Portage Atlantic added two more events to its series of Community Breakfasts over the past few months, hosting information sessions in Charlotte County, NB and Summerside, PEI.
The Charlotte County breakfast took place on April 12th at the Fairmont Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews with more than sixty people in attendance. Portage graduate, Eric Buckley, spoke of his own personal struggles in front of invited guests from the RCMP and the Departments of Health, Public Safety, and Education. Buckley described his life before Portage as a downward spiral of being expelled from school in Grade 10, living in a homeless shelter, and abusing intravenous drugs. Now, as a graduate of the Portage Program at Cassidy Lake, Buckley looks back at his turning point and how far he has come.
“Even though I hurt a lot of people and did things I’m not proud of, there were still people willing to help me” he said. Buckley now works at Cassidy Lake as a senior peer mentor and says that he has never been happier.
The Summerside Community Breakfast took place on April 29th with an engaged group of parents, school officials, and Public Safety & Health representatives from the region. Portage Atlantic Director Geordie Gould was present, and spoke to the guests about the special dynamic at Cassidy Lake, where many staff members are graduates of the program and everyone is an important part of the therapeutic community.
At Portage, Gould explained, a hierarchy is developed among residents where those further along in the program help to guide newer members.
“The magic of Portage is that the residents become peer role models for the new people coming in, teaching them about what they have learned at Portage and how the program works,” he said. “That has a lot more impact coming from another 17-year-old than it does coming from me.”
Portage Atlantic graduate Stephanie Connell shared her story with the Summerside audience, describing the struggles and challenges she has faces and how Portage has helped her through.
“Before I went to Portage I was completely broken,” she said. “I lost my family – I lost everything.” After spending seven months in the Portage Program at Cassidy Lake, Stephanie is now at peace with herself. “Any time of day or night I can still call them. They’re always there for me,” said Connell. “I had nothing before I went to Portage and today I have contentment. It may not seem like a lot, but for someone who lived in total hopelessness and misery for years, to wake up happy is a big thing.”
The Charlotte County and Summerside breakfasts followed two other similar Portage Atlantic events in Edmundston and Bathurst in 2009. The next Portage Atlantic Community Breakfasts are currently being planned for September.
Geordie Gould, Director of Portage Cassidy Lake, Tambrie Hicks, Admissions Officer, and Eric Buckley, Portage graduate, at the Charlotte County Community Breakfast