Dalhousie graduate helps promote Halifax jobs

Work Local aims to help recent graduates find employment and stay in the province. Yesterday, Work Local started working with the Halifax Partnership.

Finding a good job in your field can be difficult. Finding a good job in your relevant field in Halifax is even more difficult. Work Local is a free website designed to help.

Work Local allows users to submit video interview questions along with their job applications. The business has grown quickly since launching in January and is now working with the Halifax Partnership.

Leslie Gallagher, founder and owner of Work Local, says a site like hers is needed.

“I went to Dalhousie and am from Halifax, so when I graduated a lot of my friends left because they couldn’t find a good job, something meaningful or relevant to their education or what they wanted to do,” she said.

Gallagher, an English and creative writing major, wasn’t impressed with the online hiring procedures she experienced as a student and young professional. She felt that many job search websites focused on specific requirements and didn’t allow users to showcase their strongest qualities.

After conducting extensive research into the hiring procedures of small businesses, Gallagher discovered that many companies were frustrated with the hiring process too.

“If employers were able to see (the candidates) or even bring them in for an interview then they would hold on for dear life, but when they first get the resumé in then they are lost in the stack,” said Gallagher.

When clients submit their resumés, cover letters and required documents to a Work Local job posting, the site prompts them to record a three-minute video in response to specific interview questions provided by the employer.

The video allows employers to see if the person would be a good fit for their workplace.

“Finding somebody that their personality meshes really well with the rest of the team is just as important as hard skills, because they can teach you all of those hard skills. You can’t teach anybody to be a great team player or be really patient, or a leader or a risk-taker. It’s those sorts of things that you can’t get across with a resumé,” said Gallagher.

The list of job postings on Work Local ranges from graphic designers to personal trainers and accounting clerks.

Under the arrangement with the Halifax Partnership, Work Local will promote the Connector Program, a free face-to-face referral process that works with recent graduates and young professionals.

Program manager Denise DeLong said each participant is paired with a “local connector who is a leader in their field,” and the two of them have a 30-minute chat. After the initial meeting, participants are then given three other referrals, who in turn give three more referrals.

“This person would, over a span of a few months, meet 12 or 13 people in their industry. This is a tool for building a professional network, and one in three last year got hired in the process,” said DeLong.

Gallagher is one of these experts, or connectors. She stresses the importance of making connections when it comes to navigating the Halifax job market.

“Get engaged in the community outside of the university,” she said.

“If you know the area you’re interested in working in or learning more about, then find somebody that is somehow involved in that area and ask them to go for coffee. That’s it.”

Halifax streets in a hole lot of trouble

As spring arrives, Haligonians are facing an entirely new obstacle on the road.

Halifax has had a late-blooming winter this year and as a result, spring has been postponed indefinitely. Two snowstorms in the middle of March had the city reverting back to a White Juan mentality and reminiscing about simpler, snowless December days. On the plus side, it’s supposed to be 10 degrees on Monday.

As the snow finally begins to melt and layers of ice that have covered the streets since mid-January begin to disappear, Haligonians find themselves facing an entirely new problem — potholes.

The Halifax Regional Municipality website says potholes form when the topmost layer of a street’s asphalt wears away, leaving a sizeable gap to the rest of the asphalt underneath. They tend to pop up near the end of winter and beginning of spring, after the pavement has spent a few months in a freeze/thaw cycle. These dents in the road can be hard to spot and are often unavoidable unless the driver swerves into an oncoming lane.

Like the thick layers of uneven, pavement-warping ice that came before them, potholes have been wreaking havoc on vehicles in the city.

Car trouble

Anna Cormier has seen what potholes can do to a car first-hand. While driving in Halifax, Cormier and a friend hit a pothole off Barrington Street, near Casino Nova Scotia.

“Immediately the air was gone from her tire,” Cormier writes in a Facebook message. “We quickly pulled over and luckily her girlfriend was with us and she knew how to change a tire. So she put on the spare, and everything worked out.”

Other drivers have not been so lucky. In some cases, they haven’t had a spare tire and in others, the damage has been more severe. A new winter tire can cost upwards of $100, depending on the brand and type of car it’s made for.

