Steffler Foundation already making big strides - April 5, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
After only a few months, the Seaforth-based Tanner Steffler Foundation is working towards improving the mental health and addiction services in Huron County.
Nineteen-year-old Tanner Steffler died after a drug overdose on June 6 last year and just a few months after his untimely death his parents, John and Heather, were working hard to create a foundation in his name.
The foundation first reached out to Huron County Council for funding last October, just over four months after Tanner’s untimely death. In just six months, the Stefflers, and a number of passionate volunteers dedicating their time to the cause, have built the foundation into one of the county’s most visible charities.
Numerous International Plowing Match (IPM) committee chairs chose the Tanner Steffler Foundation as their charity of choice, donating their share of the match proceeds to the newly-established foundation. The organization has also hosted mental wellness information nights and is bringing mental health awareness advocate Michael Landsberg to Blyth this May for a pair of events that have already proven extremely popular.
The foundation has also been the subject of a number of fundraisers. The Huron East Centennaires raised funds for the foundation on their special hockey night earlier this year and the Blyth Lions Club has dedicated its Blyth Festival Bonanza weekend breakfast proceeds to the charity this summer.
In seeking a donation from Huron County Council, the Stefflers said that their son desperately tried to seek help close to home, but couldn’t access it for a variety of reasons.
“In Huron County, access to mental health and addiction resources for youth are limited at best,” the foundation’s letter to the county read. “Throughout Tanner’s struggle with substance use disorder we know he tried desperately to access support that would help him overcome his illness. Tanner didn’t want to become an addict; he wanted treatment and he wanted to be well.”
The Stefflers went on to say that while the medical system couldn’t help Tanner, neither could the school or justice systems, leaving him without options.
After Tanner’s death, others reached out to John and Heather to share similar stories of struggle. They said that many of the stories shared a common theme, that the youth of Huron County need access to better services.
“Repeatedly, stories told of the lack of immediate access to services, short-term treatment centres with no follow-up care, youth being shuffled from one provider to another, long wait lists and doors being closed repeatedly,” the Stefflers said in correspondence with Huron County Council.
The goal of the foundation is to support youth between the ages of 12 and 24, as well as their families, with issues surrounding mental health and addiction through education, development of a web-based service for youth and, eventually, building and sustaining a youth mental health and addiction treatment and wellness centre.
According to the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto’s recent social return on investment analysis, there is a $34 return on every dollar spent for centres like the one the foundation wants to build in Huron County.
And although the dollar amount per individual could be measured in the millions, according to the foundation, John and Heather say that the return for families like theirs will be priceless.
At a November meeting of Huron County Council, John and Heather presented the foundation’s vision to council. While the local government went on to turn down funding, the foundation’s volunteers have persisted and continued their work.
John presented the foundation’s mission statement to councillors at their Nov. 15, 2017 meeting, saying it will be their goal to support Huron County youth and create a culture for youth in the area to help them combat mental health, addiction and wellness concerns.
“We will educate parents, caregivers, community members and politicians through advocacy and presentations within the municipalities of Huron County,” he said. “We will work with the separate and public boards of education so that appropriate mental health and addiction specialists are able to work within each school on a full-time basis to support student needs.”
Furthermore, John said that the foundation hopes to engage a youth council that will provide voice and direction to support the needs of the youth. Then, the foundation hopes to establish concrete resources for youth who feel they may need them.
“We will create a website and mobile application specific to our youth that will provide local resources, media releases, education by way of videos, podcasts, blogs and online chats with trained mental health specialists,” he said. “We will build and sustain an evidence-based youth addiction treatment and mental health resource and wellness facility in Huron County for our youth and their families.”
As for the status of programming in Huron County, John said that further to the fact that there are no treatment beds in the area, the nearest communities aren’t equipped to handle Huron County youth in need either.
There are fewer than 200 youth treatment beds available in Ontario, none of which are in Huron County, John said.
He said that one in five youth in Ontario will experience a mental health problem, but that five in six of those will not receive the treatment they need.
“Youth who seek help in Huron County are often sent to London, where they are put on long wait lists for services or turned away because it’s a postal code-driven service.”
John also cited further statistics that showed the need for further resources in Huron County. He said that 70 per cent of overdose deaths are related to prescription medication (not necessarily medication prescribed to the individual). Thirty per cent of deaths investigated by the Huron County OPP are related to overdoses and 25 per cent of those emergencies involve victims under the age of 20. In addition, four out of five 911 calls are related to mental health.
John said that because of Huron County’s spread-out population, compared to concentrated populations in city centres like Toronto, the county has to take care of its own children. It will never make financial sense for the province to install these services, so the county and individual citizens and businesses need to take the lead.
In addition to the two Michael Landsberg speaking engagements in Blyth on May 3, the foundation’s volunteers are also working on the inaugural Six-String Music Festival, set for July 21 in Seaforth.
For more information on the Tanner Steffler Foundation, visit online at tannerstefflerfoundation.com.