Curlers are gathering next week for fun, fellowship and to support youth mental health in the community.
Ken Irwin is the head ice technician at the Elmira and District Curling Club, and also a gymnastics coach. This is the third year Irwin is organizing the Alisha Wilson Memorial fundraiser bonspiel, with the funds raised this time around going to the Woolwich Counselling Centre’s programs for youth.
The one-day event is held February 4 and starts at 9 a.m. The day includes lunch, dinner, an awards ceremony and a cheque presentation to the centre.
The winners also get a one-hour on-ice session with Sherry Middaugh, five-time Ontario curling champion and four-time bronze medalist at the Canadian Championships.
Alisha Wilson was a Grade 9 student in Alliston and a promising gymnast. She was bullied in school and passed away in 2018 by suicide.
Irwin coached gymnastics in Wilson’s community, though she passed before he had a chance to work with her.
“I had heard what happened from talking to the parents. I kind of didn’t quite understand, but I talked with one of the parents and asked and they explained what happened,” said Irwin. “I said ‘I want to do something to help,’ and this came out of it.
“It’s widely known that she was she was being bullied. Everybody in the high school: principals, vice principals, teachers, students, guidance counselors, even the police knew about it. And nobody did anything about it.”
Previous Alisha Wilson Memorial bonspiels have taken place in Alliston and Lindsay, towns where Irwin had also worked as an ice technician.
Amanda Wood-Atkinson, executive director at Woolwich Counselling Centre, says about 30 to 35 per cent of the centre’s counselling sessions are with children and youth, and that so far 2023 is consistent with this statistic.
“This year to date (so only three weeks of data), we have done 270 sessions and 83 of them have been child and youth therapy sessions,” she said.
“Last year, our overall number of counselling requests have risen proportionately between children and youth sessions and adult sessions, with an increase across the board.”
She said to address this increase in need for children and youth therapy sessions, they’ve hired more therapists, and increased the number of parenting workshops and children and youth therapy groups on offer.
“I think that children and youth are facing stressors and are facing challenges in their day-to-day lives that are new for parents to manage and to understand. Some of that could be the use of social media or peer interactions with their friends,” she said.
Irwin says the memorial bonspiel has room for eight adult teams and eight junior teams. Entry is $300 per team, and this includes lunch and dinner. He already has seven junior teams and five adult teams signed up.
There will also be a silent auction ongoing. The absolute deadline for registration is January 28. People can contact Irwin via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My goal here is to help today’s youth in our community. I want to help them to be able to have the support that they need now and in the future, just to let them know that it’s OK. If they need help, to ask for it. You hear that all the time, but you can never say it enough.”