HRM crews at work

Street crews dispatched by the city are working to remedy the city’s poor road conditions. In 2011, municipal operations acquired an asphalt recycler. The tool gives workers easier access to hot asphalt, which had not been the case during winter months in previous years. Hot asphalt allows for street repairs to be made that are less likely to break up over time.

HRM says pothole repairs are prioritized according to the volume of traffic on a street. Potholes on main streets (such as Agricola, Barrington, Oxford and Robie) that are more than eight centimetres deep are the highest priority. The city aims to fix them within seven business days. The same size potholes on local roads are supposed to be fixed within 30 business days. Potholes less than eight centimetres deep are attended to “as resources permit.”

Concerned city-goers can report potholes via a 311 online service request on the city’s website.

In the meantime, Haligonians can take comfort in the fact that potholes, at least, are a sign of spring.

Societies relocate for SUB renovations over the summer

Major renovations on the Dalhousie Student Union Building start this May, which will make the building more environmentally friendly and create a new ‘Society Hub’ on the third floor.

Major renovations to Dalhousie University’s Student Union Building (the SUB) are beginning this May. Though the renovations are set to be done in 18 months, the most disruptive parts of construction are going to take place during the summers.

The DSU offices and the societies who have offices in the SUB are being relocated over the summer during the renovations. They need to be packed up and moved by the end of April.

The Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG) is one of the societies with an office on the third floor of the SUB. They are sharing the Wellness Room with the Loaded Ladle over the summer.

“We’ve had a lot of knowledge about the renovations but we don’t have much knowledge about the process … like when we’re going to move out,” said Holly Lobsinger, a NSPIRG board member.

She thinks the moving process will be difficult, especially because NSPIRG is bringing its library to its temporary space.

Lobsinger believes they will “be down to the bare minimum of functioning” over the summer because there will be limited access to their resources. In moving to a smaller space, she expects the way the NSPIRG office is used as a meeting place will change.

Other societies in the SUB, like the Dalhousie Science Society (DSS), are not active during the summer. Most of their things will be put into storage.

The renovations will also create the Society Hub on the third floor, a more central space for societies.

The Society Hub will have 12 private offices for larger societies, desks and cabinets that can be used by smaller societies, a full service copy centre, a formal meeting room, an informal meeting room and a kitchenette.

“I’m looking forward to not sharing the space,” said Tori Taylor, president of the DSS. Currently, the DSS and NSPIRG offices are in the same room, separated by dividers.

This shows what the renovated SUB should look like from University Avenue. (Photo courtesy the DSU).
This shows what the renovated SUB should look like from University Avenue. (Photo from the DSU)


The SUB opened in 1968 when Dalhousie had 4,500 students. Since then, Dalhousie’s student population has increased to over 18,000, but these are the first major renovations to the building.

The project, first proposed in 2010, is expected to create more comfortable social and work spaces for students.

The design is being headed by Lydon Lynch Architects, who also designed the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market.

The first expansion will include a canopy over the University Avenue entrance that will create an extra 1,500 square feet needed for the DSU’s new 50-seat council chambers. About half the student area will also be renovated this summer.

During the second expansion, a glass atrium will be built around the canopy. There will be another glass atrium added facing LeMarchant Street. This atrium will be about 5,500 square feet and will most likely serve as a social space.

The renovations are also going to make the building more environmentally sustainable through more natural lighting, plants, a green roof, solar panels and rainwater collection for toilets.

Mooseheads play 3 home games at packed Forum

The Mooseheads played their three home games of the playoff season at the Halifax Forum because the Scotiabank Centre was being used. Fans said the atmosphere was nostalgic and lively.

The old time hockey feeling returned for some Mooseheads fans last week when the team played its three playoff home games at the Halifax Forum.

The team left its home at the Scotiabank Centre, with an 11,093 seating capacity, so the rink could be used for the 2015 Ford world men’s curling championship. The Mooseheads played at the north-end Forum, with a 5,600 seating capacity, where they won two out of their three games against the Shawinigan Cataractes.

