Great Big Sea co-founder Séan McCann to bring message of hope to Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre benefit

McCann and wife Andrea Aragon, co-authors of new memoir on addiction, music and recovery, to headline Valentine's Day event for local substance abuse treatment centre
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Singer-songwriter Séan McCann with his wife Andrea Aragon will be featured during a virtual event on Valentine's Day to raise funds and awareness for the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, a non-profit agency that helps youth ages 13 to 21 overcome substance use and related issues. 
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If you’re looking for a cure to the lockdown blues, consider turning to music – one of the best remedies for coping with anxiety and isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.

The best part is, it’ll leave you humming rather than hungover the next day.

“I really believe music is the strongest medicine,” said singer-songwriter, mental health and recovery advocate Séan McCann, who, with his wife, Andrea Aragon, are headlining a virtual evening of song and storytelling this Sunday on Valentine’s Day in support of the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, a non-profit community-based agency that helps youth ages 13 to 21 overcome substance use and related issues. The couple live in Manotick, with their two sons, ages 12 and 15.

The treatment centre, the only one of its kind in Eastern Ontario, was founded almost 30 years ago by the late Dave Smith, a beloved philanthropist and entrepreneur who passed away at age 87 last September. He created the centre out of deep concern for teenagers struggling with serious substance abuse and mental health issues. 

The DSYTC team is committed to achieving Smith’s dream of building a new facility in west-end Ottawa to consolidate services under one roof and to address the wait list for available beds.

"Our conversations with the provincial government are going really well," said Cindy Manor, senior director of philanthropy.

McCann and Aragon said they "genuinely want to help" the folks at the treatment centre.

“We really think that they’re a very authentic group of people that are working hard and doing really strong, good work,” said McCann.

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The late Dave Smith, founder of the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, flanked by Cindy Manor, its senior director of philanthropy, and Mike Beauchesne, the centre's executive director, at a Dave Smith's Wild West Jamboree fundraising dinner held three years ago.

During the Feb. 14 event, McCann and Aragon are looking to send a message of hope, recognizing that teens have been disproportionately affected by the global pandemic, from school closures, cancelled extracurricular activities and fewer face-to-face interactions with their friends due to COVID restrictions on social gatherings.

“It’s going to be a fun, entertaining evening,” said McCann. “It’s going to raise awareness but it’s not a downer.”

McCann is not only a former band member of Great Big Sea but also an Order of Canada recipient for his advocacy of those living with mental health and addiction issues, and a recently published author. He and Aragon launched their One Good Reason: A Memoir of Addiction and Recovery, Music and Love just after the pandemic began. It made the Globe & Mail’s Canadian non-fiction best-seller list and has received positive reviews.

Tickets to the Valentine’s Day virtual event are $75 each. There are corporate tables available, along with sponsorship opportunities. One of the groups that has stepped up to support the cause is Proud to Be Me, a local group that helps empower and educate youth.

"Everyone is struggling right now and we can't run a lot of our programs due to COVID, so any way we can help and continue to support organizations that help youth in our community is important to us," said Jody McCombe, CEO of Proud to Be Me.

Ottawa real estate agent Kristine Johnson, from RE/MAX Absolute Realty/Kristine In the City, is also sponsoring the event.

McCann and Aragon will do a couple of readings from their book during the event. As well, McCann will perform songs from his solo career and from his earlier days with Great Big Sea, an 11-time Juno Award-nominated folk rock band from Newfoundland. He’ll also be taking questions. McCann, who started drinking and using drugs as a teen, has been living a life of sobriety for almost 10 years. 

“My messaging has changed,” he said of his music. “I used to be the ‘kitchen party’ brand and now my songs are more about recovery.”

McCann said he’s mastered the use of video conferencing platforms during the pandemic and has grown used to connecting with audiences through online formats.

“It’s not as easy as being face to face but we’ve been doing it for nearly a year now and I think we’ve finally figured it out,” said McCann. 

The event is using the video-web platform Remo, which simulates the experience of actually attending an event. Organizers will also be running an online auction.

"Doing nothing is not an option anymore. We’re going to talk about addiction and youth. We’re going to do something about it."

“We’re living in a virtual world and that’s the reality. Does that mean we stay home and do nothing? No. Doing nothing is not an option anymore. We’re going to talk about addiction and youth. We’re going to do something about it.”

It's going to take more than just mental health hashtags to tackle these issues, he added.

"It’s real work. I’ll be in that (DSYTC) facility sharing my story with those kids as soon as I’m allowed.” 

The couple are of the opinion that the pandemic will result in long-term harm to youth.

“The train has already left the station and it’s starting,” said Aragon. “It’s frightening the amount of people who are adversely affected by what is going on and how they’re coping, whether it’s with drugs or alcohol, or self-harm, or with bulimia or anorexia. The amount of hurt that the young people are going through is just now building speed.

“We know what these families are going through or will be going through. We just want to help.”

The Dave Smith Youth Treatment has remained open during the pandemic but is at half capacity due to COVID restrictions that limit the number of admitted youth. Its counsellors are doing outreach work to help the young people on the wait list.

— caroline@obj.ca