Meet Western Ambassadors Haley Hayhoe & Dale Vranckx
When Haley Hayhoe was first approached to be the Team Lead of the Cam’s Kids movement at Western University, she jumped at the opportunity.
After all, Cam’s Kids’ footprint at Western was relatively small at the time. With only a handful of team members on board, Haley among them as an Ambassador, how difficult could it be to manage that task?
But, a funny thing happened on the way to Cam’s Kids’ current hefty membership of close to 80 members – Hurricane Haley swept into her new role bound and determined to quickly grow the team.
“Western has such a large and diverse student body…I wanted to have different outlooks, people from different walks of life, on the team,” recalls Haley, a third-year Health Sciences student who was raised in Maple, north of Toronto.
“I reached out to friends; I posted on social media. The next thing I knew the team was like 30 people. That was great but I was thinking ‘I can’t do this by myself. I need help with this.’”
Enter Dale Vranckx, a native of Turkey Point on the north shore of Lake Erie.
Also a third-year Health Sciences student, he was approached by former National Ambassador Coordinator Vanessa and asked if he would like to take his experience to another level as a co-Team Lead with Haley. He quickly said yes and, shortly after, the tandem rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
“We both thought ‘How big can this get?’” says Dale of their joint team recruitment efforts, adding “It really just snowballed. We’re both overachievers with extensive networks.”
For her part, Haley was delighted her program classmate was fully on board.
“[Vanessa] reached out to me and said ‘I found this guy. I think he would be really great to work with. His name is Dale.’” I was like ‘Oh I know Dale…he’s a super nice guy.’”
“We had no idea [the team] was going to get as big as it did. We both had a lot of connections on campus. Just by reaching out and through word of mouth, the next thing you know we had this massive team.”
As they both look forward to their final year at Western come September 2022, Haley and Dale will return to their Cam’s Kids roots as Ambassadors, lending their support to a new Team Lead. But, well before that, they’re very hopeful Cam’s Kids will finally be ratified as an official Western student club after two earlier failed attempts - a source of ongoing frustration for them both.
“We were denied (club status) last year and then wrote an appeal with almost 50 responses from our team, but our appeal was denied,” says Haley, with Dale noting the need for more mental health support on campus is growing. Another club application is now being considered with an answer expected come the end of April.
Despite that setback and the added impediment of the pandemic over the past two years, Cam’s Kids has made its presence known at Western via online and social media initiatives. For both Haley and Dale, their involvement has been as beneficial for themselves as it has been for those they have helped.
“[Cam’s Kids] has been the most amazing experience in terms of my personal growth as a leader…it has given me way more than I’ve given it,” says Haley. “My empathy, my communication skills…every aspect of being a good leader has grown for me as a result.”
“The more we put into it, the more we get out of it,” adds Dale.
And, as has been the case for most Cam’s Kids team members, both Haley and Dale have personal experiences with anxiety that serve to make them more understanding of what those who reach out to them are dealing with.
“Coming to Western I was like small fish, big pond…I was the only girl from my high school who came to Western, so I had to start fresh with the whole making friends thing,” reflects Haley.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to get really good marks. My first year, I was so stressed. I missed out on a lot of the social part - making connections, making friends. That leads you down a path where you have a very stagnant life; a day-to-day schedule where you keep to yourself. I was a social butterfly in high school, so I completely did not feel like myself.”
Dale explains his initial university experience was also a struggle.
“I went to a school where, Kindergarten through Grade 8, there were 72 kids. Then I went to a school where there were 250 kids in my grade. Then, at Western, I had to go through the whole making friends thing again. My grades weren’t great the first year. That put a lot of pressure on me, plus I had other responsibilities piling up on me.”
Both have rebounded strongly to the point where they’re well-positioned to help other students.
“I let them know they are supported and that there are many people going through the same thing,” says Dale. “I tell them I’m part of an organization that focuses on anxiety, the stigma surrounding it, and create positive conversations where we can talk about it openly.”
“There’s such a raw honesty…it’s a safe place to talk about your struggles openly,” adds Haley. “Hearing that others are struggling normalizes the experience. It helps you cope better and become a more fully functioning person and not really get stuck in your own head.”
In the meantime, both continue to be inspired by the strength of the Hicks family.
“Hearing how Cam’s Kids started, my first sense was a lot of sadness,” admits Haley.
“But when I started thinking a little deeper about it, I was so inspired by their resilience…to have gone through such a tragedy and turn it into something that’s helping thousands of students across Canada. Cam’s Kids has helped so many to branch out, make friends and have better self-care strategies. That’s quite a legacy.”