Ride For Refuge names Ahenakew honorary chairperson

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald. Richard Ahenakew speaks during a press conference at Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse on Aug. 24, 2023.

There is more than a month to go until the Ride For Refuge kicks off, but the preparations are well underway.

The 2023 Ride For Refuge will take place on Saturday, Sept. 23 beginning at the 0 km mark of the Rotary Trail near the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse. Participants can walk 2.5 or 5 km, or bike a 10 km loop, or the entirety of the Rotary Trail.

Funds raised during the event will be contributed towards mental health services and programs provided by Catholic Family Services.

Richard Ahenakew, the general manager of the Northern Lights Casino has been named the honorary chairperson for the 2023 Ride for Refuge. He says it was an honor to receive the title.

“It’s such a humbling honor because I know the organization. I have met a lot of people that work there, and more importantly, I have known a lot of people that went there for help and have gotten help, that there are no other options out there. We talk about mental health stresses in our community and saying somebody should do something about it. Here’s a group that’s doing something about it.”

Ahenakew says he believes mental health support is crucial for the community.

“Even if we didn’t have the issues that we have, it’s still important. It’s still one of the things that people need to have access to. At the end of the day, sometimes all this doesn’t matter. Just talking to someone and someone listening to you. You don’t realize the health benefits that come with that, you know, and how much stronger it makes people. I just don’t know how the city could survive without it.”

Catholic Family Services offers counseling in various areas such as grief and loss, divorce and addictions. Louise Zurowski is the executive director of Catholic Family Services and she says the Ride For Refuge event is a good starting point to bring up the conversation around mental health.

“it’s so important because it creates awareness for mental health. And mental health is one of the areas that seems to get the least focused on. People will often say they can go out of there because of their own doing. Addiction is not something that you just come by easily.”

2023 will mark the second year that Catholic Family Services has hosted the Ride For Refuge event. Ride For Refuge is a Canada wide initiative that supports charities that “help people seeking hope, safety and freedom” according the organization’s website.

Zurowski says the funding will be used to help provide development for some of their existing staff and to make their services more accessible.

“One of the areas where we don’t have a lot of funding for is professional development. We have become a very recognized center to provide something called clinical supervision (it) is a very important piece for people who are working as therapists. Clinically, they need somebody else to do that. So that also costs money to have to pay our staff for professional development to be a trained clinical supervisor. Staff need ongoing resources to help them continue to help people. We use the funding to either to help to help pay for resources as well.”

“We have waitlists for just about everything. It’s hard to reach people sometimes. And that is one thing that we work on all the time is capacity to be able to reach the community. We’ve tried to go where there is homeless people and where there’s people that require the service but would never be able to pay for the service or pick up the phone and have an intake done. We’re trying to make the services more easily accessible for people through a lot of our services.”

Zurowski also emphasized that Catholic Family Services is available to anyone, regardless of religion or economic situation.

“People get confused when they hear the Catholic and this agency was founded by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert. We’re fortunate that we still get funding from the diocese. It’s really important for people to know that we have nothing to do with Catholic. We are a certified professional mental health agency. All of our counselors have master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy. If somebody wants some spiritual counseling, the council and staff are capable of providing that. But our agency is open to everyone, and you do not have to be Catholic to access our services.”

Registration is open at rideforrefuge.org