While the team had no control over losing the Scotiabank Centre for the games, a spokesman for the Halifax Mooseheads said they did what they could to make accommodations.

Scott MacIntosh said the players loved the atmosphere of the Forum. “We were hoping to go on that old time hockey feel, and it really worked out well for us.”

Season ticket holders were let into the Forum earlier than general admission ticket holders so they could pick their seats first.

The doors to the Multipurpose Centre, the building attached to the Forum, were opened at 3:30 p.m., before the games started for those who had lined up early. The team offered free coffee and played a video with trivia and important Mooseheads hockey moments.

While some ticket holders didn’t attend because the games were held at the Forum, the stadium was packed all three nights, MacIntosh said.

Team banners were hung across the stadium and the logo was painted on the ice, reminding fans that this was a Mooseheads game.

At the Scotiabank Centre, seating is much more spread out and farther away from the ice than at the Forum. “You’re almost on top of the ice,” MacIntosh said about the Forum.

The size of the rink brought the players and the fans closer together. MacIntosh said the players had a lot of fun being a part of that atmosphere.

Mooseheads fan Lukas Macmillan was at the games with his father. “It was a lot more intimate and felt like a community hockey game rather than a corporate game,” he said.

Tim Feely said he’s been going to the games since the team first started playing 20 years ago. Feely lives in the north end and enjoyed being able to walk to the games last week with his wife.

“It’s old, it’s nostalgic,” he said. “It brings back a lot of the old school hockey stadium feeling. It’s noisy. You hear the puck, you hear the players.”

“It was a lot more personal,” Macmillan said. “It felt more intense. Plus, the crowd was right into it.”

Feely said that while the Scotiabank Centre is the better location, it would be a good idea to get the team out of the big arena and into somewhere smaller like the Forum a couple of times a year to remind fans and players of the old traditions of a hockey game.

“It’s just nice to revitalize the place every once in a while,” Feely said.

This was the third time the Mooseheads played at the Halifax Forum. There are seven games left in the playoffs, with the final game on April 21 in Moncton.

SMU students lead workshops for incarcerated women in Nova Scotia

SMU students who work with incarcerated women in Nova Scotia to help integrate them back into society are finishing the second phase of their project.

The student Enactus team at Saint Mary’s University has created a project called OPtions Nova. Jake Porteous, founding project manager, says they focus on empowering inmates at the Nova Institution for Women with the skills they will need to be successful once they are released from custody.

Porteous says that their goal is to give the inmates “a sense of entitlement, confidence and empowerment.”

Enactus Canada is a community of students focused on entrepreneurial action. There are Enactus groups all over Canada who start projects, such as OPtions Nova, in their communities.

The project had a pilot run last summer to see how well the women would react to university students working with them. After receiving feedback from the women and staff at the institution, the OPtions team reworked the structure of the program and started a new set of workshops 10 weeks ago. They will complete this first round next week.

The OPtions Nova team is made up of six SMU students. They travel to Truro every two weeks on Friday to run the program. The program runs for 12 weeks at a time, in three stages. The initial stage consists of workshops that teach basic business skills, financial literacy and employment skills.

When a woman involved with the project is released, she is paired up with a member of the OPtions team, who mentors her.

The women create their own co-operative business structure in the third stage of the project. Porteous says the goal is to encourage an entrepreneurial venture that the women can pursue once they are back in society.

One woman from the program has been released from custody so far, and she has had two job interviews since her release two weeks ago, Porteous says. The team has visited her in her community and has been helping her find a job.

Another woman from the program is being released from custody soon. Porteous says she has been reaccepted to the culinary arts program she was in before her incarceration.

Porteous is a third-year student majoring in criminology and sociology. He says his education in these areas have helped a lot with the project. “It’s given me a little bit of a deeper understanding of what these women have gone through.”

OPtions Nova co-manager Simon Gordon is another SMU student who has been influenced by the project. He says being a part of this project has made him rethink his career path. Initially, Gordon was working towards a career in marketing, but is now planning on going to law school.

