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Let's keep talking

They're still tallying the results, but it looks like another banner year for École Robert H. Smith School's annual community fundraising breakfast.

As in past years, Grade 6 students researched different local charities as potential beneficiaries to the event. This year, students voted and selected Project 11, a mental health initiative started by the Winnipeg Jets' True North Foundation.

Community members, local businesses, and organizations such as the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba came out to support the cause and encourage positive conversations about mental health.

"This was a charity that tugged at the hearts of a lot of people, because it's drawing attention to mental health awareness for youth," said Principal Tom Rossi. "This is all about raising awareness and coming out of silence. We talk about the early years being a foundation of learning…I believe it can be the foundation for mental health awareness as well."

Project 11 is a cross-curricular prevention program targeting Manitoba's English Language Arts and Physical Education/Health Education outcomes. Weekly lessons and daily activities have been designed to help support students and teachers with mental wellness practices. The program's lessons and videos provide mindful strategies for students to learn positive coping skills and build a greater sense of self-awareness.

Focused on students in Grades 5-8, organizers hope to create more awareness and conversations about mental health.

"It's helping kids to realize that they have to open up about their depression and anxiety. They can't keep it to themselves forever," said one Robert H. Smith student.

"I think it's great that Project 11 is helping kids to cope with anxiety and depression," added another student.

Robert H Smith Project 11.jpg

Project 11 was started in honour of the late Rick Rypien, who played with the Manitoba Moose and the Vancouver Canucks. Rypien was signed to play for the Winnipeg Jets leading up to their first season back in the city (2011-2012). However, Rypien, who struggled with clinical depression, took his own life prior to the start of the season.

Among the hundreds of community members who visited the school on March 3 for the fundraiser was Craig Heisinger, the Winnipeg Jets Assistant General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations. Mr. Heisinger became friends with Rick Rypien while both were part of the Manitoba Moose organization, and was one of those whom the player would reach out to when he was troubled.

"To walk into this event today…I'm not sure the word 'overwhelming' is strong enough," he said. "It hits close to home and makes you emotional, because this has Ryp's name on it. This is the kind of thing he wanted to do…for him to be here today, it's hard to put into words what that would have meant to him."

Perhaps equally important to fundraising totals were the many conversations the event generated about mental health amongst students and adults alike.

"Rypper would be proud, because people are here talking about it," Mr. Heisinger said.

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