Jay McDonald is both a speaker and entrepreneur living in Calgary with a mission to help people find comfort in their own skin.
He is removing the stigma from mental health and starting the conversation on suicide and suicide prevention. Partnered with Kids Help Phone, Jay’s goal in speaking to schools, businesses, and other organizations, is to lower the suicide rate in teens and adults across Canada.
From agripreneurs to students, and anyone in between, if you’re reading this and have ever felt like you’re not enough or that you’re the only one, know that you’re not alone.
Mental Health and Suicide
Nobody wants to die, they just want the pain to stop.
We live in a world where we are surrounded by friends, likes, and connection through social media, yet people are feeling more disconnected now than they did before. While social media isn’t the direct cause of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues among young people, I do believe there is a correlation to the fact.
I struggled with mental health my whole life. I was 215 pounds in elementary school, and was being medically treated for anger management. I had OCD, anxiety and depression. I was in a manic cycle of hopelessness, feeling like nobody understood what I was going through, and like I was all alone. I know now, however, that I was never alone.
Currently 1 out of 5 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have thought and planned to commit suicide; and 2 out of 5 of teens who have a plan, also have the means to do so. At a time when people feel alone, like there is nobody else who understands, it’s difficult to see the hope and purpose that is portrayed through social media.
To be depressed is to have no hope and while the statistics themselves are depressing, there is hope to turn things around.
How Do You Honour People?
It’s amazing what happens when you are more interested in hearing other people’s stories than you are trying to be interesting to them. By giving someone an ear, even if it’s for 5 minutes, you can discover common ground together. I honour people by listening to their stories and by encouraging them in it.
I think it takes an incredible amount of vulnerability and courage for someone to share their story with you and to expose the truth. So, the biggest honour for me is when someone tells me what’s actually going on in their life.
When you find common ground with people, it becomes possible to stand together with those whose stories are like yours. I know that quite often I won’t say the right thing in given situations, but standing with others and saying, “me too” helps to build the connection we are so missing in our world.
Do You Have Any Testimonies or Cool Stories?
My overall life’s purpose is to help people find comfort in their own skin and it amazes me to see someone come who has come from rock bottom to living a life full of purpose and fulfillment.
There have been many stories of people who were going to commit suicide on the same day I spoke at their school, who shared with me afterwards about how the direction of their life was changed. If we can shift the destination people set for themselves from a place of hopelessness to a place of hope, lives will forever be changed.
For example, any type of disability or diagnoses that challenges our day to day life is something people tend to own, and it’s because that’s how we associate ourselves. Someone who is diagnosed with depression might say, “I am depressed because I have a chemical imbalance in my brain,” and it comes from a place of hopelessness.
Our diagnosis then becomes our destination, based on language that we use to describe ourselves. Yet, we have the ability to build someone up or beat someone down with the words we speak. It’s incredible the impact one sentence can have in literally changing the direction of someone’s life.
For example: “I have depression because I have a chemical imbalance in my brain, but depression is not who I am and I will not let it dictate how I live,” comes from a place of hope.
So, is it possible to get to a place of having hope? Is it possible to wake up every day, knowing that if you have nothing left, it’s not going to be the end of the world because you’ve become rooted in your purpose?
The answer is yes. When you can change your focus, you can change your life and how we can do that is through gratitude.
Gratitude is the key that helps us shift our focus. Gratitude helps us to find thankfulness and appreciation where there wasn’t any before and it also helps us to create resilience.
Gratitude is a choice we must make every single day. It’s sounds easy enough to do but it’s easy not to do also.
Are There Any Projects You’re Currently Working On?
Yes. Right now, my co-founder Luke Shaw and I, are shifting Andra Athletics out of the gym and into street apparel. Andra Athletics is a premium quality, active lifestyle, clothing brand where we meet functional clothing needs for the gym and use profits to help give back to community initiatives.
The idea behind Andra is to encourage, empower and equip, helping people discover their strengths and passion in the gym. Since we are adding our streetstyle to the mix, we can help encourage, empower, and equip people to discover their passion in other areas of life like music, dance, art, coffee etc.
Again, my overall mission is to help others find comfort in their own skin and moving ahead with the lifestyle movement is a part of that.
Are There Any Needs You’re Looking To Have Filled?
The biggest need is to be heard. Mental health and suicide is a conversation that’s beginning to happen but isn’t anywhere near its peak yet. We need to make suicide awareness and prevention a higher priority and you can help by sharing your stories or this article.
If your eyes land on this article, you need to know everything happens for a reason. I want to encourage you that you are loved and you’re worth is far greater than you know!
