Youth mental health project takes $7,500 Oak Tree Project prize

GUELPH – The Integrated Youth Service Network (IYSN), led by the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo-Wellington-Dufferin and several community partners, has won the sixth instalment of the Oak Tree Project.

The victory comes with a $7,500 cash prize and a business plan developed by the IYSN project leads and a student team at the University of Guelph’s ICON program through the Community Engaged Scholarship Institute.

The project received the highest total when the scores from the panel of judges were combined with the online votes from community supporters.

The IYSN aims to support youth with comprehensive mental health support services.

According to the final student report, “During this pandemic, rates of mental illness among youth have increased with nearly two-thirds of Canadian youth reporting a negative impact on their mental health.

“The IYSN is working to transform spaces across Guelph and Wellington County to become a one stop shop for every type of service that is vital to the well-being of youth.

“However, the current system requires that youth reach out to adults when and if they need to connect with a service provider.

“As a solution to this, youth have identified a missing piece: a program delivered by youth for youth where peers ages 12 to 26 can support each other and direct them to the services they need.”

In September, four community charities were announced as the finalists amongst all applicants.

They worked with students in the ICON program over the fall semester and pitched final concepts to judges during a live virtual event in November.

ICON is a hands-on course for students of all levels and disciplines to work in teams to find solutions to real-world challenges.

The other three finalists were: Big Brothers Big Sisters Guelph, the Guelph Arts Council and the Guelph Black Heritage Society.

All three runners-up will receive a $2,500 cash donation from The Oak Tree Project and its partners.

“Congratulations to the students and charities for working through challenging circumstances to bring us such inspiring, provocative ideas,” said University of Guelph president Charlotte Yates.

“It is wonderful to watch what happens when people come together to solve real problems in our community.

“This is a terrific example of the University of Guelph and the Guelph-Wellington community working together and improving life for the people who live here.”

The Oak Tree Project was established in 2014 by The Mactaggart Hryn Family to empower Guelph/Wellington charities with funds and to tell stories about their impacts.

Offering a new approach to corporate social responsibility, The Oak Tree Project demonstrates how philanthropy is changing by engaging communities and strengthening local nonprofits.

The initiative has distributed more than $200,000 to local charities.

“Our sincere congratulations to all the finalists for their great work over the past few months, and to the Integrated Youth Support Network for taking the top prize,” said project co-founder Will Mactaggart.

“Six years ago, we had a vision to help charities meet their core needs by submitting an idea and engaging our community to generate support while we provided some funding for the winning organizations.

“Since 2014, it has been a gift for us to connect with dozens of great charities and hear literally thousands of stories about their amazing work.”

Mactaggart continued, “This year, we were honoured to partner with the Community Engaged Scholarship Institute at the University of Guelph.

“The terrific efforts of our student teams added a valuable layer of discussion and planning that benefited all charities.”

Mactaggart also thanked The Oak Tree Project’s leadership partners: The Guelph Community Foundation, Pearl Street Communications, The Letter M, Insignis Design and Ward 1 Studios.

Donations to support the project have been received from: the Beingessner family; the Mactaggart Hryn family; the Miles family; the Pollard family; the Wilson family; Bridgehouse Asset Managers;  CI Investments; Picton Mahoney Asset Management; Polar Securities Inc.; Rosmar Drywall; Trez Capital; and Vantage Asset Management.