The local community is an important audience to reach. By interacting with other organizations and opening doors for clients, you have the opportunity to reduce stigma and to build community connections.
One way to reach out is through the local media. This will raise your program’s profile, but it will also raise the profile of your organization as a whole. The SEARCH for Fitness program at SEARCH Community Mental Health Services in Strathroy, Ontario, was highlighted in the local newspaper (see Nancy Powers, “SEARCH Starting Fitness Pilot Project,” Strathroy Age Dispatch, June 10, 2009).
Helping clients connect with recreation facilities in their local community can help overcome the challenge of distance if your organization serves a large geographic area. Haldimand-Norfolk Resource Centre, for example, hired a student to help the agency make these connections by conducting research and developing a database of community recreation opportunities to share with clients:
“We actually had someone who went out and met with the dance studios and the bowling alleys and even the Canadian Tire stores that sell sporting goods and that sort of thing. One of the things we wanted to recognize was, not everybody wants to do it with us, and they just may want to join a bowling league with somebody else. The staff person that was involved in going out said she got an amazingly positive reception; much more than she had anticipated. For some, it was just a matter of making “the ask” – some businesses said yes as soon as asked. We also had a number of people who asked how they could help out. We’ve had dance studios who have said, “Yes, we’d love to have people come to dance classes — be it as a group or an individual.” We’ve had some of the sporting goods or places that sell sporting goods say, “Hey, when you’ve got somebody who wants to do X and they need a piece of equipment, we can help out with some cost breaks and different things like that. That was a very formal piece that we implemented.” (Program Manager)
Other organizations have been able to build on existing relationships in their local community. Gerstein on Bloor in downtown Toronto had already purchased six community memberships from the YMCA that could be shared among their clients, so it made sense to explore other opportunities. When they developed FRESH as a Minding Our Bodies pilot program, Gerstein staff found new opportunities to work more closely with the YMCA and demonstrate the type of client support they could provide. The Gerstein Centre was able to strengthen their relationship with the YMCA and, in turn, enable the YMCA to reach a population focused on mental health recovery.