Gordon is the business co-ordinator and focuses on the development of the workshops.

The second co-manager is Nicole MacPherson. She does community outreach and sets women up with their mentors.

Each member must be security trained by institution staff before entering and working one-on-one with the women. Porteous says the staff at the institution don’t want a huge number of students who can go in whenever they want, so they’re careful about who they train.

Porteous says they look for members who have initiative and show that they “will be there for the long run.”

Porteous says their long-term goal is to be inside the other five women’s penitentiaries in Canada over the next five years. He says they will likely involve other community organizations and Enactus teams from the cities these institutions are in.

Camp Courage empowers young women to pursue first responder’s career

Firefighter Andréa Speranza, founder of Camp Courage, encourages young women to try careers as first responders in Halifax.

Founder and executive director of Camp Courage, 45-year-old Andréa Speranza is encouraging young women to try careers as first responders in Halifax.

The one-week intensive program aims to introduce females to emergency first responder’s services. Speranza created Camp Courage in 2006.

“As far as I could understand they just didn’t know what they’re missing,” said Speranza.

Speranza is currently a firefighter at the Eastern Passage Fire Hall. She spent four years as a volunteer firefighter before gaining a paid position.

The camp is free and accepts 24 young women into the program to develop confidence, leadership skills, and problem solving abilities.

Speranza fundraises $25,000 each year the camp runs. Due to a decrease in donations, Speranza is considering charging a fee for 2015 participants in order to sustain the camp.

“We need to invest more in our youth,” said Speranza. “I never went to camp when I was a kid and Camp Courage is everything I would have wanted to do if I did.”

Camp Courage runs every second year and is located at various fire stations around Halifax.

Applications for the program were due March 31 and participations are currently being chosen, said Speranza.

Speranza chooses applicants based on a written essay explaining how they would better life within their community if they attended Camp Courage.

“If the applicant is committed to implementing what they write about in their essay they will be accepted to attend the camp,” said Speranza.

Over seven days, Camp Courage teaches participants self-defence, how to shoot a gun, put out fires, and repel down walls. They will also learn basic paramedic training.

“The whole idea of the camp is really more about changing these young girls’ mindsets and getting them to challenge themselves to try new things even if they fail the first time,” said Speranza.

According to Canada’s 2006 national census, only about 3.6 per cent of firefighters were women.

“With more information and training and education more young women will be attracted to these fields of work,” said Speranza.

Cristy Webb, 19, attended Camp Courage two years ago.

“It really decided for me what I wanted to do with my life. Camp courage made me want to be a firefighter.”

Webb has since continued on to post-secondary education at the Marine Institute where she studied fire rescue and will be doing eight weeks of on-the-job training at Fire Station 13 in Dartmouth.

Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program inspires creativity

Halifax students showcase their newfound skills at We Are the Stars concert.

Students from three Halifax elementary schools and Halifax West High School showed off their skill and smiles at Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program’s final concert on Thursday.

The concert — We Are the Stars — took place at the Halifax Central Library. Symphony Nova Scotia musicians have been “adopting” student musicians for 12 years.

Once a week, for seven weeks, students from Halifax West High School practiced under the direction of one of Symphony Nova Scotia’s violinists, Celeste Jankowski.

“The learning curve was huge,” said Faris Kapra, a Grade 10 student who was part of the high school string ensemble. “It made us become something more than just a high school group.”


For the final concert, students performed a piece called Agincourt by Doug Spata. The song depicts a battle scene and was set in a challenging 7/8 time rhythm, which was new to many students in the group.

Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth elementary school students get ready to perform their original composition. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

“We learned a lot of skills that professionals would use, in both our technique and our style of learning,” said Kapra.

“We learned to go home, learn everything perfectly there, then come to school to really make the music. That was different from what we had been doing,” he said.

Violist Kerry Kavalo worked with 23 students from Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth Park elementary schools.

The students learned basic composition skills and how to create through a collaborative process. In the end, they composed and performed an original piece named West-Grove Tune.

