So when Island Health’s Mental Health Substance Use (MHSU) Advisory Committee heard about a particular BC Transit Victoria bus driver, as well as staff at the Starbucks on Foul Bay Road going above and beyond to support people living with mental illness in the community, the group decided to do something.
“We wanted to formally acknowledge the behaviors that exemplify the kind of support, respect and inclusion that fosters the growth of healthy communities,” says Sharlene Law, chair of the MHSU Advisory Committee, comprised of people living with mental illness experience, family members and community service organizations.
As a result, the committee created the Recognition of Distinction in Community Service Award, and proudly announces that Victoria Transit and Starbucks are the inaugural recipients.
11 a.m. Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Starbucks, 1959 Fort Street, Victoria
BC Transit - Victoria – Bus Driver Dan Peters
BC Transit Operator Dan Peters remembers that September day clearly. There were about 45 people on the double decker bus headed to Sidney, when some of the passengers came to him to complain about a young man on the top level who was swearing, acting aggressively and making threatening gestures.
“Many passengers were frightened, some were angry,” Peters recalls. So, he pulled the bus over, and walked upstairs to talk to John (not his real name), a young man Peters knows – and has helped before.
“I gave him some money and something to drink, and listened to him,” says Peters, a former bush pilot and paramedic, who has been driving bus for 10 years. “I invited him to come downstairs and stand beside me and tell me what he was feeling. I did this for him, but also for the other passengers, so they would feel safe.”
The 63-year-old doesn’t think he did anything special. In fact, he says many of his colleagues perform similar acts of kindness, every day. But Drew Barnes, Program Coordinator of Island Health’s Psychiatric Day Hospital, notes there were several courses of action the driver could have taken that would have been easier for him, and perhaps negatively escalated the situation for John.
“Instead, this bus driver chose to take the course of action that supported one of his riders in the most effective and compassionate way,” Barnes says. “That reflects wonderfully on this driver but also on the organization that supports him in the delivery of his service.”
His behaviour didn’t go unnoticed that day by other transit riders, including one man who also has struggled with mental health issues. Gordon Hawkins was so impressed he wrote a poem called Psychosis by the Bus Load, where he described the bus driver’s kindness and empathy.
For his part, Peters is humbled by the award, but says he was just doing his job.
“I love driving, I love dealing with the public, and I appreciate the opportunities that this work offers in being able to be kind and helpful,” Peters said. “Most often, a person just needs to be heard.”
Don’t we all!
It’s not just the smell of coffee and baking that makes you feel good when you walk into the Starbucks at the corner of Fort Street and Foul Bay Road. There’s a vibe – a warm, welcoming feeling as you wait to place your order. And it’s not by accident.
Store manager Kaylee Horneland says her 15 employees are simply living the company’s mission and values to make everyone feel welcome.
“Our goal is to create a culture of warmth and belonging, and connect with customers with transparency, dignity and respect,” the 25-year-old said.
But Island Health’s Drew Barnes thinks it’s more than that. Because of the proximity to many of Island Health’s mental health and substance use in-patient and out-patient programs in Victoria, many of our clients patronize that particular coffee shop.
“We have observed Starbucks employees on numerous occasions providing excellent service to people exhibiting symptoms of mental illness,” Barnes explains. “The support and tolerance provided at these times go a long way in helping individuals living with mental illness feel accepted and valued in their community.”
Horneland says she and her staff are incredibly honoured and touched to receive this recognition. She has many friends and family members who have experienced depression, and grew up with a friend who was intellectually disabled.
“I feel that these experiences have provided me with a better understanding of the challenges those living with mental illness face every day, the stigma, loneliness and negative perceptions,” she explains. “We treat everyone walking through the door with the same amount of respect as the last. That’s just the right thing to do.”
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