How P.E.I. youth recovering from addictions are getting help rebuilding their lives

‘It’s designed for people who don’t really know what they want to do or don’t really know what they can do’

Sheehan Desjardins · CBC News · Posted: Jun 14, 2021 6:00 AM AT | Last Updated: June 14

The P.E.I. Reach Foundation says the program will focus on building confidence, self-esteem, and group participation skills. (Michael Smallwood )

For years a charity in Stratford, P.E.I., has been working to support youth recovering from addictions and mental health issues return to work or school — but something was missing from their plan.

“A lot of our participants have gone through a treatment program of some kind where they’ve started to do the initial steps of putting things back together in their life,” said Michael Smallwood, youth addiction counsellor at the P.E.I. Reach Foundation. 

“But then they’re confronted with this idea of now you have to do everything at once.”

According to Smallwood, participants found it difficult to change their daily routine and go directly into programs aimed at integrating back into the community.

“You have to continue your recovery … find a new job, find a new place to live, find a new way to get around, transportation, find new friends, re-establish relationships with your family,” he said. 

“And you’re going to have to do it all by yourself. So what we are kind of trying to do is take some of that pressure off.”

Finding Your Path

To bridge that gap, the foundation decided to launch a pilot project called Finding Your Path. The four-week plan is for those between 16 and 30 years old.

It focuses on things like getting up in the morning and talking in front of people, or dealing with stress and anxiety. 

“All of those fundamental skills that maybe have lapsed over time or they never had to begin with,” he said. 

“We figured we’d give them a place where they could practice all of these things before they came into the training program.” 

‘Imagine having the skills you had at maybe 16 and then trying to live independently while trying to find a job, while trying to figure out if you want to go back to school, while trying to find a place to live,’ says Michael Smallwood, the youth addiction counsellor at the Reach Foundation. ‘It is incredibly overwhelming.’ (Michael Smallwood)

Participants will also head out into the community — visiting museums or walking along the beach. They can also stake part in trauma-informed yoga or learn what resources are available at the public library. 

“It’s designed for people who don’t really know what they want to do or don’t really know what they can do,” said Smallwood. 

“It’s an open-entry, non-punitive, nonjudgmental program where people can just get the sense of what it’s like to be in some kind of system.”  

Strong demand

The first session beings Monday. Smallwood said they received about 17 referrals for the six available slots. The next session is slated to start in mid-July. 

“We haven’t made any selection for that program yet,” he said. 

“What might be a good idea right now may not in a couple of weeks, so we’re going to give them the opportunity to participate, but there’s no expectation.” 

And while Smallwood acknowledged that the entire process can be overwhelming and even scary, for those interested he said his phone, inbox, and door are always open. 

“We’re here to help,” he said. “This program is here to help.”