St. Catherine’s elementary school’s Grade 5 class created a narrative tale and a percussion arrangement to perform at the concert. They named their story The Dragon Slayer and Hybrid Dragon.

St. Catherine's Elementary School Students (Photo: Rachel Collier)
St. Catherine’s elementary school students show off the instruments that they used. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

When creating their performance, the class practiced math, language and presentation skills.

They also discussed the complex natures of the main characters of their story and practiced working together.

“The program is good because it changes the dynamics of the classroom from what it usually is for academic purposes,” said Susane Lemieux, the Symphony Nova Scotia oboist who guided the class.

Lemieux noticed that students really had to pay attention while working in a new style.

“It was great to see when they started to get ideas and to speak up,” she said.

The program often depends on schools’ administrative support.

“They could be doing other curriculum work, especially this year with all of the snow days. We really had to convince everyone that it’s worth it,” said Lemieux.

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.”

Saint Mary’s students fight racial discrimination with peace

Students with Peaceful Schools International hold conflict-resolution workshops for elementary schools in Halifax and Northern Ireland.

Saint Mary’s University recognized International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Thursday by talking about conflict-resolution strategies used for Northern Ireland schools.

Students from the Conflict Resolution Society hosted the event. The students talked about their experience with two programs they collaborate with, Peaceful Schools International and the Northern Ireland Program.

“One of the things we do is go to local schools to facilitate peace programs here in Halifax first before going to Ireland, so it’s both a local and international program,” said Bridget Brownlow, the conflict resolution adviser at Saint Mary’s University.

The Northern Ireland Program was started at Saint Mary’s in 2004. The program allows students to go to Belfast and gain a better understanding of the conflict and peace process that has happened in Northern Ireland.

“We are passing on the message of what is happening in Northern Ireland because not many people know that there is still conflict,” said Victoria Bell, the student program co-ordinator for Peaceful Schools International.

The conflict in Northern Ireland involves the debate of nationality. The Protestant community believes they should remain a part of the United Kingdom, while the Catholic minority believes they should be a part of Ireland.

There has been a rise in immigration in Northern Ireland, but that has fallen over the last few years due to the violence from the conflict.

“According to the police service in Northern Ireland, in the 12 months between June 2013 to June 2014 the racist incidents have risen by 36 per cent and racist crimes have risen 51 per cent,” said Bell.

During the February break from classes, Saint Mary’s students will go into Northern Ireland elementary schools and hold workshops to help with conflict-resolution problems.

“The workshops that we teach with peaceful schools try to teach lessons to children so they don’t have issues with ignorance, try to teach the importance of global citizenship, caring for one another and accepting one another,” said Bell.

A popular workshop that is used both in Ireland and Halifax is called No Two Alike.

“We ask simple questions like what is similar about us and what is different to bring out built-in stereotypes to discourage it and show them that it is wrong,” said Odane Finnegan, the group leader for Peaceful Schools International.

“We want to show not just the effects of their words but how they say it and the background that is driving the thought process,” said Finnegan.

Saint Mary’s students who get involved with the program go through some training with a professor in the Irish studies department. The co-ordinators and leaders also share their experiences so students have a better understanding of what to expect.

“The best skill we teach is communication and empathy — the ability to effectively communicate and understand how someone is feeling,” said Finnegan.

Nova Scotia’s sexual education updated before Ontario

Many have been talking about the update to Ontario’s sexual health curriculum, but some may not know that Nova Scotia introduced a similar curriculum almost 4 years ago.

While Ontario’s new sexual education curriculum has been criticized for the inclusion of LGBT topics and the age that sex education is introduced, Nova Scotia’s updated curriculum was quietly implemented in 2011.

“We are really proud of our curriculum,” said Natalie Flinn, the active, healthy living consultant for the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. “We are building capacity for the administration to feel competent and confident in teaching sexual education. And, at the end of the day the true beneficiaries are the children and youth.”

Nova Scotia’s curriculum teaches students about cyberbullying, sexting and how to be safe in an online environment. The update is a response to cultural changes in society, especially in regards to developments in technology and how students interact over social media.

Flinn said that the hypersexual material that children can find on the Internet damages their development in sexual health education.

