Bright and beautiful – that’s how Susan Henderson envisions the new home for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Colchester East Hants branch.
While the local branch is holding up in a temporary space on one end of Prince Street, renovations on their new space – the former Bargain Shop – located at the other end of the street started earlier this month to coincide with Mental Health Week, May 1 to 7.
“We have purchased the building. It’s ours and we’re super excited,” said Henderson, the organization’s executive director. “We also own the vacant lot next to the building. Having a green space for people was an important factor for us. We know nature is contemplative, restful and restoring so it fits in with exactly what we’re looking to do with our new home.”
For years, the local mental health branch was located on the corner of Prince and Revere streets. More recently, several key factors led to conversations between staff members and the non-profit’s board of directors.
They included space and rent concerns.
“When I came to CMHA, the building we were in was pretty adequate,” said Henderson. “Within three years, we had three new programs and all of a sudden everything around us became very small. As a result, the issues around our site became very apparent. Something that really stood out to us was our entrance. It was very tight and narrow. For someone struggling with anxiety, an entrance like that could be a real deterrent and we know people don’t take the decision to come through our doors lightly. If someone is dealing with a mental health issue and they’ve reached a place where they’re comfortable to seek help, we want them to come into a place that feels safe and welcoming.”
The former location also wasn’t cost efficient. Henderson says they took part in a financial stability exercise which highlighted a major concern around rent.
She says they were paying a pretty large sum.
“The amount we were paying was definitely enough to cover the cost of a mortgage payment,” Henderson said. “We talked to our board of directors and we decided owning was a more attractive option moving forward than paying for rent. In terms of assets, we had none so looking 10 years down the road it didn’t make sense to continue paying rent for a place we had simply outgrown.”
Just down the street, the CMHA operates SOUP (Supportive Opportunities for Unemployed Persons) Café. Having two locations was something that always quietly bothered Henderson.
Thanks to the acquisition of their own building, the offices of CMHA and SOUP will be located under one roof.
“From a sustainability point of view, it never made sense to me why we were paying rent on two properties when we could just own one and have everything in one location,” said Henderson.
The cost of the renovation is estimated at $1.5 million and work is expected to be carried out over the better part of the next year. To help with the transition, the CMHA was scheduled to launch a fundraising campaign on May 6 with an event at Truro’s Civic Square.
The theme is branching out, which Henderson believes captures the idea that the organization is growing in the community while putting down roots.
“It’s a pretty extensive renovation,” said Henderson. “We’ve had to do the entire inside. It has to be taken back to the original structure and then we will build back out. I was a bit nervous about jumping into this. As executive director, you worry about the impact this will have on the organization, our staff and their families. You don’t take any of that lightly when considering something like this. What’s been interesting is the fact that even though we’re currently in a smaller space right now, I’ve seen the excitement level starting to grow. Everyone seems rejuvenated and they’re looking forward to a new, fresh home that supports the average every day person.”
While she readily admits she’s getting ahead of herself, Henderson admits there is a phase two in the works.
It’s the realization of a dream that would see the CHMA offer transitional housing, says Henderson. She believes it could be ideal for someone who has been released from hospital but isn’t quite ready to go back to their apartment, someone released from the Nova Institution for Women or youth who aren’t quite ready to jump into the world of adults.
“Phase two could be our chance to finally offer those transitional supports,” said Henderson. “We think it’s the next step for our organization. This move won’t only impact the people we’re currently working with. We want this to be welcoming place for the community. We know there are people in our community who are out there working every day and when they go home, they’re stressed out. Then you have others who may have experienced a traumatic loss and they’re attempting to work through it. Those individuals can find support through us as well.”
In terms of the fundraising campaign, Henderson says there’s a variety of ways for people, businesses and other organizations to get involved.
She says the plan is to start getting information out in the coming weeks to generate more support.
“We’re going to have a beautiful tree in our front foyer and that’s where we’re going to recognize our contributors with different coloured leaves,” said Henderson. “We’re also looking to offer businesses and organizations a luncheon courtesy SOUP Café and that would include a mental health talk for employees. We could do something on stress management, finding a balance between home and work or we could do an acupuncture session.”
For more information, visit www.ceh.cmha.ca, or visit them at the current 574 Prince Street location.