New cafe is run for and by patients

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By Kelly Spence

Celebrating the opening of The River Café at Brockville Mental health Centre.

After much anticipation, thanks to the generous community donations to the Royal Ottawa Foundation, the Brockville Mental Health Centre officially opened a café run for and by the patients just last month. The River Café was made possible for the benefit of the forensic treatment patients and staff at the Brockville Mental Health Centre.

The Café was a way for The Royal Ottawa Foundation and its donors to give back to the Brockville staff and their patients. It is funded entirely by those generous donors, and seeing the café open its doors is a proud moment for the Foundation because of the rewards it will give those at the Brockville Mental Health Centre.

“Initiatives like The River Café are very important to our donors because they see a direct and immediate reward to our patients and staff.  Vocational skills are being created as are social skills. This is a great project which we’re proud to support,” says Mitchell Bellman, President and CEO, Royal Ottawa Foundation.

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What makes The River Café unique is that it is operated entirely by patients who are part of the Vocational and Occupational Therapy Program. This café will provide patients in this program the opportunity for the development of competitive employment skills in preparation for community reintegration. By supporting the ongoing patient programming around vocational training, patients who work at the café will learn and develop important social and business skills.

“The River Café is a program that evolved based on a need expressed by patients and staff of BMHC,” says Brian Merkley, Director of Patient Care Services, Forensic Treatment Unit and one of the leads on the project. “We have collaborated with patients and staff to create a program with benefits that are three-fold: The River Café offers a positive space that promotes social integration in a casual setting; The River Café promotes a sense of empowerment among patients as they now have the opportunity to make their own food choices, and practice essential life skills such as money management; and finally, The River Café provides an opportunity for development and practice of vocational skills in preparation for competitive employment in the community.”

This project has been in development since 2016 and aims to provide a dedicated space that will allow both patients and staff the opportunity to socialize together in a more casual setting. Prior to the creation of the café, patients and staff had no space dedicated to socializing together. The River Café will be open from Monday to Friday for two hours a day during lunch, with an opportunity for increased growth as resources become available.

“We have collaborated with patients and staff to create a multi-faceted program that offers a positive space for socialization, promotes a sense of empowerment by offering the opportunity for choices and practice of life skills, and allows for development and practice of vocational skills to prepare patients for competitive employment in the community,” says Julie Basiliadis, O.T. Reg. (Ont.), another project lead.

“When I first heard about the River Café program I thought it was a good thing,” says Trevor, one of the patients at Brockville Mental Health Centre who will be working in The River Café. “When they handed the applications on the unit I applied right away, because I knew it would give me work experience and something to do while I am here. I liked the training we went through and I learned a lot. At first, I was nervous with doing it because I didn’t think I would be any good at it. But now I am comfortable with working in the café, with working with people. I really like it. This program helps me to focus on something thing constructive to do and it gives me something to look forward to. Maybe one day I will be able to get work in the community again. The café is an important part in helping me prepare for the community.”

The patients working at the café are behind the food provided at the café as they produce all food served there, which gives clients the opportunity to eat healthy, and is overseen by a dietician who helps patients with the creation of the café’s menu. Additionally, The River Café provides the forensic photography program a space to showcase their work, which hangs on the walls of the café.

The River Café – named by the patients – is located in a secure part of the Brockville Mental Health Centre and is for staff and patients’ use only – the café is not accessible by the public. During the launch however, staff and patients welcomed the public to the special café opening, including the hospital’s board of trustees.

Kelly Spence is a PR intern, the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.