The curriculum also teaches children about LGBT issues and how they can understand their own sexuality. All of these issues are tailored for each specific age group.

Ontario announced similar changes to its curriculum in late February.  Some parents are upset that children will begin sexual education in Grade 1 and feel that they should not be taught about sex at such a young age.

Ontario’s curriculum has not been updated since 1998.

Both Nova Scotia and Ontario follow guidelines from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Where the two provinces differ is when they introduce certain topics in the classroom.

The organization aims to be non-heterosexist and responds to common misconceptions surrounding sexual health such as sex education leading to early sexual activity.

Additional sexual education available for schools

If the education programs in the schools aren’t enough, there are many other resources for sexual education located throughout Halifax.

The South House offers additional support and resources for sexual health.

The South House, located on South Street, is a sexual health resource centre and will do inclusive workshops on sex and sexual health
The South House, located on South Street, is a sexual health resource centre and will do inclusive workshops on sex and sexual health (Photo: Jennifer Lee).

Jude Ashburn, the organization’s outreach co-ordinator, said that they would often be asked to go to schools and do workshops on sex and gender. They would cover topics that wouldn’t necessarily be discussed in a classroom.

“For a long time we went in and gave sex ed for free and just went everywhere that asked us. And when we do sex ed we mention things like pleasure and masturbation. These are things we don’t think you would get in sex ed (in schools),” said Ashburn. “We affirm the right to have unbiased scientific information about your body.”

While providing workshops in schools, Ashburn learned that children know a lot more about their own bodies and sex education than some might think.

“We asked kids in Grade 3 to describe their gender and they came up with some really radical answers. We would ask them things like, ‘If your gender was a place where would it be’ and what they would come up with was amazing,” said Ashburn.

Flinn said they have received letters of support from parents commending the curriculum.

Since the 2011 update was a response to adapt Nova Scotia’s curriculum to cultural changes in society, there may be more updates in the future.

Mind Ball brings mental health to the party

“Its a party with heart and a purpose,” say the party organizers.

Between 300 and 400 young adults danced the night away last Saturday at Halifax’s second Mind Ball.

The Mind Ball was an opportunity for people to get dressed up, get together, and to let off some steam. The party’s additional purpose was to contribute to destigmatize mental health problems and illness.

“The party definitely meets expectations,” said Nicole Kink who attended the event. “It’s great to get people talking about mental health in a social and less formal context too.”

Nicole Kink and Megan White get goofy with Mind Ball’s lively atmosphere and costume booth (Photo: Rachel Collier)

The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that about 20 per cent of Canadians live with mental illness and that mental illness continues to be met with widespread negative attitudes.

It also says that these negative perceptions around mental health are one of the main reasons why more than 60 per cent of people with mental health problems or illness won’t seek the help that they need.

Mind Ball organizers Allison Ghosn and Rebecca Singbeil recognize this issue within Halifax.

Ghosn and Singbeil attended various mental health events around Halifax and noticed a pattern.

“It was generally the same group of people at every single event,” says Ghosn.

Singbeil and Ghosn wanted to create a mental health event that would reach a demographic of people who weren’t already engaged in learning about mental health issues.

“We needed an event that people would already want to go to,” said Ghosn who realized that the 18-30 year olds are important to target when it comes to mental health awareness.

This group of university students couldn’t give up the opportunity to both dance and to express their support and desire for more positive mental health perceptions. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

The Canadian Mental Health Commission says that 70 per cent of adults with mental illness report that symptoms began in their teens or early 20s.

“So we decided, we’re going to have a party but were going to try to put as many pieces into it as we can that will promote awareness,”said Ghosn.

“Sharing educational facts that contradict mental health myths is the most effective way of reducing stigma among adolescents,”  says Lynne Robinson, a mental health expert at Dalhousie University.

“Interacting with people who actually have mental illness is another very useful strategy for people of all ages,” she said referring to an analysis of strategies used to reduce stigma.

Another Halifax blizzard prevented some elements of the party from taking place.

