Matti Feigelstock, left, and Alisa Farina (photos from Jewish Federation)
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver is expanding its efforts to address the mental health needs of younger members of the community by forming a partnership with Project L’Chaim, and hiring a new child, youth and young adult mental health worker.
According to Shelley Rivkin, vice-president of local and global engagement at Federation, the partnership with Project L’Chaim, an organization helping adolescents and young adults through life’s challenges, stems from identifying the importance of raising awareness of mental health issues confronting youth and providing professional development for frontline workers.
To this point, stigma has long contributed to people not feeling safe in discussing the mental health issues faced in the community openly; many families, consequently, have felt very alone in their struggle to find the necessary services and supports.
However, as Rivkin explained, “The pandemic universalized and destigmatized mental health issues. More people started talking openly about the anxiety and depression they or their children were experiencing, as well as the challenges they experienced in finding the help they needed. Over the past two-and-a-half years, we heard from schools, camps, Hillel and youth workers in our various organizations that there was a need for an experienced child and youth mental health practitioner who had a visibility in the community and would be able to immediately support, whether it was crisis intervention or short-term counseling, and could be a resource to parents and families, as well as other professionals.”
For her part, Matti Feigelstock, Project L’Chaim’s coordinator, is able to promote teen mental health in the Greater Vancouver community “by bringing programming, training and curricula to the teens and teen-facing adults in our community, as well as mental health professionals.” Through both Zoom and in-person events, she aims to bring more awareness and remove the stigma of mental illness. She also wants to provide adults with the tools to be there for the teens in their care.
“Our curricula for middle and high schoolers provide students with the ‘why’ to live, helping them find their purpose and build resilience to face life challenges,” Feigelstock told the Independent.
Project L’Chaim has a lot planned for the upcoming year. “We have a full calendar of virtual training planned for parents, educators and clinicians on topics from anxiety in children to talking about substance abuse,” Feigelstock said. “We also are looking forward to hosting a mental health day in collaboration with all of the local Jewish organizations, along with an awareness campaign to promote the role every individual has in mental health. Additionally, we are working with the local schools to teach our course, the Happiness Hack, to students, ensuring the conversation continues in and out of the classroom.”
Feigelstock, who has been at the helm of Project L’Chaim since May, has been involved with community service work at several local nonprofit organizations over the past 19 years. She is currently co-executive director of the Mamatefet Community Society, a charity that supports expectant and new mothers. For the past year, she has been a therapist focusing on women and youth at Elevate Therapy.
Project L’Chaim was started through a grant from the Diamond Foundation in memory of the late Steven Diamond. It serves as the Vancouver branch of the Wellness Institute.
“Our partnership with Project L’Chaim creates opportunities for parents and family members, youth workers, teachers and other frontline workers to access opportunities to hear and learn from renowned youth professionals,” Rivkin said. “Project L’Chaim’s connections to the Wellness Institute open up significant educational opportunities for the community. Their excellent publications are also available throughout the community and provide critical information in an accessible manner.”
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In August, Jewish Federation welcomed Alisa Farina to the newly created position of community child, youth and young adult mental health worker.
Rivkin explained Federation realizes that young people who are struggling with their mental health are very resistant to seeking help through formal routes. By establishing a mental health outreach position, a person who can meet them in venues they are comfortable in, Federation hopes to create an environment in which more youth will seek help.
“We know that parents and family members struggle to navigate the mental health system and access the resources they need. This position will support and supplement the existing programs and services already available and diversify the supports available in the community. We want to make sure that parents and family members who are impacted by these issues feel supported and able to overcome the fear and despair they experience as they search for the right programs and resources to help their children,” Rivkin said.
Farina will provide direct support to children, youth and young adults struggling with mild or moderate mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. She also will provide assistance and advocacy to parents and families as they navigate mental health systems, including consulting with school counselors and other professionals. She has worked for the Burnaby School district for 29 years, the last 10 of which she focused on work with high-risk youth and their families.
“When children or young people experience vulnerable mental health, it affects the individual, family and our community,” Farina said. “Our approach will be to stand with young people and walk beside families by providing direct one-to-one support, family support, advocacy and mental health system navigation in a judgment-free, low-barrier and equitable way. We want to foster resilience and mental well-being in our young people.”
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.