JHamilton opens new wellness centre

May 2021
Abigail Cukier

Hamilton Jewish Federation/JCC Beth Tikvah Foundation and Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS) are partnering to open a new centre for wellness at the JHamilton location on Main Street West. 

Set to open in June, the centre, which will take up an additional 3,600 square feet of office space, will serve as a hub for wellness, providing education, programs and counselling to support community members’ spiritual, social, mental and physical wellness.

“The experience of COVID-19 has shone a light on the need for a gathering place that will offer social and emotional support to people dealing with mental health challenges associated or exacerbated by the pandemic,” says Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg. “The centre will aim to reduce the social isolation and anxiety that so many people are experiencing, by offering a place for people to come together and connect.”

The Centre for Wellness will offer informal activities, groups and drop-in programs, including public education on wellness topics, group support, social and spiritual programs, and individual counselling. The centre will also serve as an entry and referral point for people who need more comprehensive support and offer educational programs in collaboration with the mental health community in Hamilton.

The need for increased mental health and wellness support was highlighted by a marked increase in demand for counselling at Hamilton Jewish Family Services over the last year. In response, the organization pioneered a mental health program, which started with a part-time social worker. Due to community demand, the position shifted to full time in January 2021. On average, the program is providing 110 mental health counselling sessions per month. 

The local experience is part of a wider need for mental health services. A policy paper written by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health showed that COVID-19 has magnified a mental health crisis that existed in Canada even before the pandemic and cited a survey that found that 50 per cent of Canadians reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began. Even before that, a 2019 Ontario Child Health Study found that one in every five children in Hamilton has a mental health struggle, however, only one-third of those struggling have access to mental health support. 

Hamilton Jewish Family Services will offer its mental health counselling out of the new location, along with workshops and therapeutic groups. The agency will also work with Beth Tikvah and Federation to foster other areas of wellness, including physical health, social events, and inclusion opportunities.

Alexis Wenzowski, executive director of Hamilton Jewish Family Services, says the collaborative environment will promote partnership across the three agencies. “We all believe in the promotion of, and investment in, the wellness of our community members. The expanded space presents a unique opportunity for us to work hand-in-hand to strengthen and rebuild during and after COVID,” she said. 

Beth Tikvah Foundation has been experiencing rapid growth over the last couple of years.  Executive director Chris Barone said he’s very excited that the new space can accommodate his agency’s growing management team.  “We would also like to give a warm welcome to Hamilton Jewish Family Services who will be moving into the new space and become part of the JHamilton community,” says Barone.

Rymberg says the centre will focus on providing support in four key areas of health—mental, physical, spiritual and social. “To help every age group cope with these concerns, there needs to be holistic clinical and non-clinical supports. These supports need to focus upon capacity-building and empowerment, while being accessible to all in need,” says Rymberg.

Community is also extremely important, says Rymberg. “A lack of connection to community increases feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which can impact one’s health and well-being,” he says. “The Jewish community of Hamilton needs to continue to offer social programming to its members, as has traditionally been done through both the JCC and Hamilton Jewish Family Services.

 “The new Centre for Wellness is inspired and grounded in the Jewish values of social justice and repairing the world (tzedakah and tikkun olam). It will offer the Jewish and broader community a safe and comfortable place to stay healthy, physically, socially and emotionally.”