However, multiple local artists who are passionate about mental health did show up to help stimulate conversations and thoughts about the topic.

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Ghosn and Singbeil welcomed artists from Atlantic Cirque, Brave Space and Outsider Insight among others.

DJ Zora the Sultan set the musical tone for the party’s busiest spot – the dance floor.

An area called the Mind Lounge was set up away from the dance floor. It had bean bag chairs, bottled water, a quiet atmosphere, peer support, paints,  and other mental health resources.

“We want people to get comfortable with mental health, give it an image boost. We wanted an event where people wouldn’t hear mental health and say ‘oh that’s not for me,’” says Ghosn.

“We need to break down the us vs. them perceptions. Everyone has mental health and it is something that everyone needs to take care of, ” she says.

Ghosn and Singbeil have already started imagining possibilities to keep next year’s event interesting.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re thinking of something that might be say, a three day, daytime type of event for next year,” says Ghosn.

Drop in volunteers causes Meals on Wheels to revamp

Halifax Meals on Wheels is trying to improve its brand, in order to spread word about the organization and attract younger volunteers.

Since January, Halifax Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers nutritious meals to those who cannot make their own, has been figuring out what they can do to attract more volunteers.

In February there were 101 clients who needed meals delivered to them. Meals on Wheels has an “active list” of 58 volunteers. Only 45 of those volunteers actually took part in the deliveries last month.

Geri Kearns, president of the Meals on Wheels board, said that she strongly believes they would need 100 volunteers to run the program smoothly. When Kearns began volunteering eight years ago, there were around 80 volunteers.

“Our focus is volunteers,” said Kearns. “We’ll cover everything in this promotion, but it’s really the volunteers we’re looking for.”

Meals on Wheels has hired a small group of people to help in the revamping process and promote the organization. Kearns said there is no shortage when it comes to clients, the problem is having enough volunteers to deliver the meals.

Meals on Wheels is planning a launch party that will take place in June. Some changes that will be presented include a new logo and new brochures.  They also plan to create a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

“We are a charity, but people think they have to be on social assistance to get our services. That’s not the case,” said Kearns. “Our role really, is that if you are unable – no matter what age you are – to prepare a nutritious meal for yourself, then you are eligible to get our service.”

Through this revamping, Kearns said she hopes they can change some of these misconceptions.

Seniors helping seniors

A majority of the volunteers are over 60 years old, with some volunteers even being over 80 years old. Kearns said winter and summer months can be hard because many of the senior volunteers go away on vacation.

Kearns said ideally, when Meals on Wheels delivers the meals, there are two volunteers on a route. One is the driver, and the other delivers the food.

“One of the shortages that we have are driver volunteers. Some of the drivers we do have don’t want to go out in the winter because they are getting older,” said Kearns.

This year they had to cancel delivery eight times due to winter weather conditions. Some years they have never had to cancel.

There are seven routes that Meals on Wheels services – most of them five times a week. If they had two volunteers on every route, they would need around 70 volunteers a week.

“Most of us on the board go out more than once a week,” said Kearns. “All of us drive as well.”

Janeske Vonkeman, 23, is one of three volunteers who are under the age of 60. She has been volunteering since June 2014.

Vonkeman is a volunteer at a couple of organizations, but decided to get involved with Meals on Wheels because she wanted to try something new and different.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet great people, clients and other volunteers,” said Vonkeman. “Small kind acts can make a big difference to someone, and I’ve seen this with Meals on Wheels.”

Vonkeman said she thinks it is really important for young people to get involved with Meals on Wheels because it provides on opportunity to make a difference in the community.

“We tend to get caught up in our school or work bubbles and forget about what’s going on around us,” said Vonkeman. “Not only does it allow us to help people living in our community, but it helps enrich ourselves.”

Kearns said she knows students do a lot of volunteer work with regular schooling, but that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of young people continuing with it.

“I know it’s because they need to get a job. They need some money, and we’re not paying people, but you know, it’s satisfying.”

Meals on Wheels recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in Halifax. Kearns said she hopes with these coming changes, they will be able to celebrate the 50th anniversary.