Hillary Benoit’s voice lowers as she recalls a particularly painful time from her past.
“I lost my mom when I was 11 years old…that caused a lot of anxiety and depressive episodes for me,” recalls the Cape Breton native who, now 21, is in her final year at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
“Moving away from home (to attend university) was also a big deal for me. When you lose a parent at such a young age, you become extremely close to your family, so it makes it very difficult to leave them. If I had someone that I would have been able to talk to that understood what I was going through and walked me through that, it would have been helpful.”
As a Cam’s Kids Ambassador, and vice-president of the Cam’s Kids club started at St. Francis Xavier in early 2017, Hillary has been, and is, that “someone” for students dealing with stress-related anxiety. Her efforts speak to the core message at the heart of Cams Kids.
“I know that those who are dealing with anxiety feel like they’re the only person going through that but, I promise them they are not alone,” says Hillary.
“Any one of the ambassadors, if you message them, is 100 per cent willing to talk. You need to reach out to someone you trust. Talking about it (anxiety and stress) is not fun. No one likes to talk about it but it’s so much better when you do. It feels like a weight is lifted off your shoulders.”
Hillary first became aware of Cam’s Kids when a friend became a team lead at St. Francis Xavier. Familiarizing herself with Cam’s story and the foundation’s mission, she fully dove in, helping where she could. When the vice-president role presented itself, she eagerly put her name forward.
“It’s the small things that make a huge difference in someone’s life,” says Hillary, referencing the Candy Cane Campaign as a great example of that.
“When people are studying for exams, it can be an extremely stressful time, so we go around giving out candy canes to students. It might sound silly but when you’re in the midst of a really stressful time, someone showing that they care is extremely valuable to that person. It’s all about a community of everyone supporting each other and just being kind. We also handed out chocolates around Valentine’s Day. It’s something so small to do but it brings a smile to everyone’s face.”
Although far removed geographically from the Ontario-based pulse of Cam’s Kids, Hillary feels close to the Hicks family and its determination to turn their tragic loss into a Canada-wide movement that benefits countless young people struggling with anxiety.
“Maybe down here we do small things to brighten everyone’s day but we get to help so many people,” she says, adding “Just to know that maybe I helped one person is more than enough reward."
“I’m hoping to go to grad school, either in Halifax or in Ontario. I would love to be involved in Cam’s Kids at the school I choose to go to or to potentially start a club at the school I go to. Every school should have the opportunity to have a club that’s devoted towards helping with anxiety and brightening people’s days.”