If you or anyone you know would like someone to come to your school, business, or other organization to speak about mental health and suicide awareness, you can get in touch with me at the links below.
Partnered with the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre, Emma House is building a community of healthy mothers in the heart of Calgary. Here is what Emma House has to say and how they honour young moms in Calgary:
Tell Us About Emma House
We bring pregnant women off the street and into our home so they can come and take part in a healthy community during their pregnancy journey. For some of these women, it’s the first time they have a safe roof over their head and somebody who cares about their emotional, physical, relational, and financial well-being.
Homelessness and pregnancy in Calgary
Strictly speaking, those who are homeless in a developed country like Canada are better off than those in say, a third world country. However, our homeless still live in a world that’s full of it’s own challenges – including a very real cycle of homelessness and pregnancy for women in Calgary.
If a woman becomes pregnant and is without support and a place to go, she can often find herself as a single parent fighting against a lack of community, finances, and housing. Many times these three barriers lead the way to a very real fear of losing her newborn child to social services.
Seeking to fill her financial and housing need over the never-ending need to be loved and cared for, she becomes highly vulnerable and, therefore, susceptible to falling into an abusive relationship.
What is supposed to be a safe place to sleep and stable home to raise a child in, turns out to be the opposite. The home mom and baby are in, becomes new grounds for social services to take the child away.
The cycle of homelessness and pregnancy for women in Calgary occurs in two ways.
- If she becomes pregnant again while still in the relationship (with or without her child), the financial and housing support will continue to be necessary.
- If social services has taken her child away and she is back on the street and becomes pregnant again, the financial and housing support will again, be necessary.
How do you honour people?
By the time these women make it to Emma House, most organizations will have already turned them away because they’re the ones most likely not to succeed. Yes, we provide them with a safe place to live, but we also assist them throughout their journey, allowing them to become empowered as a single parent.
The first thing we do when a client comes to the house is aim to meet her exactly where she is at in her life and in the cycle of homelessness and pregnancy, so that we can begin to develop trust.
Trust is essential at Emma House. It helps us to connect and build the relationship needed to work and build community together before she is sent back to the real world where she will very likely face the challenges of being a single parent again.
Our hope is that the community she develops during her stay at Emma House will continue on once she has left our home, but that’s not always the case.
We recently had one girl here for the third time – of her two already born children, one was in foster care and the other had been adopted.
It’s easy enough to treat symptoms of the cycle with community and housing, but another thing to understand where they come from.
So, the question we are beginning to address is how can we help to end the cycle for these women?
Testimony/Cool Stories/Biggest Impact:
Education plays a huge role in breaking the cycle of homelessness and pregnancy. However, the very mention of going to school for these new mothers is rarely taken seriously because of the financial commitment and time away from home that’s required. It’s difficult to be a single parent going to school without having the support of friends and family.
We had one mother come to us during her pregnancy. Coupled with her desire to work hard and the support she received during her stay, she was able to develop a stable environment, community, and finances for her and her baby. After her year long stay with us, she continued to develop those relationships and skills with our support, and is now attending her third year of university with plans to finish her bachelors degree. During the summer months she comes back to be a part-time staff at Emma House, giving back to her community.
Education helps our clients to establish their careers and change their financial position. This helps to bring an element of control into their life – sometimes for the first time.
When all other resources have failed these women, Emma House has continued to be a nurturing community full of support and other resources, empowering the women to take that control.
Are there any projects you’re currently working on?
Last year we had a 3 bedroom house so had 3 women that we could provide housing and support for.
Unfortunately we turned 69 women away from Emma House.
In November of 2016 we moved locations to a 10 bedroom home – 8 rooms for the women and 2 for our round-the-clock staff. Right now there is little space for storage in the bedrooms so we are working to build 2 garages the women can store their belongings in. During the winter time it will also be nice because they won’t have to go outside to a snow covered car before driving to prenatal appointments, work, or school.
Are there any needs to be filled?
The first barriers to breaking the homelessness and pregnancy cycle are community, finances, housing, and education. The other barrier is internal.
It is getting to the root of the hurt and abuse that these women have gone through and helping them know that they have a choice in their circumstance. This is the part that often gets overlooked.
There is a need to bring professional counselors on board on a pro bono basis to help address these internal issues.
We are also looking for people who can be “neighbours” to the women. In creating community, we are building a home and not an “incubator site” for pregnant women. The cozy safe feeling is starting to come, but it comes with people also.
Neighbours are people who want to build relationships with our clients, and are able to lend a hand. Just like how a family living in Calgary may call on their neighbour to ask them for sugar, to watch their kids for an evening, or to take out the garbage when on vacation. Our neighbours are people who are willing and available to be there when called upon.
