By Emily Stonehouse
Come And Sit Together. That’s the theme of VOICE, a peer support group led by individuals with lived experiences with trauma, mental health, mood, and substance abuse issues. “A lot of humans are suffering,” shared Tom Regehr, one of the organizers of the program. “We want to listen.”
Regehr is the founder of Come And Sit Together (CAST) Canada, which offers training across the country to help professionals, corporations and communities better understand the role of trauma and unresolved grief in human suffering and behaviors.
He shared with the Echo that his passion to share this material stems from his own background, which included personal struggles with homelessness, alcohol and substance abuse, and unaddressed childhood trauma. “When I was working through my early days of recovery, I noticed that a lot of support services didn’t understand exactly why we were stuck,” he said.
Regehr said that in his recovery journey, he accessed a series of services, hoping to find something that clicked and where he felt supported. Yet, there was often a divide between those who had suffered, and medical professionals who only looked at the facts as opposed to the stories.
It was by navigating the needs and gaps of these social services, that Regehr felt compelled to listen and share his own stories with those exploring recovery. In 1999, he started the first CAST support groups, where he welcomed individuals from all walks of life to sit, share, listen, and connect. This program grew quickly, with eager individuals wanting to engage in the safe space. It has now evolved into over 100 panel discussions between individuals in recovery, and front line professionals.
Regehr noted that while he has been in the world of healthcare professionals and substance abuse support since 1999, he has never seen the level of commitment to helping a community that he is currently witnessing in Haliburton County. He shared that he is working with Point in Time, SIRCH, the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, and the Haliburton County Public Libraries, all of whom welcomed his programming, and offered ways to help promote and support along the way. He also noted the Haliburton County Mental Health and Substance Use Working Group through Point in Time was the organization responsible for seed money for the program.
The structure of the program is split into two parts, with the first half focusing on sitting, talking, and sharing in a supportive and contained environment, followed by discussions about how the community can support those in need, as well as educating participants on access to grants, social services, and project funding. Regehr noted that while the program is not anonymous, it is founded in confidentiality, common sense, and respect.
The VOICE sessions are planned for Haliburton at SIRCH Cafe on Feb. 8 from 6:30-9 p.m., Minden at the Lions Club on Feb. 9 from 12-2:30 p.m., and on Zoom on Feb. 13 from 7 to 9 p.m. For more information, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, text 705-749-6145, or visit www.voicehaliburton.weebly.com.