This article was originally published in the 2020 Fall Issue of Invest In Style Magazine.
“Our frosh week booth was different this year,” says Cam’s Kids co-team lead, Caitlin Morgan, a student at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa. “Normally we set up a place for students to come to learn about how to manage anxiety and meet a friendly face. This year, because of Covid-19, we greeted students online. It worked well, but it certainly lacked the peer-to-peer connection that we would normally have.”
That peer connection is the reason the Cam’s Kids Foundation came to be. Formed in 2015 by Linda and Gord Hicks of Uxbridge, it was created to help educate people about anxiety, but also to serve as a legacy for their son, Cameron Hicks. Cam was struck and killed by a car in 2014 when he was a 19-year-old first-year student at the University of Ottawa. While his death was not related to anxiety, in the years prior to his death, Cam was living with and learning to cope with the condition.
“Cam was a kind, loving young man who was bullied in high school and began experiencing anxiety at the age of 14,” says Gord. “When Cam was killed, Linda and I felt we wanted to do something not only to keep his memory alive but to help others. We had learned a great deal about managing anxiety in the five years prior to Cam’s death and hoped that knowledge could be useful for other young people and their families.”
Linda and Gord Hicks knew that simply building a website of resources wouldn’t be enough. Instead, they wanted to develop a cadre of caring individuals who would carry their message into schools.
Five years after its formation, Cam’s Kids has 450 ambassadors and 35 co-team leads in 24 colleges and universities across Canada.
Vanessa Morgan is the organization’s national co-ordinator. A former ambassador herself, she says that often students will learn about the foundation’s work and want to become an ambassador. The ambassadors are not trained counsellors but they have been trained in the safe TALK program and know how to recognize if someone is in need of professional help.
Ambassadors arrange outreach programs within their schools that can be anything from yoga classes to self-care chats. In addition, there are two national campaigns that occur annually at every school and are designed to create opportunities for interaction between Cam’s Kids ambassadors and students during periods of high stress. Through these interactions, students can learn more about Cam’s Kids and the tools and resources on the website that are available to help them manage stress and anxiety during challenging times. One such campaign is the Candy Cane Giveaway that happens during the first two weeks of December, a stressful time for many with exams and the holidays.
“We give out candy canes with a card that reads Happy Holidays on one side and offers encouraging words on the other, along with our website address and other anxiety resources,” says Vanessa. “I have literally been followed out of the school library or coffee shop by people telling me how much it meant to them.” In honour of Valentine’s Day – and to coincide with mid-term exam time – a collaboration with Mars Canada makes it possible to hand out thousands of chocolate hearts with the same messaging.
Outside of schools, Cam’s Kids organizes several fundraising events that build awareness about anxiety and the foundation, events such as an annual golf tournament and dinner, and a pond hockey tournament held each winter in Uxbridge.
In 2018, Cam’s Kids Foundation established a strategic partnership with Kids Help Phone. The foundation and its ambassadors promote the Kids Help Phone services amongst their peers. This service includes free professional counselling over the phone and via texting for those in need.
Back at Ontario Tech U, Caitlin says,” Students and faculty always want to learn more. I have heard it said that with our presence in schools, the work we do is making a difference and that we are changing minds.”
For more information on Cam’s Kids please visit www.camskids.com