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Mental Wellness, A Yard at a Time

Okanagan Mental Health Services Society executive director Larry Vandergrift works on one of the lawnmowers used by clients participating in the Yard by Yard Therapeutic Work Program.
September 04, 2017 - 12:00 AM

     It can be a short journey, or a long one; either way the Okanagan Mental Health Services Society (OMHSS) in Kelowna plays an integral part in supporting those needing some acceptance and assistance.

     Larry Vandergrift, executive director of OMHSS, describes the non-profit society as one that understands the many challenges people with mental illness face; two of the most difficult being finding a safe, temporary living environment, and maintaining employment in a society that still often has misgivings or misconceptions of mental illness.

     “We provide a very safe environment for people to get started, and we have a lot of success stories of people who have moved on and are doing well for themselves,” said Vandergrift.

     OMHSS, operated by about 40 staff, consists of three programs. The Assisted Living Program offers residents a safe home environment with daily support from staff who provide life skills training to help individuals attain independence. The Coral Residence Program is a little different in that it consists of a 10-bed, 24 hour shorter term care rehabilitation home where individuals who have just been released from hospital, are experiencing crisis and are in need of extra support can come.

     The Therapeutic Work Program (TWP), operates two enterprising not for profit businesses, Yard By Yard and Room By Room which Vandergrift describes as on-the-job training for people from 19 to 64 years.  It gives clients a hands-on approach to learning necessary job skills, while receiving support from supervisors who understand the difficulty of dealing with mental health issues.

     Yard By Yard offers yard care, tree services, snow removal and fire wood sales. Room by Room offers janitorial services in strata, rental, residential and commercial buildings. These programs are all individually based and as such the client has an opportunity to drive their own learning in a direction that best suits them. These clients and their support workers are available for hire. “We’re running this like a business, so there’s an expectation that goes along with that,” said Vandergrift.

     But the Therapeutic Work Program is more than a job training program, explained Vandergrift. He said it is also often the only social and emotional support their clients receive. It offers a sense of purpose and normalcy. The training length varies for each individual. Once valuable skills are gained, clients are offered the opportunity to utilize the Vocational Planning Services that provides job coaching to gain employment.

     All of the residential and training programs receive funding by the Interior Health Authority and BC Housing Authority, but Vandergrift explained that funding needs to be augmented by other efforts; one of these being the upcoming auction.

     The event will again be held at Third Space Coffee in Kelowna, a non-profit coffee house September 27 at 7 p.m. Colette Wagner of Bridging to Goodness, a non-profit organization that promotes random acts of kindness and support of those less fortunate, has spearheaded this event for the second year. The fun evening will offer dozens of items up for bid that have been generously donated by local businesses; many of whom donated last year as well. The auction will be run by Michael Odenbach of Western Star Auction, an auction house based in West Kelowna. Money raised will go toward the purchase of lawn and janitorial equipment for the Yard by Yard program. Click here for tickets

To find out more about OMHSS, the auction and how to be referred to any of the OMHSS programs, visit their website at

Sponsored By   Yard by Yard




News from © iNFOnews, 2017

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