On Thursday March 2, the Ottawa Senators Foundation is hosting their annual telethon. A show dedicated to sharing stories about people and programs making a difference in our community. Meet Jenny Strange.
In the midst of a big building painted a sensible beige, there sits a small but extraordinary office that's painted cotton-candy pink.
The colour reflects the warmth and vitality of its owner, Jenny Strange, who is a therapist at Youville Centre (youvillecentre.org) - a facility that gives adolescent mothers and their babies a chance for a brighter future through education, social support and parenting instruction. Within these pink walls, Jenny offers individual counselling sessions to the centre's clients - many of whom have been exposed to the troubles of substance abuse.
"It's very rare to see someone with just substance abuse - there's always a problem behind the problem," explains Jenny. "Many of the girls coming in struggle with some mental health issues - primarily anxiety or depression - and I would say the majority have experienced trauma," explains Jenny. "That could be trauma from a sexual assault, physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse - you name it."
Jenny is one of two counsellors at Youville Centre; both counsellors are registered psychotherapists with trauma certification. When Jenny first started working at the centre, funding only allowed her to work two days per week - which was sadly inadequate for the number of vulnerable girls in need.
"You could only see a maximum of 10 girls - five each day," recalls Jenny.
Fortunately, a program called Project Step (project-step.ca) - funded through the Ottawa Senators Foundation - was able to lend a helping hand. Project Step (which stands for substance abuse, treatment, education and prevention) is the foundation's biggest investment to date - with a $1-million investment dedicated to tackling youth addictions over 10 years. Funding supports various Ottawa-based organizations - including Operation Come Home, the Wabano Aboriginal Health Centre and Youville Centre.
For Youville Centre - a non-profit, registered charity - the much-needed financial injection means that Jenny now dedicates five days a week to helping the centre's 64 clients turn their lives around.
"With Project Step funded by Sens foundation, I'm able to be here full time - I'm really indebted to them," enthuses Jenny. "Working with youth is my passion, and our latest outcome assessments for mental health and addictions show that having in-house counselling for this clientele really works."
Thanks to Project Step, Jenny says she's now able to see up to 25 clients in a week - which means being able to offer critical support on an ongoing basis. And even though counselling is not mandatory beyond an initial meet-and-greet session, every girl to date has chosen to continue.
"We don't force counselling, because treatment doesn't work if you're forced to come," says Jenny. "But we haven't had anyone not return to counselling."
Through the Youville Centre's affiliation with two local high school programs, girls can pursue their high school diploma at their own pace - up to the age of 25. Youville even offers a childcare facility staffed with registered early childhood educators, offering care to children up to 2.5 years old.
And while high school graduation is undoubtedly a major milestone to celebrate, Jenny emphasizes that seeing her clients grow in personal confidence and make positive changes is what she ultimately strives for.
Jenny describes her counselling style as "eclectic," explaining that she adapts her approach according to each girl's individual needs. That means that if a girl is anxious and can't sit still for counselling sessions, Jenny might suggest a walk around Youville's Sandy Hill neighbourhood.
"Every girl might on paper come in with the same presenting issues, but they're all unique," says Jenny. "You can't use the same model of therapy for every client, you have to adjust it for every girl you see."
She emphasizes that an environment of trust is crucial to her relationships with the girls, and she refrains from telling them what they should do.
"The girls know I'm me and I'm going to strongly encourage them to do something, but I'm never going to say, 'You need to do this,'" she says. "I'm not going to judge you; whatever you feel comfortable sharing we'll take it from there because this is their life; I'm just hoping to make it the best one."
Jenny's smile grows wider as she speaks about one of her clients, Nikki, who overcame crippling depression to earn her high school diploma and develop her parenting skills. Nikki also participated in a lifestyle course called the Embrace program, which focuses on self-esteem and healthy relationships. Co-facilitated by a teacher and an intensive treatment support case coordinator, the program includes a section on mental health and substance use issues.
Clients in the Embrace program also participate in the 'In Love and in Danger' conference, which focuses on intimate partner violence. Jenny explains that Nikki took part in this because she left an abusive relationship and wanted to help others do the same.
"Nikki later told me that her counsellor and the Embrace program at Youville Centre helped to improve her self-esteem," says Jenny. "Nikki said, 'My four-year-old daughter is compassionate and confident and all the things that being at Youville gave me, my daughter has that.'"
Recently, Nikki decided to apply for the social work program - and she shared with Jenny that Youville Centre was a huge factor in choosing that path.
"Nikki told me, 'I want to help people - just like I was helped at Youville."
Tune in to the Ottawa Senators Foundation Telethon on Thursday, March 2 beginning at 6:30 p.m. prior to the Senators game vs the Colorado Avalanche on TSN 5.
To make an contribution, please visit www.sensfoundation.com or call 1-844-8GO-SENS (846-7367)