Other needs would include bringing on a social worker and having more volunteer cooks to prepare meals for the women.
Do you have any future plans?
Right now we are working on stage 1 of a 2 stage plan.
Stage 1 is building a home for homeless women to come and feel safe in during their pregnancy. Where they can begin to build a healthy community, to find a job, or go to school.
Stage 2 is our future plan to house women who have already given birth but aren’t prepared to leave quite yet. Here they will have more independence, but can still come and be part of the community they have created with us.
Our goal is to have a facility that can house 60+ women so we don’t have to turn anyone away.
For more information on the work we are doing or to get involved you can contact us through our website www.emmahouse.ca
The embodiment of what we do is partnering with local people and empowering them to become the “bridge of hope” for others. We get to see people rise-up and use their skills and resources to create a better future for themselves, their families and their community. In this way, we work with the people who are already in the community, doing what they do best for the betterment of those around them.
Close to the heart of Shayla Durksen are the people of Burkina Faso in west Africa.
Using her skills as a registered nurse, Shayla has been leading teams to Burkina Faso 1-3 times a year since 2012 to administer both medicine and education for families in local villages who are undernourished.
Every year in February/March comes the dry season for Burkina Faso, and is when malnutrition peaks. Because most of the food that’s grown during the wet season is consumed for survival, there often isn’t enough left over to save in preparation for the dry season. It’s for this same reason the families that Shayla works with, aren’t able to sell their goods in the market – often leaving them with no money to put towards simple resources such as wells, gardens, or schools that could make their community better. With no food left over, and no wells or gardens, it leaves many of their children moderately to severely malnourished.
Are there any projects you’re currently working on?
Yes, we are currently working with the CREN – a malnutrition Center for Rehabilitation, Education, and Nutrition. Nurses will check for signs and symptoms of undernourishment in children, which we can often do just by weighing them. Then we will make our recommendations.
If the children are moderately malnourished we will provide treatment at the CREN with Ready To Use Therapeutic Food that’s high in nutrition, de-worming as needed, and other vitamins. We also teach families how to recognize signs and symptoms of malnutrition and educate on proper nutrition as a preventative measure.
Most of our work is with moderately malnourished children. In our severe cases, instead of providing treatment at the CREN, we can provide support through transportation to the city hospital and covering the treatment costs there as necessary.
How do you honour people?
There is so much poverty all around you in Burkina Faso, with kids asking you for food. It’s hard to not help every single one of them.
I honour these kids, these people, by paying attention to them. I honour them by building relationships with the families in the villages. The work that we do is important but noticing that they are there and loving them is just as (if not more) important.
Testimony/cool stories/biggest impact:
The first year I went to Burkina Faso I met Myriam. She was one year old and being treated for severe malnutrition at the time. Myriam was at our clinic for one month and I would assist her mom, Alima, feed her every couple of hours until she was well-nourished enough to leave.
5 years later, I still go to visit Myriam and Alima in their village, and we now sponsor 4 of the children in their family through Bridges of Hope.
Their village has recently been able to build a school, with many of the children attending.
Alima says their crops are doing well with the support of our prayers and love.
Myriam is now 6 years old and on our last visit, stayed mostly by my side since she is now able to recognize and remember me. She only speaks Mossi (Mooré) but we are still able to communicate. That is really special.
Any needs to be filled?
I’ve visited many villages in Burkina Faso over the years, and there is a noticeable difference in health and prosperity between the villages that have access to water and those that don’t.
Right now our focus is on our “Dig Deep: Burkina Water Project,” building wells for local villages that don’t have access to water. The goal is to build 10 wells for 10 villages by the end of 2018.
By partnering with local people, we can empower them to become the “bridge of hope” for others by preventing malnutrition through having greater access to water.
Any future plans?
After building 10 wells in 10 villages, our plan is to educate more on nutrition and growing nutritious food.
The families in these villages will have the opportunity to grow their own gardens, using the wells we’ve already built for watering. Having accessible water plays a such a big part in having access to nutritious food year round.
Improving access to nutritious food year round will increase health and prosperity for themselves, their families and their communities.
The ultimate hope is that people like Alima will no longer need our clinic to treat malnutrition for their children!
Join us in the Dig Deep: Burkina Water Project! Your contributions will help in raising $150,000 to build 10 wells by end of 2018.
Visit www.bridgesofhope.ca or contact Shayla Durksen at firstname.lastname@example.org
WELCOME TO THE HONOUR PROJECT
The Honour Project is a local organization dedicated to bridging the gap between Calgary’s rich and poor with honour. We inspire people to honour people in every day life.