At the vanguard of the addictions crisis
Camosun alumni front and centre at Umbrella Society
The Umbrella Society stands at the frontline of the addictions crisis on southern Vancouver Island. Their approach is simple: when a person is ready for the journey of recovery from their substance use issues, they or a family member can reach out by phone, text or email.
Although there’s a central office and several residential facilities in Victoria, the majority of the Umbrella Society’s work happens in everyday places like coffee shops, restaurants, parks, community centres.
For some people, their first point of contact with the Umbrella Society may be a Camosun alumnus. Grads from the college’s Mental Health and Addictions certificate program, Lesley Easton and Amy Cousineau, both work on the Support for Additions through Management of Independence (SAMI) team with Island Health.
They work with clients in hospital emergency rooms and detox, and liaise with nurses, social workers, and outreach workers. Their support work is based on relationships and connections, helping people in recovery navigate the social and health systems.
Lesley Easton graduated from the Mental Health and Addictions certificate program in June 2017 and started working at Umbrella the following August. After having personal experience on the path to recovery, she was motivated to help others.
“I use the skills I learned in my program every day,” she says. “They help me build therapeutic relationships with people.” The most helpful skills she learned were how to interview people, which taught her to listen to people’s stories and respectfully draw information out of them.
One of the surprise highlights of the program was an interdisciplinary project with Camosun marketing students. “At first, I thought, ‘What does this have to do with addictions?’ But once I started working with them, I could see how effective marketing can get out information about addictions and reduce stigma.”
Amy Cousineau moved to Victoria four years ago to support her own recovery and to give birth to her child. She wanted to work in the mental health and addictions field and did extensive research on available programs, landing at Camosun.
“In my practicum at a mental health residential care, I learned the full picture of how mental health and addictions are interrelated,” says Amy. She felt prepared for her work by what she learned in the program, including role playing, professional writing for community services, and, perhaps most importantly, self-reflection on her own morals and values.
The best thing about work at Umbrella Society: “The people are amazing. I’ve learned how to see people for who they are. This is the best job I could have ever imagined for myself.”
As a single mom, it wasn’t an easy journey, but her instructors were understanding and she restructured her life to accommodate the demands.
“The greatest challenge was balancing work, school, and parenting,” she says. “It was difficult, but I’ve struggled and worked hard to get here. It was all worth it.” Her efforts paid off, as she made the Dean’s list for her grades.
Lesley and Amy are at the vanguard of the frontline, bringing their personal experience, knowledge, and education to every interaction with clients.
“This is just one example of the reciprocal relationship between Camosun and the Umbrella Society,” says Executive Director, Sharlene Law. “We welcome practicum students twice a year. We also encourage long-term residents at the houses for men and women to sign up for the college’s BEST (Building Employment Success for Tomorrow) program as part of their recovery.”
Addictions and mental health issues affect many people in our community. In the 2018 Vital Signs survey released by the Victoria Foundation, addictions and mental health ranked in respondents’ top four concerns. The frontline work by the Umbrella Society and Camosun alumni is a crucial first step in addressing the crisis.