When Port Perry resident, Brett Harrison, became an Ambassador in the fall of 2018, Cam’s Kids wasn’t recognized as an official University club at Ontario Tech University. Still, that didn’t deter Brett and his fellow Ambassadors from spreading word of the Foundation’s core mission of helping young people deal with anxiety.
“We had to be very careful about what we were doing,” recalls Brett, now entering the final year of his Criminology and Justice program.
“In our second year we got ratified as a club and that made a huge difference. We were able to have a booth at events. On the first day of school last fall, the president of the University came up to our booth and chatted with us for about 20 minutes about Cam’s Kids.”
Since Cam’s Kids became approved as a club at OTU, Brett has played a major role in terms of increasing its presence. Thinking back to when he approached Cam’s Kids previous OTU lead Hailey Stroud about getting involved, he says it wasn’t a question to join the Foundation.
“I had heard about some of the good things Cam’s Kids was doing before I got involved in terms of raising money and awareness of anxiety and mental health among youths…I was really impressed by that,” he says.
“But when I became involved, what really impressed me was the support amongst the Ambassadors. As an outsider, you see all the great things they’re doing for others at the University and in the North Durham community. Once you’re in the organization you really start to see how much support is given to one another…the sharing of stories and experiences and how kind-hearted everyone is and listens.”
When it comes to anxiety, Brett has walked the walk. Over the course of six weeks leading up to open-heart surgery in February 2019, he found himself “walking around with an aneurysm that could explode if I got rear-ended in an accident,” forcing him to ‘live in a little bubble’. Ultimately his surgery went well but the lessons learned from dealing with that stress have stayed with him. That, he says, has better equipped him to help others.
“Anybody can say they’re a really strong person but everyone gets anxious. At events I can tell others this is what you’ve got to do; that this is a great resource and that these are good tips. Talk about your anxiety. Don’t hide it. Don’t be afraid to put your life on pause. I’m a go-go-go person. I have to catch myself all the time and say ‘OK Brett, slow down a little bit before you burn out.’”
Like Cam’s Kids teams across the country, the OTU group has faced the formidable challenge of growing its presence in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. For Brett, that has presented the opportunity to co-host Workout Wednesday with his friend and Trent University Ambassador Joshua Kelly. Meanwhile, an increased presence on social media has resulted in new team members coming on board this summer.
“The number one way to keep it going is by having Ambassadors, as well as people who aren’t directly involved, sharing Cam’s Kids stuff,” says Brett, adding “If Cam’s Kids posts anxiety tips, every Ambassador should be sharing that and hopefully a lot of the general public will as well.”
As is the case with virtually every Ambassador, Brett is well aware of the Hicks family’s journey.
“I know they miss Cam every day, but thankfully they’ve been strong when faced with adversity and resilient enough to find a positive light.”
Brett notes his involvement has made him “a lot more compassionate. If I had never worked with Cam’s Kids, I might not be so open and aware with regards to mental health and anxiety. It has reduced the stigma in my eyes. Wherever I end up (after graduation next spring), I intend to bring Cam’s Kids with me and share the resources it provides.”
For the time being, Brett is rolling up his sleeves and helping plan new ways Cam’s Kids can increase its campus and community presence. That’s not easy, for sure, but then neither was walking on tender hooks while waiting for lifesaving surgery. Rest assured he’s got this.
*Written by: Paul Rellinger