By Lindsey Kuglin
It’s crunch time for staff at the Seven Bridges Residential Treatment Centre as they prepare for their first intake of youth on May 19.
The facility, located just outside of Paisley on Bruce Road 1, will take in youth aged 14-19, from across the province who struggle with addictions.
Executive Director Greg Schnurr said it’s a start to filling the service gap for youth residential treatment.
“There are 30,000 youth in need of residential treatment, and only 1,300 beds in Ontario,” he told he WHT in a telephone interview last week.
“Many young people are falling through the cracks and go without the help they so desperately require,” Schnurr said.
Seven Bridges has the capacity for 48 youth at a time.
While the initial intake will be girls only, they will expand services to include boys as well.
The facility is the result of three years of planning by the Georgian Bay Treatment Centre board of directors. They recognized the need for a residential treatment centre in the area, and when the former Christian Horizons building came up for lease, they jumped on it.
The building sits on 96 acres, that will provide the youth an opportunity to participate in outdoor activities, such as gardening and sports. There will also be animal therapy integrated with a service dog on site, and therapy horses brought in periodically.
Inside, there is a classroom, equipped with laptops and Internet connectivity. There is a large games room that can double as a gym, where there are plans for yoga and other fitness instruction.
There is also a large commercial kitchen, and indoor and outdoor eating areas.
The WHT toured the facility last week with Office Administrator Hannah Rowanwood and CAO Janice Arnold.
“You can’t look out a window without a beautiful view,” she said.
Schnurr said the facility and the setting lends itself well to the type of programming needed to counter the effects of addictions and concurrent mental health issues.
“There’s an emphasis on the holistic nature of the program. There’s a nice balance of outdoor and physical activity, academics, and therapy needed,” he said.
A former principal at both Walkerton high schools, Schnurr did doctoral work focussing on youth substance use, and was on the Crystal Meth Task Force.
Also a musician and visual artist, Schnurr will incorporate those passions into the programming as well.
Along with Schnurr, Rowanwood, and Arnold, there are several other staff members at the facility – Program Manager Jim Morris, and Clinical Director Kenny Gbadebo, 10 child and youth workers, and two full-time therapists.
There will be a volunteer contingent as well, Schnurr said, but those interacting with the youth will have to be qualified people to work with the vulnerable clientele the facility will house. However, he said once the details are hammered out, there may be other ways community members can help.
Rowanwood told the WHT there has already been a growing interest from nearby residents to help out, and there have been people in to help paint rooms, and other preparations ahead of the May 19 opening.
“It’s been great. People are really coming around. I know there was a bit of a concern when it was first announced that we would be opening up here,” she said.
Schnurr said the youth that will be at the facility will be there by their own choice, and will have already undergone a detox regimen.
“They’re clean and they want to be here. They’re ready for change,” he said, adding they are monitored by trained staff 24 hours a day.
Seven Bridges is named for the seven bridges within the Village of Paisley, but also alludes to bridging the gap from addiction to recovery.
Youth will be referred to the facility from across the province, but for now, there is a fee for the service until funding can be secured from the Ministry of Child and Youth Services.
Schnurr said other treatment centres in the province have told him it’s a process to get that funding, but “everyone goes through the same growing pains.”
Seven Bridges will subsidize some of the residents through fundraising initiatives.
The organization receives Ministry oversight, and is inspected regularly.
Ahead of the May 19 intake, there will be a Grand Opening ceremony on May 9 from 1-4 p.m. to give the community a chance to learn more about the facility and the treatment program.
There will be live music, snacks, and the unveiling of a collaborative mural from local students. They will also be offering a limited number of bursaries for subsidized residential spaces.
Seven Bridges is located at 4442 Bruce Road 1. Call 519-353-3437 for more information.