Health Café celebrates second birthday

Health Café celebrates second birthday
Health Café coordinator Mary Carothers finds innovative ways to give health services and information to teens, like providing a hotline to which students can text message their questions on health and wellness.Photo: Meagan Wohlberg.

Fort Smith’s Health Café celebrated two years of delivering youth-centred health services and information to PWK’s high school students last Friday.

The entire student body was invited to share some birthday cake and celebrate the increasingly successful teen-oriented project, designed to provide support and answer tough questions for youth in a comfortable environment.

The centre, which provides teenagers access to health professionals right within the school four days a week, has seen an increase in usage since its inception in 2009 with 400 visits recorded during the 2010-2011 school year, up 50 from the year before. Statistics indicate three out of five students have been to the Health Café.

“We reach out to as many students as we can,” said program coordinator Mary Carothers. “We try to have it so that students don’t have to feel like they’re in a clinic, where they can just pop in, ask a question.”

Students can even ask questions about anything from sexual health to fitness via phone or text messaging through the Health Café hotline, developed to make communicating about issues easier.

“We’ve seen the texting service used very often,” said Carothers. “It’s a type of communication young people are using on a regular basis, so we wanted to make sure we were using a means of communication that they actually use.”

Recently, a mental health counsellor was added to the existing team, providing an added level of support for students.

“I think a big part of the progress is that when the Health Café opened it was predominantly a resource facility,” said Carothers. “We originally started with just a wellness worker once a week. Then halfway through the first year we brought on the public health nurse and nurse practitioner, and now we have a mental health counsellor.”

Last year’s statistics showed that 40 per cent of visits were to snag freebies, like snacks and condoms. Thirty per cent of visits were to ask a question or get some information from the resource library. The majority of visits were by students in the 15 to 16 year-old range.

Evaluations done at the end of last year showed that youth were very happy with the services provided by the Health Café and wanted even more to be offered, including more health events done at the school, both in and out of the classroom, and a larger presence in the community.

“We had feedback that said we really like having access to this at our school, this is really important for us,” said Carothers. “Young people really value the information and they want a place where they can find information that is trustworthy when they are trying to inform themselves.”

The Health Café is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons at PWK and can be reached at 621-CAFÉ (2233).

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