Helping Ourselves through Peer Support & Employment

Detailed History

Canadian Mental Health Association, Brant County Branch opened Quick Bite Catering & Take-Out to the public on July 2, 1991 as a consumer-run business.  The first Vocational Manager was a social worker and employee of CMHA.  All other employees were consumer/survivors of the mental health system.  The program provided training in the restaurant and catering business and work-related life skills activities based on the psychosocial rehabilitation model.  Long-term employment at minimum wage or higher was available to employees.

Later in 1991, funding from the Consumer/Survivor Development Initiative (CSDI) was received to hire two part-time Assistant Vocational Managers who were consumers.  An advisory committee was established with representatives from management, consumers and the business community.  In November 1991, the lead hand position was implemented to improve functioning of the business.

Most restaurant employees worked one regular shift per week, plus extra shifts on a call-in basis for busy days.  Monthly staff meetings were held to ensure that all staff had a voice in the business.  Employees’ skills were evaluated regularly by management to assist staff to address any work-related problems.  Employees improved their work skills and developed greater feelings of confidence and self-esteem through a structured work environment and a supportive peer group.

Quick Bite operated this way until October 1993.  CSDI would not continue its funding for the assistant manager position unless the business was divested from CMHA and run as an independent consumer/survivor initiative.  Consumers working in the business and the Board of CMHA agreed to pursue this divestment.  This was the beginning of Brantford Vocational Training Association.  A board of directors was recruited and separate incorporation status was received for BVTA in February 1993.  A consumer manager was also recruited and in October 1993 Quick Bite divested from CMHA.

A membership for BVTA was developed by involving interested consumers, family members and mental health service providers.  By-laws for BVTA gave consumer/survivors a vote to set the direction for the organization.

The business saw many changes over the years, with over 70 consumers being employed for varying periods of time during the first 12 years.  Quick Bite opened in downtown Brantford in the midst of a recession and prospered for some years.  As the retail traffic in downtown Brantford moved out of the core or closed up entirely, Quick Bite’s counter sales diminished and catering took more of a key role in maintaining the business.  In 1997, it was not clear whether Quick Bite would survive, but through the perseverance and hard work of all of its staff and volunteers, Quick Bite thrived for some rough years, employing 18 to 20 employees at a time.

BVTA acquired funding from Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) in 1998 to enhance consumer/survivor development in Brantford.  The concept of Brant’s Mainstream Mental Health Wellness Network was born.  For one year, HRDC funding allowed several consumers to be hired to develop better liaison with other mental health services, provide individual support on job readiness, organize group peer support through “Kindred Spirits” meetings and produce promotional materials for peer support initiatives.  Unfortunately, after the year, ongoing funding was not forthcoming and Brant’s Mainstream Mental Health Wellness initiatives could not be sustained.  The focus returned to sustaining the viability of Quick Bite Catering & Take-Out and peer support initiatives ceased.

Staffing changes and board turnover prompted a change in 1999, when Canadian Mental Health Association, Brant County Branch was asked to temporarily sponsor Quick Bite while a new board was developed.  As of August 18, 1999 this transfer in responsibility became effective.  The Executive Director of CMHA became the Executive Director of BVTA.  The board members of CMHA also acted as the board members of BVTA.  A transition back to full independence was envisioned, even though it had to be delayed due to financial pressures.

An 8 to 10 member Advisory Committee was established to provide advice to the Board on the future of Quick Bite and related consumer/survivor services.

In 2000, BVTA was one of 11 consumer/survivor projects in southern Ontario to receive funding from the Trillium Foundation to offer one-to-one peer support services to consumers leaving hospital as part of a major research initiative.  The first group of volunteers was trained in 2000 and a part-time Peer Support Coordinator was hired in 2001 to coordinate Friend to Friend.  Funding from the Trillium Foundation continued until March 2003 when donations were replaced to retain peer support activities.

Quick Bite reorganized in 2001 and hired a new Restaurant & Catering Manager.  Counter sales increased with the addition of new menu items.  A business plan was developed in 2002 to identify untapped markets and build the sustainability of Quick Bite for the future.  Restaurant hours were expanded to attract a growing customer base in the downtown; however, increased revenues did not surpass expenses and in the fall of 2002, restaurant hours had to be returned to 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

BVTA applied to the Trillium Foundation in order to hire a Director of Program Development and in 2003 a two-year grant was approved to expand peer support and leadership development activities with Trillium support.

Quick Bite counter sales continued to grow in 2003, but catering sales declined to record lows.  The business struggled to cover its costs and finally at the end of August 2003 the doors of Quick Bite had to be closed.  Twenty consumers were laid off as a result.

