United Way giving translates into community healing

Editor’s note: On March 8, Western News will celebrate a handful of the hundreds of programs, organizations and people lending talents to the wider community – Outside the Gates, if you will. Through this special section, you’ll get a brief window into what this university, and its people, add to the London community. The following is a sneak preview of that special edition.

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Your story isn’t over yet;

That message on a simple plaque – intentionally continuing its thought via a semi-colon – is the first thing visitors see when they enter Rebecca Machado’s office at Daya Counselling Centre in downtown London. The plaque was a gift from a client who, before counselling, had contemplated suicide.

“She came to counselling, and made it through, and then gave me that sign so when others came to the office, they would see it, and know their story wasn’t over yet either,” Machado, BA’07, MEd’09, explained.

Machado “feels privileged to hear many stories” in her role as a registered psycho-therapist and Executive Director at Daya, which provides professional/therapeutic counselling to individuals, couples and families, including those accessing their services at subsidized rates thanks to support from United Way Elgin Middlesex.

“This is not haphazard counselling for the ‘have-nots,’” Machado said. “This is an excellent service equally available regardless of whether you can pay for it or whether you need some help with that.”

Western faculty, staff and students have played no small part in providing that help.

Of the more than $630,000 raised by Western for United Way’s 2017 campaign, approximately $164,000 went towards mental-health initiatives within the London community, including 3,000 subsidized sessions at Daya.

“Our United Way funding ensures the same quality service is equally available to those who would not be able to cover these bills for themselves, but who are every bit as entitled to it as those who can afford it,” Machado said. “Without the generosity of Western employees and others through the United Way or other mechanisms, this service couldn’t exist.”

Daya’s mission aligns well with the United Way’s aim to build strong and healthy communities.

“The idea it would be possible to have a healthy community while ignoring the wellbeing of individual members of that community is a fantasy,” Machado said.

Individuals such as ‘Jim,’ not his real name, a member of London’s homeless population who learned through street conversation that one of his children had been killed in a gang-related incident. A local shelter service, also supported by United Way, referred him to Daya.

“He had incredible grief, incredible loss, over pieces related to his son, and what had happened to his son, but also over things about his own life journey, and his fears and doubts about how that might have been part of his son’s story.”

Machado was present with Jim in his pain, without judgement or expectations.

“I don’t even know if I was aware how powerful that was for him until he came back about a year and a half later. He had connected with some addiction support services and had got off the substances he’d been involved in. And with social assistance, he had some dental work done. He was almost unrecognizable in the best possible way. He still grieved, and we continued to talk about family relationships, but he had rebuilt connections with some members of his family and was on a very different path because many people in this community made sure this (Daya) was here for him.

“The things that have happened in people’s lives when they come here are things we cannot change, but the possibility that a person could find the way to live with this being part of their story, and still have a sense of self to feel OK to look in the mirror, that’s the work we do in counselling.

Machado continued, “I know, to that plaque on the wall, stories are changed and there are human beings who are alive and well today because services were here when they needed them.”

Over the last 20 years, Western faculty staff, students and retirees have given more than $12 million to the United Way.

“I would really encourage people not to underestimate how much of a difference their contribution can make,” Machado said. “They may never have the privilege of hearing the stories I get to hear, in person, but those stories are being heard, and being changed because of their contribution—for us, to the tune of 3,000 sessions per year. That has a profound impact on our community.”

“We sit with people in what may be the darkest or hardest part of their lives, but the privilege is we get to hold a sense of light and possibility and hope for them, and eventually, hold it with them, and then celebrate as they take it out into their lives, and ideally, never look back.”

“They are certainly welcome to return should they need to,” she added, “but there’s something quite delightful about somebody saying, ‘thanks, I got it from here.’”