In late 2018, the Nelson Police Foundation was looking for projects to support through their fundraising. The foundation supports police projects not typically covered under the regular operational budget. In the past they provided funding for school programs, such as DARE, the heritage police car and emergency services camp, and they, in partnership with City of Nelson public works, purchased the speed reader boards that you will see around town in our school and construction zones, and other high risk locations.
The foundation has also provided funding for training police officers in advanced tactical emergency care, as well as funding for advanced training for the department’s restorative justice program volunteers.
But when the foundation was looking for a new project, Chief Paul Burkart suggested they may want to look at supporting a mental health program, not only for active police members and staff, but other first responders.
“I was thrilled with the response we received from the foundation directors,” Burkart says. “They saw it as such an important issue. You only need to watch the news to find a story about first responder mental health. Whether it is the story of 13 suicides in the Ontario Provincial Police since 2012, the statistic showing paramedic suicide rates five times those of the average citizen, or a more recent story about how 25 per cent of Abbotsford firefighters are presently out on stress leave, the numbers are truly staggering.”
To kickstart this latest campaign, the foundation held a fundraising event at Finley’s Bar and Grill and had a tremendous turnout. And what was more impressive than the number of people who came was the variety of people and groups who attended.
“I spoke to a lot of people that night, and the support I felt was tremendous,” said Burkart. “We had teachers, politicians, church and other community groups, city staff and managers, nurses, doctors, and of course, active and retired members of the various first responders and their families.
“It was a great night of fundraising, but also a really great start to a much-needed conversation. I also spoke with a lot of people in the following days about mental health. It was not only first responders, but also members from the military, search and rescue, nurses and doctors who confirmed what we were already starting to see — that stress and PTSD has affected many of them and their co-workers.”
Burkart continued to meet with others who had heard of the foundation’s efforts and wanted to support it. Some inquiries came from a few groups and individuals who wanted to contribute to the cause. But it was a local couple that came into the department that will really make a difference going forward.
Nelson’s Jennifer and Ron Taylor met with Burkart that week.
“I had not formally met the Taylors before, but they came to the office to speak with me about a donation to the foundation,” Burkart says. “Jennifer came in carrying an article I had done with local media about the event. It was very apparent the Taylors had done their research, not only about the issue of first responder mental health, but they were obviously very well-versed with our foundation, as well as the Osprey Foundation, to which the police foundation belongs.”
The Taylors wanted to donate to the foundation specifically for the issue of first responder mental health. And although they did not have any explicit ideas about how the mental health funding should be spent — they were happy to leave that up to the foundation directors — they were very specific about one thing: that the funding be used right away.
“Jennifer and Ron were very aware of the issues relating to first responder mental health,” Burkart says. “And Jennifer made it very clear that they did not want the funding to be placed in the foundation’s perpetual fund, rather they wanted this funding to be used to put something in place as quickly as possible and to start addressing the issue. As a result, the Osprey Foundation worked their magic to ensure the funds were available immediately for the police foundation.”
Burkart said the donation will truly make a difference on addressing this issue.
“I was really overwhelmed by the generosity of the Taylors. Although we have received some very nice donations from other individuals and groups, including our own Nelson Professional Firefighters Association and individual citizens, the donation from the Taylors is a game changer.
“With this funding, our mental health committee is hoping to not only set up in-house training for current and retired staff of both Nelson Fire Rescue and Nelson Police Department, but to hold a larger event in the fall.”
The Nelson Police Foundation wants to ensure this topic is on the forefront of all the frontline workers’ minds and that they are seeking the assistance they may need. This donation from the Taylors will certainly allow the foundation to do that.
If you are interested in donating to the Nelson Police Foundation, or would like more information on the foundation or future events, contact the Nelson Police Department at 250-505-5653, visit them at nelson.ca/308/Nelson-Police-Foundation or on Facebook at facebook.com/Nelson-Police-Foundation- 288976904830114.