Quick Bite’s business plan was revised in 2004, with new menu items, pricing and staffing structure, but a deficit was still present.  The decision was made that the restaurant could not be re-opened in its previous format.  Instead the board decided to hire a Director of Business Development, whose prime responsibility would be to re-open the catering business and develop other break-even businesses where consumers could be employed.  A cleaning business, QuicKlean, was opened in 2004.   QuicKlean expanded to include moving services and cleaning and re-sale of used mattresses.

Peer support programs continued to grow, with expansion of Friend to Friend, Birds of a Feather and, in 2004, the initiation of the We Care Program to provide peer support and personal care items to inpatients of Brant Community Healthcare System (Brantford General Site).  Through a partnership with Canadian Mental Health Association, two Peer Support Workers were hired in August 2005.  These workers provided one-to-one peer support within the case management, supported housing and social/recreation programs of CMHA through a secondment arrangement.  In November 2005, a Crisis Peer Support Worker was hired through a paymaster arrangement with the Crisis Program of St. Leonard’s Community Services.  The Peer Support Workers were also available to back up the BVTA programs – Friend to Friend, Birds of a Feather and We Care.

A proposal was developed and submitted to the Ministry of Health in 2006 aimed at increasing the autonomy of BVTA as a consumer/survivor initiative.  Steps within this proposal included increasing the competitiveness of BVTA staff salaries, adding funding to the BVTA budget for the Peer Support Workers that would not be reliant on CMHA, establishing a Board of Directors separate from CMHA, establishing a paymaster arrangement between CMHA and BVTA so that all BVTA expenditures could be paid directly by BVTA, and hiring a BVTA Executive Director who is a consumer/survivor.  The Ministry of Health did not fund any of the steps recommended in this proposal.

BVTA became part of a regional consumer/survivor network across the Hamilton-Niagara-Haldimand-Brant LHIN area in 2006 to provide the LHIN with a perspective from consumer/survivor initiatives.

A fourth Peer Support Worker was hired part-time in November, 2007 to assist specifically with We Care and in January, 2008, an agreement was struck with Brant Community Healthcare System to expand We Care to include mid-week one-to-one peer support visits as needed for mental health inpatients.  This expansion proved successful, providing increased levels of peer support and personal care items to consumers while in hospital.

In 2008, monthly Birds of a Feather support group meetings were discontinued due to low attendance.  In its place, special events at various times of the year were initiated.

QuicKlean’s business was expanded to include re-sale of second hand furniture which had been donated.  In February 2010, the first floor at 116 Dalhousie Street was refurbished to accommodate a store for second hand goods, called Neat Stuff.  Discussions were initiated with staff, the BVTA Advisory Committee and the BVTA membership regarding changing the name of Brantford Vocational Training Association to Helping Ourselves through Peer Support & Employment (H.O.P.E.).  There was overwhelming support from the membership to make this name change at the Annual Meeting in September 2010.

BVTA’s Program Manager, Martha Rybiak, participated in the first round of training of certified peer supporters with Ontario Peer Development Initiative in 2010.  Martha was selected to be one of 10 peer support trainers in the Province by OPDI and she started training other consumers to be certified peer supporters in July 2010.

The paymaster agreement with St. Leonard’s Community Services to second a crisis peer support worker to St. Leonard’s Crisis Team was ended on December 31, 2010 when St. Leonard’s decided to hire their own peer support worker.

On April 1, 2011, all of the funds related to BVTA’s peer support activities were consolidated, so that all of the seconded peer support position funding was put under BVTA’s control.

Supplementary Letters Patent for Helping Ourselves through Peer Support & Employment were approved by Government of Ontario on June 11, 2011.  The official launch of the new name took place on October 1, 2011.

The We Care program was changed from a staff/volunteer partnered program to a fully volunteer-led program in 2011.

The Board approved a pay equity plan in February 2012.

The Friend to Friend program was discontinued in March 2013 due to low enrollment and difficulty attracting volunteers.  A Walking Group was started in March, held at the Gretzky Centre’s indoor track, which attracted many participants.

In May 2013, H.O.P.E. sponsored a flash mob and a walk as part of the Mood Disorders Society of Canada’s Move for Mental Health campaign to raise awareness about depression and raise funds.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation approved a grant of $12,000 to conduct H.O.P.E.’s first strategic plan.  A consultant, Neasa Martin, was hired and the strategic plan was completed in June 2013.  Strategic directions for H.O.P.E. included reviewing the governance relationship with CMHA Brant, expanding recovery-oriented programming, increasing volunteers and consumer leadership, improving partnerships with CSIs and other stakeholders and enhancing marketing and communications.

In April 2015, through a Community Impact Grant form the United Way, HOPE initiated a every Saturday afternoon peer support drop-in program. Held at Phoenix Place, various social and recreational activities are led by HOPE peer support workers.