The 9th Annual Kaleidoscope of Hope Soirée may have been called A Night In Armour but it was the perfect occasion for letting your guard down as hundreds of partygoers of all ages came together to address youth mental health.
The evening was not only incredibly inspiring but it also raised funds for the Youth Services Bureau, Say No For Nick and Project Step. To date, the gala has distributed more than $800,000 to its beneficiaries.
The fundraiser is a labour of love for Sharon Bosley House, owner of Avant-Garde Designs, and her husband, Tony House.
In coming up with this year's theme, Bosley House found her inspiration in the protective shield as a symbol for battling adversity.
Organizers turned the ballroom into a medieval-style great hall. There was a fake fire-breathing dragon, castle wall backdrop and long wooden tables adorned with candles and fruit baskets. Guests were served by knights in shining armour and fair maidens. Food was also wheeled around in old wheelbarrows and carts. There were a variety of games, including a Games of Thrones-inspired beanbag toss.
The venue was full of jewel-toned colours that were created through a mix of ambient lighting and warm and inviting furniture from LouLou Furniture Rental.
It takes a year for Bosley House, who specializes in elegant décor for private and corporate events, to conceptualize, plan and then execute the soirée, assisted by a volunteer committee. Boy, does the effort show. It’s hard to imagine how they could possibly one-up themselves for next year’s 10-year anniversary (maybe they will find an actual dragon).
Entrepreneur Steve Cody, co-founder and CEO of online person-to-person rental marketplace Ruckify, is part of the committee but his return flight to Ottawa meant that he was delayed getting home and couldn't attend. He co-founded Say No For Nick to help prevent opioid and fentanyl use by youth.
Along with positive energy and superb décor, Kaleidoscope of Hope has always been special because of the involvement of youth. Young performers from Capital City Dance captivated their audience with their wonderfully choreographed number. As well, a large number of kids volunteered throughout the night. They enthusiastically greeted guests and later made their own splashy entrance into the ballroom, waving their shields in the air.
“It must be nice to have that kind of energy on a Friday night,” quipped Patricia Boal, who emceed with her CTV News Ottawa colleague, Graham Richardson. They did their usual top-notch job as hosts. They touched on the issues of smartphone addiction and the effects of heavy social media usage on teenagers’ anxiety, depression, sleep patterns, eating habits and increased suicide risk.
Richardson, like most folks older than 30, grew up in a household where you had to fight with your siblings over use of the landline phone. It's hard to imagine, he said, what it'd be like to be a teenager with 24-hour online access to one’s social circle.
Richard Gray, regional vice-president with Bell Media was there, as was Michael Curran, publisher of Ottawa Business Journal, which was also a sponsor.
Returning guests included Cody's well-known business partner, Bruce Linton, and his wife, Heather, as well as Gowling LLP partner Lorraine Mastersmith and her husband, Shaun McEwan. New faces included You.i TV co-founder and CEO Jason Flick and Paramount Properties vice-president Stuart Ages.
It was such a happy crowd, with people dancing, eating, drinking and socializing. Yet, everyone settled down to quietly listen to the evening’s guest speakers address heavier topics relating to youth mental health.
There was a special shout out to Ottawa city councillor Allan Hubley and his wife, Wendy, who have been helping to raise awareness for the cause after tragically losing their son Jamie, 15, to suicide in October 2011. The emcees also recognized the presence of other parents who struggle with such loss, along with ongoing issues of teen depression and alcohol and drug abuse. They reminded the families that they're not alone.
The crowd heard from Terri Storey, founder and CEO of Snapclarity, as well as Marlene Wolinsky, who worked many years in education. Her story took a tragic turn when she told everyone how a young member of her family took his own life. Her sister's grandson, Jonas Horowitz, of North York, was only 16 when he died May 19, 2018.
“Unfortunately, I know first-hand how much it hurts to lose a family member,” said Wolinsky. “I understand the pain and the sadness of losing someone with so much potential.
“He was so smart, so funny, and had a lifetime of living ahead of him. His loss has deeply affected all of our family members.”
According to Children’s Mental Health Ontario, as many as one in five children and youth in the province experience some sort of mental health problems. Most of them don’t get the treatment they need. Half of Ontario parents who have sought help for their kids said they faced challenges in getting the services they need, with the primary reason being long wait times.
Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world.
Fear of what others might think is what’s holding most kids back from getting help, Wolinsky opined. “I strongly believe the stigma that surrounds mental illness contributed to Jonas’ death. There’s still a code of silence that exists among students and it often prevents both the school and the family from intervening when they need to, in a timely way.”
She offered up solid advice to adults, such as encouraging young people to build healthy and real-life relationships with family and friends, to make a concerted effort to communicate and be a good, non-judgmental listener, and to help youth develop into compassionate, confident and empathic adults.
Adults can also assist children in building resilience “by helping them work through challenges, by helping to set realistic goals and by allowing them to fail at a task in order for them to succeed in life”.
It’s normal for teenagers to be moody. But, Wolinsky added, “be aware if it becomes more frequent, more intense, more persistent over long periods of time, and if they interfere or have a negative impact on their daily life.
“Most importantly, be proactive. Be the missing voice in a courageous conversation. Give your child a safe place to share their worries and their concerns.”
Guest speaker Riann Kempt shared her story of developing depression and anxiety after becoming a victim of cyberbullying, beginning around age 11. Much of her emotional pain was caused by vicious comments that her so-called friends had posted about her on social media.
“Social media can be a place for others to critique your body, your lifestyle, who your friends are and how many you have,” said Kempt. “Even worse, you compare yourself to their highlight reels on their social medias.”
Kempt said she's made social media a more positive experience by limiting her use, removing toxic people from her account, adding those individuals who inspire her, and by brightening up a bad day with a 30-second dance party.
“We must listen to no one else’s voice but our own, and we had better make it a nice one.”