spot did not receive a grant this year, but is not pessimistic about it.

The Spot is a free program so participation is accessible to everyone. Nahirnak says this is uncompromising.

“[Youth] can be a time that issues do pop up in terms of mental health,” he said. “I think we have a responsibility to support youth through that.”

The Spot uses the Pavilion for free, but costs to run the program include compensation for program facilitators, art supplies, instruments, instrument repair, equipment upgrades and refreshments.

Art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
A small bit of art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

MacDougall and Muir, both high school students, have been coming to The Spot for several months. Muir says she feels like an outcast at school, but is able to express herself at The Spot.

MacDougall says The Spot is here for “people who don’t necessarily think the same way as the rest of society.”

Nahirnak says The Spot is always looking to grow. For the future, he hopes The Spot can hire a full-time co-ordinator, do more work with outreach and find its own space.

“I think in the far future it would be great for The Spot to have its own home,” he said. “A one-stop shop that youth can come and be creative and have support.”

The fundraising auction showed there is community support for arts and mental health programming, but Nahirnak says it may not be enough.

“People want this kind of stuff,” he said. “However, the city probably needs to step up a little bit to help us with that.”

Nahirnak says The Spot has plans to collaborate with its partner Youth Art Connection and other charities and ask the Halifax Regional Municipality for more support.

In the meantime, Nahirnak and fellow co-ordinator Heather MacDonald, hope to find a more sustainable form of funding. The Spot will not be hosting another auction in the near future.

The Spot runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Art and music are universal. We promote mental health, but it doesn’t mean you need to have a mental health issue to come,” said Nahirnak. “Everyone is welcome, as long as you’re interested in creating.”

King’s Cup raises questions about gender inequality

Out of 29 players at this year’s University of King’s College’s intramural hockey game, only six of them were women.

The 4th annual King’s Cup hockey game took place on Saturday, in a flurry of beer guzzling and joking rivalry, with the Bays defeating Alex Hall 4-1.

The King’s Cup is played by intramural sports teams, organized by residence building. Competitors play for the residence they lived in during their first year at the University of King’s College. The residences consist of Alexandra Hall, Radical Bay, Middle Bay, North Pole Bay, Chapel Bay and Cochran Bay.

Teams were evenly matched skill-wise, but there was a large gender gap on the ice. Out of 29 total players on the roster, only six women played in the game.

Gender inequality didn’t seem to be an issue at the King’s Cup, but it raised questions regarding gender inequality in sport.

Emily Gautreau, a fourth-year player and ringette coach with the Halifax Chebucto Ringette Association, played for Alex Hall this year and said her experience has been positive so far.

“There have always been a core group of us who’ve stuck together from the beginning, and these dudes are the greatest,” she said. “They respect me and the other ladies, and make sure the other guys do the same.”

The Bays pose for a photo after winning the King’s Cup. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

Silas Brown, a fourth-year player and co-captain of the Bays team, said this year’s King’s Cup had the most female players since it started four years ago.

“We try and see every year, for King’s Cup, how many girls we can get to come play,” said Brown. He added he doesn’t know why more women aren’t playing in the King’s Cup.

“Obviously, not as many girls play hockey as boys do,” he said. “We do go to a liberal arts university. There’s probably not that many people who are athletically oriented.”

While the King’s intramural team is welcoming, Gautreau said overall respect for women in sports is a prevalent problem. Women should have equal access to resources in sports associations, such as ice time, she said.

“This is particularly noticeable when leagues don’t support teams at the rec levels as much as they do at the competitive [level],” she said.

“I think it’s still an issue that a lot of sports are still kind of considered men’s sports,” said Brown. “I don’t know if women’s leagues are helping to change or enforce that stigma.”

A 2010 report states gender inequality in sport is still widespread, especially within the coaching sphere. Gautreau said this is something she has experienced herself.

Gautreau said two experienced male coaches mentored her this ringette season, boosting her credibility and also parents’ respect for her.

“I got so lucky this season and my head coaches are wonderful, supportive, respectful guys. But, I shouldn’t have to be lucky,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to worry about how I’ll be treated because of my gender.

“I don’t really have a solution, but I do believe that talking about it is the only way to deal with it,” she added.

In the meantime, Gautreau will continue to play with the King’s intramural team.

“I haven’t stopped yet and will only stop when I graduate.”

Libyan man learns English one dance, song, conversation at a time

English today, microbiology tomorrow? “I know it’s a big dream, but I can do it,” said Abdurrahman Elajmi.

On Sunday, Abdurrahman Elajmi, along with about six other people from China, Japan, Korea and Kuwait were participating in a program called Community, Culture and Conversation. The program aims to help international newcomers learn English and integrate into the community.

