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Project 11 at Elmwood

Article and photos by Jared Story

Elmwood High School students learned the importance of lending an ear at the second annual Elmwood Health & Wellness Expo on May 4.

The all-day event was kicked off by keynote speaker Craig Heisinger, assistant general manager and director of hockey operations for the Winnipeg Jets, as well as senior vice-president of Truth North Sports and Entertainment and general manager of the Manitoba Moose.

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In addition to his hockey duties, Heisinger is part of Project 11, a True North Youth Foundation initiative that promotes mental wellness in Manitoba classrooms. Project 11 was created in memory of former Moose and Vancouver Canucks player Rick Rypien, who, having battled depression, took his own life in 2011 shortly after signing with the Jets. 

Heisinger spoke in detail about his relationship with Rypien, from first seeing “Ryp” play as a member of the Regina Pats, their ensuing friendship, his on- and off-ice character and finally, his struggle with mental illness.

“There were lots of days where my phone would vibrate at 2:30 in the morning and I knew who was calling,” Heisinger said. “But not once did I not take that call. We always answered, we always listened, we always took the time.”

“It takes courage to reach out, but it takes even more courage to be willing to listen. If someone has built up the courage to talk to you, don’t turn a blind eye. I know you’re scared of saying the wrong thing, but I can assure you, you can never say the wrong thing. Well, that’s not true. You can say one thing wrong, that you don’t have time. We all have time. We all have time to listen.”

Elmwood phys-ed teacher Nancy Baker organized the expo. She said Heisinger’s speech hit home with her.

“I struggle myself with my mental wellness, and I’ve had a number of students come to me about theirs,” Baker said. “Knowing that they have that trust in me is important. We have a lot of kids here that struggle with anxiety and depression, and they need that friend, that adult in their life, that they can make a connection with.”

After Heisinger’s speech, Elmwood students took part in a variety of breakout sessions, including hip hop dancing, mindfulness activities, and a healthy cooking presentation by Deer + Almond head chef Mandel Hitzer.

The Project 11 appearance was also a major event for WSD’s Healthy Minds Week, held April 30 to May 4 across WSD.

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