When Seth Posluns was a teenager and so overwhelmed by his mental health issues that he had to drop out of school, he never dreamed that just three years later, he’d be living on his own, in the midst of obtaining a physics degree.
Posluns, 21, a second-year University of Guelph student, said he owes much of his success to the Youthdale Treatment Centres.
The Toronto-based, non-profit agency runs group homes – including a Jewish, kosher home – and a summer camp for children who suffer from serious mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and Asperger syndrome.
Posluns, who shared his testimony on Youthdale’s website, said his depression and anxiety stems from a serious car accident he survived with his mother when he was 4-1/2.
“I also had this sleeping disorder that was causing me to miss a lot of school,” he said in a telephone interview from Guelph, Ont.
“I had a rough time with my parents who really wanted to fix the problem but didn’t really know how.”
When his social worker suggested he consider moving into a Youthdale group home, he was skeptical.
“One of my fears going in was, ‘What is this place going to be like?’ It was so far outside of what I was used to.”
Posluns made the choice to join Youthdale in 2007, a decision he said was the best he ever made.
“It was scary to leave home and go into this environment with new kids… It was a radical shift and I wasn’t even sure it would work, because I didn’t even have a proper grasp on what my issues were,” he recalled.
But Posluns said he was very receptive to the staff – which includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and nurses – and he responded very well to the treatments.
In addition to living in a group home, Posluns said he also took advantage of Youthdale’s overnight summer camp, which is tailored to the needs of their residents.
Camp Magnetawan is a 1,000-acre camp about four hours north of Toronto that has a two-to-one camper-to-staff ratio.
Youthdale staffer Shirley Malanych, who has spent nearly every summer at the camp since it was founded in 1972, said children are able to experience things that boost their self-esteem and social skills.
In some ways, Camp Magnetawan is like any other overnight camp. Campers play sports, take part in drama classes, do arts and crafts, go on canoe trips and sit around campfires.
But this is a camp designed specifically to cater to children who need professional help with their mental health issues.
“The staff are professionals that are taking care of the kids and sleeping in the cabin at night… and giving them a lot of time and attention and support throughout the day,” Malanych said.
But it’s also about giving the kids an opportunity to let loose, have fun and create lasting memories.
“Whether they’re learning how to swim or going on a canoe trip – for people who attend camp that can be a magical experience that lasts a lifetime,” she said.
“For some of the kids who have lower self-esteem or family issues or problems, this certainly can help kids… interact with their peers.”
Posluns said that for some of his peers who may have been resistant to life in the group home, the camp helped them open up.
“When they got there, they couldn’t help but embrace where they are. For the most part, people opened up more and broadened their horizons,” he said.
“I got to have experiences I never would have had. I went on these canoe trips and camping trips, and these are really wonderful memories I have now that I wouldn’t get to have otherwise.”
Until last year, Camp Magnetawan was only open to Youthdale residents. Today, any children who feel like they could benefit from the program are welcomed.
“It’s a well-structured program. In terms of anyone who might have difficulties, but may not need to live in a residence… I think this might be a good place,” Malanych said.
Director of client service at Jewish Family & Child (JF&CS) Wendy Wolfman, who has had a relationship with Youthdale staff since 1996, said she was thrilled to learn that she could refer her clients to the camp.
“Because we already have this connection between Youthdale and [JF&CS’s] Jerome D. Diamond Adolescent Centre, it just made sense that Youthdale would call us and say, ‘What if we opened up our camp program to JF&CS kids?’”
Wolfman explained that JF&CS used to operate its own residential home but after suffering huge budget cuts in 1996, JF&CS was forced to close its doors.
“We asked [Youthdale] to open a Jewish, kosher treatment home. To this day, they continue to run that home,” she said, adding that while the children live at Youthdale’s Jewish Cultural Residence, they spend their days at the Diamond centre for treatment and education.
Wolfman said that Youthdale centres and the camp – which also provides kosher meals – is a “terrific” resource for the Jewish community and for children in general.
“This really is a camp that can support kids who have some behavioural, emotional issues, who would not be welcomed at other camps,” Wolfman said.
“Most camps just can’t [accommodate them] because they don’t have the resources or staffing. Magnetawan does.”
For more information about Youthdale, visit www.youthdale.ca.