Elajmi was practicing English, square dancing and trying to sing along with the popular folk song, “Farewell to Nova Scotia.”

Seven months ago, 25-year-old Elajmi spoke only Arabic and knew no one else in Halifax. Originally from Libya, he came to Canada to study and make a better future for himself.

“I can’t explain my feelings. It’s so hard, so hard.” said Elajmi, remembering the day he first arrived in Canada.

He didn’t know where to buy food, what clothes to wear or anything about Canadian customs.

“We’re trying to provide that safe space for people, a space of belonging,” said Tatjana Samardzic, the program co-ordinator and regional immigrant services library assistant with Halifax Libraries.

The program is organized by Halifax Public Libraries in partnership with Saint Mary’s University.

Participants in the Community, Culture and Conversation group practice their square dancing skills.
Participants in the Community, Culture and Conversation group practice their square dancing skills. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

The meetings, led by Saint Mary’s University masters of education students, follow an informal discussion-based format aimed at helping participants improve their English.

Meetings take place every Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with the most recent meeting marking Week 6 of the eight-week program.

The Sunday Community, Culture and Conversation meeting explored the history of traditional Nova Scotian music and the music scene in Halifax. Educators suggested local music venues and events to participants and there was a live musical demonstration during the meeting.

Other sessions have focused on garbage and recycling, the Nova Scotian medical system, shopping for food, places to eat and recreational activities.

“I feel excited when I learn. I like it,” said Elajmi.

“We’ve attracted not huge numbers of people, but I think the people that have been coming, some have been returning and coming regularly. So, to me, that’s a measure of success,” said Samardzic. “People find it valuable, they benefit from it. It’s useful to them.”

The Community, Culture and Conversation program is geared toward international students, but other programs are offered through the library for adults as well. They include conversation groups, citizenship classes, tax return assistance and English language classes, to name a few.

Detailed information regarding these programs can be found on the Halifax Public Libraries website or in the “Welcome Newcomers” section of the library magazine called Guide. All programs are free and most don’t require registration.

Heather MacKenzie, Diversity and Accessibility Manager with Halifax Public Libraries, said discussion-based groups seem to work well, and that there are plans for new groups based on this model to start later in 2015.

Halifax has a large international population. At Dalhousie University alone, 14 per cent of the 18,500 students are international students. That’s about 2,600 people.

Statistics Canada estimates  population of Halifax to be approximately 414,400 people, and in 2012, estimated that 3,288 people immigrated internationally to Halifax.

Elajmi studied at the East Coast School of Languages for six months, to improve his English skills.

He hopes to earn a master’s degree in microbiology and become a laboratory doctor specializing in creating drugs to combat diseases like Ebola and malaria.

“I know it’s a big dream, but I can do it,” he said.

Right now, he’s happy every time he adds an English-speaking contact into his phone.

Nathalie Morin and Julien Rousseau-Dumarcet: the complex world of a chocolatier

“Welcome to Rousseau,” Nathalie Morin greets customers, upon entering the specialty French chocolate shop, Rousseau Chocolatier. Fittingly, she says the shop’s name with a French accent, rolling the “R” and deepening her voice.

“Welcome to Rousseau,” Nathalie Morin greets customers, upon entering the specialty French chocolate shop, Rousseau Chocolatier. Fittingly, she says the shop’s name with a French accent, rolling the “R” and deepening her voice.

The small shop is clean, bright and cozy, in a minimalistic sort of way. One wall is accented with warm wood, the other walls are painted white. Wooden shelves hold a small number of other products like chocolate bars and specialty caramels.

It smells, aptly, like chocolate. However, it’s not a sugary, sweet scent. It’s a deep, cocoa aroma, with multiple layers laced with subtle hints of other flavours.

There is only one glass showcase, but it is full of at least 10 different types of chocolates. Behind that, there is a shiny hot chocolate machine and a small cabinet of colourful macarons in flavours like banana rum, blackberry and apple cinnamon.

Owned and operated by Ottawa native Morin and her husband Julien Rousseau-Dumarcet, Rousseau Chocolatier has been in business on 1277 Hollis Street since May 2014.

Originally from Roquebrune-sur-Argens in southeast France, Rousseau-Dumarcet now handcrafts specialty chocolates, brownies and French macarons everyday on site in Halifax.

Rousseau-Dumarcet left school at age 16 to find a job, and initially began working as a pastry chef and chocolatier. Since then, he has worked for hotels or in chocolate shops across Europe, and has had professional training in France and Scotland.

