The Comox Valley Community Foundation recently approved multi-year funding in the amount of $171,510 for the Walk With Me project at North Island College, which will see all students and faculty in North Island College’s Health and Human Services division, as well as college leadership, participate in the program to uncover the human dimensions of the toxic drug crisis and work towards eliminating the stigma of addiction.
The community-engaged research project, a collaboration between Comox Valley Art Gallery, Thompson Rivers University (Research Partner) and North Island College Health and Human Services Department (Community Partner), aims to pave a pathway towards long-term systemic change in relation to the institution’s approach to, and capacity to address, the toxic drug poisoning crisis.
Specifically, the project plans to answer the following questions:
1) How can NIC as an institute responsible for supporting a community of students, staff and faculty, better support people within its community impacted by the toxic drug poisoning crisis?
2) How can NIC better support the education of students who will work with people at the heart of the toxic drug crisis?
“Walk With Me was developed in response to a crisis that has blindsided governments and communities, large and small, across the country,” said Dr. Sharon Karsten, Walk with Me’s Project Coordinator. “In 2021, 35 lives were lost in the Comox Valley to toxic drug poisoning (2,224 in BC). This project brings together diverse stakeholders to re-frame what feels like an insurmountable crisis and imagine new ways forward.”
“Walk With Me has had a profound impact on students, faculty and college leadership thus far, and it is expected that more than 300 college community members will participate over the next year,” said Dr. Kathleen Haggith, NIC’s Dean, Health & Human Services. “I have been humbled by the emotional response and quality of conversations resulting from the walks, as well as the project’s power to intersect different communities.”
“What attracted us to this project was the opportunity to better equip students, especially those entering into careers having high levels of interaction with the toxic drug poisoning crisis (nursing, human services, trades), with education related to the crisis, including knowledge related to the harms enacted through the stigmatization of people who use drugs,” explained Christine Helpard, CVCF’s President. “The majority of the students will make the Comox Valley their permanent home, thus the impact will be felt community-wide.”
Funding for this project was made possible through Vancouver Foundation’s Robert and Florence Filberg Fund for Medical (Health) Research.
The Comox Valley Art Gallery’s/Thompson Rivers University’s Walk With Me (WWM) project is a research and systems/community change initiative designed to reduce harm, address stigma and resolve the toxic drug poisoning crisis. The Walk With Me team includes an Elder/Knowledge Keeper, people with lived and living experience of the toxic drug poisoning crisis, researchers, artists, and outreach workers. While hailing from distinct life journeys, they have come together in a spirit of solidarity, with the intent to facilitate transformative change.
The team conducts various forms of community engaged research; hosts ‘story walks’, in which groups of participants are guided on curated outdoor audio walking journeys through which they listen to stories of the drug poisoning crisis gifted to the project from people with lived experience, family members and front-line workers; and hosts facilitated talking circles. Participants in these initiatives deepen their understanding of the personal and systemic impact of the crisis and are supported in imagining pathways forward. For further information, please visit https://www.walkwithme.ca/.
North Island College’s mission, working together, NIC builds healthy and thriving communities, one student at a time, is founded on the college’s nearly 50-year history of providing in-person, online and in-community education and training for individual students and communities across Vancouver Island and the Central BC Coast. The college’s learning centre in Ucluelet, and campuses in Port Alberni, Campbell River, Port Hardy and the Comox Valley are located on the traditional and unceded territories of the combined 35 First Nations of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw and Coast Salish traditions. Together, they proudly serve more than 169,000 regional residents, as well as students from across BC and around the world.