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CMHA Moves to New Location and Launches Recovery College

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Christine Savage and Emma Jones’ eyes twinkle when they talk about the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) of Wood Buffalo. The Executive Director and Marketing/Events Coordinator for the social profit respectively, both ladies are true champions of their cause. Adding to their excitement is the fact, CMHA has recently moved to their new location on Manning Avenue (next to Cora’s and Service Canada). They have also launched The Recovery College, the second in Alberta, which is an educational-based approach focusing on helping people recognize and develop their own resourcefulness and awareness in order to support themselves or their loved one’s recovery journey.

“We are excited and humbled by the grand opening. The new location is based on community feedback. We were told people don’t want a building reminding them of a hospital, or an office  – this was important to their mental health. They wanted a place where nobody knew they were going for mental health assistance. This is why we put in a lot of thought, energy and effort into this new place,” explains Christine, who has been with the CMHA for approximately three years.

The spacious office feature about 10 rooms, and is just under 6000 ft. CMHA moved into the new venue mid-October, the grand opening was on November 14, 2019. The group has about 15 staff with about 45 to 50 peer support workers, volunteers who have gone through CMHA services, and have now come full circle to assist others.


Recovery College

CMHA has been in Wood Buffalo for 30 years, and nationally in operation for 100 years. Recovery College first began locally in January 2019, and has now been launched to its full capacity. Laureen Macneil, CMHA Calgary’s Executive Director was on hand for our local chapter’s grand opening, and to assist with the Recovery College launch.

“I’m glad to be here. Christine is a fantastic community leader, and a visionary. After the 2013 floods in Calgary, almost everyone was impacted with mental health issues, not just the severely distressed, which is what the CMHA used to do. The current research tell us by the time we are 40, about 50 per cent of us will have a mental health or addiction challenge. The data caught up with us. And, that shifted our thinking. We had to help 1.4 million people. We got innovative, and that’s where Recovery College came in.”

Peer support in Calgary goes back 20 years. Macneil notes countries are now investing in community members to train them knowing they can “make a connection quicker than a therapeutic intervention.” This meant people were recovering faster. Given our post-wildfires realities, Wood Buffalo fits the bill to sport a Recovery College.

“The local model with peer support workers is putting the individual with lived experience first, and helping build connections. It’s a shared trauma between our communities. Recovery College changes you from being a client to a student if you have a mental health issue, or addiction. It’s an educational model,” Macneil adds.

Recovery College’s free courses, which can be “tips and tricks” for recovery are developed and delivered in partnership with CMHA’s peer supporters “who are experts by experience: they have their own story of a mental health or substance use concern, or are supporting a loved one,” shares Emma, who joined the group in 2014, and recently returned following maternity leave.

“Our Recovery College courses are interactive and create positive learning experiences, emphasizing connection, hope and belonging. An emphasis is placed on an individual’s talents and strengths. Our courses inspire optimism, encourage students to consider future opportunities, and more people towards personal empowerment. Recovery is a journey, not a destination,” she emphasizes.

There are currently 11 courses to choose from. A few examples include: Road to Recovery; Art of Friendship; Self-Compassion; and Regulating Our Emotions to name a few. No previous experience is required to attend the courses and drop-in sessions.

For Ahmad Ali, being CMHA Wood Buffalo’s peer support worker has multiple meanings.

“As a Peer in the Recovery College, I have learned about trust, faith and believing in myself to explore my own resourcefulness, build confidence and strong relationships within the community.”

For Anji (last name withheld upon request), who started with Recovery College as a student in April 2019, Recovery College was a gift.

“I have taken every course which led me to Peer School and into the role of a Peer Support Worker. Instead of only focusing on myself, now I am able to focus on listening to others. Recovery College has changed my life, it has given me hope for change and better things to follow. Being a Peer Support Worker allows me to feel productive and confidence in my life choices now and into my future.”


Youth Hub

Another new CMHA initiative in alignment with the Recovery College – Youth Hub is for 11 to 23 year olds in need for mental health services. It’s a collaboration between multiple local groups such as the school divisions, Alberta Health Services, and Athabasca Tribal Council to name a few.

“We know what we are doing for youth isn’t effective. We need a place for youth to go when they are struggling and they can get immediate services instead of being put on a waiting list for counsellors or clinicians. We are a complement to these services. Someone will always be at the Youth Hub to help them navigate through their journey. Whether it is critical, or just needing resources for meditation, immediate help is there,” notes Christine.


Welcome Centre

CMHA Wood Buffalo’s Welcome Centre provides individuals and family members with connection, conversations, tools and skills to learn about mental health and personal well-being.

Open to everyone, the Welcome Centre is staffed by peer supporters. It has a walk-in model giving community members a safe space to connect and develop skills to deal with their mental health and or substance use concerns. There is no appointment required and peer supporters are always available to connect and start the conversation.


Peer School

Speaking of peers, the CMHA is always looking for more people to add to the team. This is why the group will launch Peer School in January 2020 for individuals of diverse backgrounds to join their peer support movement. Those interested would need to attend the CMHA Wood Buffalo School of Peer Support. CMHA will provide 70 hours of free training and 50 hours of paid internship in the community.

‘None of this would have been possible without the incredible CMHA team. They have worked tirelessly in the last three years to launch Recovery College, and everyone can see the results. They have done a fabulous job,” Christine notes. 

Being proactive instead of reactive to community needs – the CMHA is a trailblazer touching all aspects of life in Wood Buffalo, working with numerous community agencies to improve lives. We thank them for their diligence and dedication to champion mental health.


No referrals are needed to take Recovery College courses, which can be selected through Or, call 780-743-1053. The new address is Unit #111 – 8530 Manning Avenue. Current Hours of Operation: 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM Monday through to Friday.


The CMHA team
CMHA’s newly elected Board.
Emma Jones is the CMHA’s Marketing & Events Coordinator


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.