Thursday, 24 May 2018 10:52

United Way promotes awareness about addiction at kickoff breakfast

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Mikaela Mamer shares her story of struggling with addiction at the Swift Current United Way kickoff breakfast, May 16. Mikaela Mamer shares her story of struggling with addiction at the Swift Current United Way kickoff breakfast, May 16. Matthew Liebenberg

The Swift Current United Way placed a spotlight on addiction at the kickoff breakfast for the organization's 2018 fundraising campaign at the Living Sky Casino event centre, May 16.

The guest speaker at the event was Victoria, B.C. resident Mikaela Mamer, who grew up in Swift Current.
She spoke about her addiction to alcohol and drugs, which started when she was still at school in Swift Current, and her struggles to rebuild her life. She has been clean and sober for six years.
According to Mamer it was an amazing experience to share her personal story with an audience in her hometown.
“I’m really passionate about bringing awareness to addiction, especially in my hometown,” she said after her presentation. “I think that it’s important to bring the awareness here and also this place has a special place in my heart.”
She feels addiction is still stigmatized and it is therefore important to raise awareness about the issue in Swift Current.
“The message that I’m trying to tell people is that this is a disease, it is a sickness, and it’s not something that people can just quit,” she said. “It’s not that easy.”
She noted that people mistakenly believe addiction is a result of a lack of will power or of a moral failing, and that addicts are harming themselves intentionally.
She was able to overcome her own addiction by reaching out for help and finding support to deal with it. Her message to anyone who is struggling with addiction is that they should reach out for help.
“Somebody will be there to help them, and you don’t have to sit in shame, because it’s not that shameful,” she said. “They’re sick and there is a way out.”
An aspect of the recovery process that does not receive enough attention is the support provided to individuals after they become clean and sober.
“I had aftercare for a year after I got out of my private treatment centre,” she noted. “So I went to group once a week with other people that had gone to treatment and a counsellor and we talked about everything that was going on in my life. A lot of the publicly funded centres and the ones in Saskatchewan do not offer that. So it’s like OK, you’ve done treatment now, go home, with no support. The support afterwards is crucial.”
Swift Current United Way Executive Director Stacey Schwartz felt Mamer delivered a powerful message to the large audience at the breakfast.
“When we reached out to Mikaela we felt just having that local perspective would really be something that people in the room could relate to and understand and really just bring home that message of addiction and why it’s important to talk about the issue,” Schwartz said. “Our community isn’t alone in this issue. Every community has addiction issues and just to start making it more of a conversation piece, that it is OK to talk about.”
The focus on addiction is a continuation of a new approach by Swift Current United Way that started two years ago. During each year the organization is focusing on a specific issue to raise awareness and to start a conversation in the community.
In 2016 the focus was on mental health and last year's issue was domestic violence. A video was produced on each topic that was officially released at the Swift Current United Way's Foundation of Hope fundraising gala in October. Mamer's story will be featured in a similar video about addiction that will be launched at this year's gala.
The kickoff breakfast is an important annual event on Swift Current United Way's calendar and it signals the start of the campaign to raise funds for local community programs by non-profit organizations.
“The kickoff breakfast is our event that we do to really bring people up to speed on what we accomplished in the previous year and celebrate those successes, as well as introduce some new topics that we’re going to be talking about going forward as well as any new initiatives that we have that we’re bringing into the year,” she said.
This year's breakfast included a presentation by Saskatchewan Health Authority representatives about the provincial take-home naloxone kit strategy and the event also featured the activities of the local Drug Strategy Action Committee.
The Swift Current United Way has set a fundraising goal of $100,000 for 2018 to support the work of non-profit organizations in the region. This target is similar to the goal that was set for fundraising campaigns in recent years.
“Last year we were under that,” Schwartz noted. “This year we definitely want to strive to meet the $100,000 goal because I think potentially this year there could be more applicants than previous years.”
She anticipates more grant applications because the Swift Current United Way is trying to give more publicity to the impact of its work in the community.
“Our year-end community impact report really started more conversations and I think it made individuals in our community have a better understanding of where the funds go and who it impacts,” she said.
It has become more challenging for Swift Current United Way to reach its fundraising target during the past two years, which might be related to economic conditions.
For that reason the organization wants to make people more aware of the impact that donations can have in the community.
“Part of the challenge this year is really getting that awareness out there and we’ll have more information in the next little bit potentially, but we are reaching out to different service clubs to see if there’s potential partnership as well as collaboration” she said. “We think that would definitely assist in helping raise the funds that we need for these non-profits.”
Non-profit organizations in southwest Saskatchewan that are registered with Canada Revenue Agency can submit grant applications to Swift Current United Way starting June 1. The closing date for applications is the end of July.
Proposals will be considered for projects that will help to improve the social and economic conditions of residents in southwest Saskatchewan. The focus will be on three program areas – poverty alleviation, building healthy people and strong communities, and children and youth.
The Swift Current United Way's external grant committee will review applications and grant recipients will be announced and recognized at the Foundation of Hope gala on Nov. 3. For more information, visit the website

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Matthew Liebenberg