Morin and Rousseau-Dumarcet met about six years ago, in Wakefield, Que. Now, at age 30 and 28, respectively, and based in Halifax, Rousseau-Dumarcet crafts the business’s products and Morin runs the store front, greeting customers, offering samples and describing in detail each flavour of chocolate.

Through the viewing bay, opposite the showcase full of chocolates, Rousseau-Dumarcet can usually be seen at work, in his white and navy blue uniform.

Rousseau-Dumarcet in the process of making chocolate macarons.
Rousseau-Dumarcet in the process of making chocolate macarons. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

He sets up the workplace carefully, making sure his tools are in the proper place. If he’s making macarons, he will turn on the oven and mix meringue made with sugar and egg whites into a second batter. Then, not spilling even a drop of the final batter, he’ll scoop it into a bag.

Hunching over the table so his face is mostly obscured, Rousseau-Dumarcet squeezes the batter onto trays covered in white sheets. The batter comes out as small round dots that will soon be, in this case, chocolate macarons. He moves quickly, filling a tray in only a minute or two.

Rousseau-Dumarcet in the process of making chocolate macarons.
Rousseau-Dumarcet in the process of making chocolate macarons. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

When he’s making chocolate, his favourite step of the process is finishing off each individual chocolate by garnishing it with a unique topping: a sprinkle of coconut; crushed rose petals; a simple, single pumpkin seed or a more complex, edible design of pink skulls.

Out front, Morin describes exactly how the chocolates are made and has detailed description for each flavour on display.

The peanut butter cranberry is a “a reminder of those PB and J days, it’ll take you back, its comfort food;” the orange balsamic caramel was inspired by fresh, tangy summer salads; and the lemon ganache has been described as “lemon meringue pie dipped in chocolate.”

Morin describes a product to a customer. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Morin describes a product to a customer. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

As for how much chocolate they eat themselves? Morin says they each eat only one chocolate per week, and both name the lemon ganache as their favourite flavour.

“When you work with chocolate all day everyday, you just don’t crave it as much,” she says.

Morin and Rousseau-Dumarcet spend seven days a week in their store, usually from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., and will occasionally take one day off every two weeks. They do not have any employees.

Other than Rousseau, there are a couple other chocolate shops in the Halifax area specializing in handmade chocolates.

Besides creating confections for the shop on site, Rousseau Chocolatier also provides products to several hotels and businesses in Halifax, takes custom orders and caters for events. A gift box of 12 chocolates can be bought for $19.

Both owners say their business is unique because of the simplicity and specialty of the products and their freshness.

“We are definitely a specialty store,” says Morin. “We try not to spread ourselves too thin by offering pastries and all these different types of products.”

As well, ingredients like chillies and sea salt are purchased from local farmers’ markets, maple from Acadian Maple Products, rose petals from the Annapolis Valley and other ingredients from a New Brunswick based distribution company called Dolphin Village.

Morin prepares a specialty hot chocolate made of 2% milk, cocoa, cream, dark chocolate and a hint of white chocolate for sweetness. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Morin prepares a specialty hot chocolate made of 2% milk, cocoa, cream, dark chocolate and a hint of white chocolate for sweetness. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

For the two entrepreneurs, who had been planning, doing paper work and researching Halifax for two years prior to moving, the preparation stage of the business plan was the most stressful. However, Morin says they were motivated to keep going through this initial struggle.

“We’ve been waiting for this for years,” she said, “so it made sense to push through it as much as we could.”

“It is very difficult when you start, because all the money you put in the business is your money, it comes from your pocket. So if I failed, I lost everything,” says Rousseau-Dumarcet. “It’s very stressful, but after, when you see the business grow, it’s amazing. It’s like a little baby.”

For French born Rousseau-Dumarcet, finding a suitable location to establish his first business was the greatest concern.

“I liked a good quality of life and all my life I lived near the Mediterranean, so when we moved to Canada I wanted to be close to the water,” he says.

“We wanted to be able to enjoy life,” says Morin.

Halifax won against their other choice, Vancouver, because it is more affordable, there was less competition and is located closer to both Morin and Rousseau-Dumarcet’s families.

Nathalie Morin (left) and Julien Rousseau-Dumarcet (right), co-owners of Rousseau Chocolatier. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Nathalie Morin (left) and Julien Rousseau-Dumarcet (right), co-owners of Rousseau Chocolatier. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

The co-owners of Rousseau Chocolatier say their experience in Halifax so far has been positive.

“It’s amazing. We work for our future,” says Rousseau-Dumarcet. “It’s really nice to have our own business.”

“People generally love the story, two people meeting and creating this idea, running their own chocolate shop, and hard work does pay off and in the end we did pull through and do what we’ve always wanted to do,” says Morin. “I think that’s the romance about it.”