Project PEACE | Grimshaw and Peace River, AB
By Dani Wearden | Photos of Sandra MacKenzie by Dani Wearden | Photography submitted
Project PEACE is a 12-month regional program that promotes mental, emotional and social well-being to students, and it teaches them healthy coping skills they can use throughout their lives.
“This program is focused on universal supports for the promotion and prevention of mental health, and covers topics such as addiction awareness, how to cope with anxiety, healthy relationships, conflict resolution and how to support positive mental health,” said Project PEACE Program Manager, Sandra MacKenzie.
Supporting students of both the public and Catholic school divisions in the Peace Region, Project PEACE is a Mental Health Capacity Building project created by Alberta Health Services.
Since its inception 15 years ago, it has been headquartered in Peace River School Division’s Central Operations office.
MacKenzie has a team of eight success coaches stationed at specific schools in Peace River and Grimshaw who implement the programming in classrooms.
Each success coach works in one school, except for Grimshaw Public School, which has two coaches. This allows for more hands-on support for students and one-on-one learning opportunities.
“Our success coaches come from many different walks of life such as social work, psychology, backgrounds in addiction, athletics and so much more,” said MacKenzie. “They all possess the same goal though and that is to support mental health in our area.”
Originally from the Calgary area, Mackenzie has a degree in child and youth care. Previously, she worked with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters as well as other mental health capacity programs.
After moving to Peace River six years ago, MacKenzie became a Project PEACE Success Coach. Later, she became their Program Manager.
Project PEACE focuses primarily on universal programming, which is any program that MacKenzie and her team can offer to a whole school or classroom. Their secondary focus is targeted programming, which is offered to smaller groups of students covering specific topics over 6-12 weeks.
“We also do a lot of resourcing and crisis management for students, families and teachers,” said MacKenzie.
Operating year-round, Project PEACE organizes summer programs in July and August when students are on summer holidays. It gives them the chance to keep mental health at the forefront outside of a school setting.
“Our summer programming is for anyone in Grimshaw or Peace River. It allows kids to get outdoors, socialize and focus on positive mental health,” said MacKenzie. “We highly suggest parents and students follow our Facebook and Instagram pages to stay up to date during the summer months.”
According to MacKenzie, the importance of this program hasn’t gone unnoticed, and she believes it’s crucial to educate students about mental health now more than ever.
“’Why isn’t it important?’ is the question. With the last couple years entrenched in the pandemic, anxiety has been noticeably higher in schools,” said MacKenzie. “This program allows someone to be on the ground to help those who are struggling with how to live in our new world, and that is extremely valuable.”
Aimed at being proactive, Project PEACE provides students and staff with resources, so they can access assistance and skills to navigate social and emotional issues before they fall into unhealthy patterns.
During the last school year, Project PEACE delivered 157 events and activities, 279 skill-building programs, and 4,364 skill-building sessions. Their summer programming had 1,865 attendees, and 106 people attended the program’s professional development sessions.
According to MacKenzie, student response to the program has been excellent.
“Students have learned they can connect with our team members. They know there is a safe person they can turn to in a time of need,” said MacKenzie. “Many students have flourished as a result.”
MacKenzie is looking forward to hosting mental wellness challenges with students and revamping the summer programming to meet the needs of more children and youth in the area.
“We are so proud of the support we have received from our local school divisions. They have really helped us promote the importance of this type of programming for our youth,” said MacKenzie. “We’re looking forward to helping as many individuals as we can.”
Project PEACE would like to hire a full-time success coach in Grimshaw until August 2023.
Potential candidates will be involved in delivering programming at the local school and in the community. They will have the opportunity to build strong relationships with children, youth and families.
For more information, or to apply, applicants are encouraged to contact MacKenzie directly at MackenzieS@prsd.ab.ca.