Meighen Centre metamorphosis
Mount Allison’s Meighen Centre is at a crossroads.
Over the past 25 years, the Centre has built a national reputation for its work supporting students with learning disabilities.
But over the past decade, the University has seen the number of students with other disabilities, in particular mental health issues and disorders, grow exponentially.
Three years ago The Meighen Centre expanded its services to include students with all types of disabilities and saw the number of students it serves grow from 90 to 290 — nearly 13 per cent of the student population.
While students with learning disabilities still make up the largest group of students served by the Centre, 50 per cent of the registered students have a co-existing mental health issue or disorder.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of students who have co-existing and complex disorders,” says Anne Comfort (‘87), Mount Allison’s director of accessibility and student wellness.
“Students with disabilities bring a richness and diversity to our University community and they have a right to be provided with services that allow them to be successful.”
In order to better serve all students, The Meighen Centre is currently in the midst of a fund raising campaign to support several priorities including mental health education and awareness, support and accommodation, crisis response, and community partnerships and outreach.
The fund raising campaign got off to a strong start with assistance from The Windsor Foundation, whose $85,000 gift includes $30,000 for bursaries to support Meighen Centre students.
Mount Allison is also the first university in New Brunswick to become part of Pathway through Mental Health Care for Post secondary Settings, a project led by Dalhousie University’s Dr. Stan Kutcher, a noted expert in adolescent mental health. The project aims to develop an evidence-based mental health framework that will improve mental health literacy and on-campus mental health care.
“What we hope to do is literally transform the way that mental health understanding and interventions happen on campuses,” Kutcher says.
Medavie Health Foundation has committed more than $680,000 in funding toward the project, which includes five other post-secondary institutions in the Maritimes. The Mount Allison component is additionally supported by $50,000 in funding from the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation.
Comfort says it is exciting to see how the services The Meighen Centre provides are growing and changing and the impact that is having on students.
“We are striving to meet that vision of what we know disability services could be,” she says. “It is so gratifying to see the difference it makes for a student when they have the support they need to help them succeed, to see them walk out our doors confident in their own abilities and strengths.”
Nick Ritchie (‘06) credits The Meighen Centre, particularly its former director Jane Drover and current director Anne Comfort, with helping him get his degree. Now he’s giving back to the Centre with a $10,000 gift.
“The Meighen Centre, for me, was a great support,” says Ritchie. “They pushed and they challenged me.”
Ritchie’s gift follows an original endowment from his family’s foundation, The Robert and Tatiana Ritchie Foundation, which donated $127,880 in 2006 to support The Meighen Centre.
After graduating, Ritchie joined ShawCor, a company serving the oil and gas industry, and is now its commercial director for the Western hemisphere.
Ritchie says he has good friends from and fond memories of university, where he played on the basketball team and served on the academic judicial committee. By giving back, he says he’s able to continue a legacy that he benefited from as a student.
“I know that people made donations prior to when I went to university there, and that definitely had an effect on me,” he says. “I think you’ve got to recognize institutions or people that have given you the opportunity to be successful in life. Mount A is one of those for me.”
Paying it forward
Already involved in charitable initiatives in her own community, alumna Karen Radford ('89) stepped up to chair the new Meighen Centre fund raising campaign because she wants to give back to a community she recalls fondly and because she's keen to raise awareness about mental health issues.
"When you're talking about learning and mental health, it is something every single one of us comes up against in our lives," she says. "It will just make a stronger community, whether that be the Mount Allison community, the Canadian community, or the community around the world."
Originally from New Brunswick, Radford earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. Her career has taken her to senior leadership positions in major Canadian companies: she is currently chief transformation officer at Enbridge Inc. in Calgary. But she's always remembered her time at Mount A, where her mother also attended.
It's a university that's very accepting. Being in a small town in Atlantic Canada where people are kind and generous, you have the opportunity to learn to be yourself and express yourself in a way that allows you to really soar," she says.
"I want to make sure students get the same opportunity that I did, that safe environment to learn and grow and explore."