Cornwall parade a driving force behind Mental Illness Awareness Week

Angele D’Alessio, mental health promoter for the Canadian Mental Health Association Champlain East and Ivan Labelle of the Centre de sante communautaire de l’Estrie were all smiles during the Mental Illness Awareness Week car parade, on Wednesday October 7, 2020 in Cornwall, Ont. Francis Racine/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Francis Racine / Francis Racine/Standard-Freeholder

COVID-19 mixed with sometimes heavy rain could not stop the first-ever Mental Illness Awareness Week car parade from travelling across Cornwall and sharing its important message. “We have a route that planned out,” said Angele D’Alessio, mental health promoter for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Champlain East. “We’re going to hit most mental health agencies in Cornwall, including Centre de l’Estrie, the mental health and addiction building on McConell, SDG counselling service and L’equipe Psycho-Sociale.”

Seventeen cars took part in the parade, along with about 40 participants — two per car, in order to respect social-distancing guidelines. Most of the cars were decorated with bright orange decorations. The convoy of cars were escorted by a police cruiser as well as a Cornwall fire truck.

“Rain or shine, people said they would be here and they are,” said D’Alessio. “If we would have had the opportunity to have more cars, we would have.  There was a lot of interest. This might end up becoming a yearly thing.” Wednesday marked the 17th-annual awareness walk for the Mental Illness Awareness Week.

“COVID isn’t going to stop us and rain isn’t going to stop us,” said D’Alessio. “This is an important cause to bring attention to.”

  • Mental Illness Awareness Week car parade
  • This well decorated Honda Civic was used to raise awareness to both mental health and breast cancer. Photo taken on Wednesday October 7, 2020 in Cornwall, Ont. Francis Racine/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network   Francis Racine /Francis Racine/Standard-Freeholder

  • Louise Clements’ well decorated van.

    Photo taken on Wednesday October 7, 2020 in Cornwall, Ont. Francis Racine/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network   Francis Racine /Francis Racine/Standard-Freeholder

  • There was even a Lamborghini during the parade, which was fittingly orange in color. Photo taken on Wednesday October 7, 2020 in Cornwall, Ont.

    Francis Racine/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network   Francis Racine /Francis Racine/Standard-Freeholder

  • The parade traveled through Cornwall, on Wednesday October 7, 2020 in Cornwall, Ont. Francis Racine/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network   Francis Racine /Francis Racine/Standard-Freeholder

  • A total of 17 cars took part in the parade, on Wednesday October 7, 2020 in Cornwall, Ont. Francis Racine/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network   Francis Racine /Francis Racine/Standard-Freeholder

One of the many participants was Louise Clements, who told the Standard-Freeholder taking part in the parade was important to her — and it showed.

Despite the pouring rain, a short tour around her van showed she had put quite the effort in decorating it. This included orange balloons on the roof, a large sign near the rear window as well as an even larger sign on the driver’s side of her vehicle. “I had to change the plan since it’s raining,” she said as she proudly walked around her van.

She said that although she was thankful for the fact mental health services are available not only in Cornwall but throughout Canada, it was a shame that many centres were temporarily closed due to COVID. “At least there’s online and phone services available,” said Clements. “It’s important for us to be able to get together like this. I think that being social is crucial as well.”

Several local organizations came together during the parade. These included the CMHA Champlain East, the Centre de Sante Communautaire de l’Estrie as well as the Friends of the Vets and even the Lahaie & Sullivan Funeral Homes, among others. Representing the Friends of the Vets was Steven Forrest and Denis Labbe, the latter being the first leader of the local group.

“Having good mental health is difficult for a lot of people during this pandemic,” Forrest said. “It’s important that people know that they aren’t alone right now. Mental health affects a lot of people. It doesn’t matter where you work or what kind of job you have.

You still can develop mental health troubles. “It’s to show that you’re not alone. It’s okay to feel bad at times, but sometimes you need a little more help.

We have to break the stigma.”

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Following the parade, the CMHA announced this year’s Hope and Resilience Award recipient — a resident identified simply as Kristen. According to D’Alessio, the woman demonstrated a willingness to take risks related to vulnerability. “In fact, she has embraced them and as a result achieved her personal goals and educated others by bravely sharing the experiences of her journey towards increased wellness,” she said. “In November of 2019, she presented her lived experience at the annual Community Homelessness Initiative Program conference hosted by CMHA and the City of Cornwall to an audience just shy of 200 people.”

Kristen is a member of the Buried in Treasures Workshop offered through CMHA’s Canadian Population Health Initiative program, having completed the 12-week workshop successfully on three occasions.

She is currently in the process of completing it a fourth time.

“Kristen’s meaningful contributions, willingness to lend a supportive ear and constant encouragement to her peers is invaluable,” said D’Alessio. “She is a natural leader who demonstrates immense compassion and understanding to those around her. She has not only established goals but she has accomplished them with determination and dedication.”

According to a release by the CMHA, Kristen acknowledged the continuous support of her husband Darren. She also noted her success would not have been possible without the supports of CMHA and specifically mentioned the supports received from Angee Bassett, Tammy Legros, Mark Snelgrove, Courtney King, Stacey Murphy and the Buried In Treasures Workshop.

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