Project Lighthouse launched a new student peer support space called The Beacon on March 15, which serves as a confidential, non-judgmental and safe space for students to speak about any problems they are facing.
“The Beacon is all about peer support. It’s students helping other students,” said Sarah Crawford, the sexual violence prevention and harm reduction co-ordinator of Algonquin College.
“That could be talking to someone about mental health, sexual health, sexual violence, substance use or just getting connected to a service,” Crawford said.
Crawford said the purpose of The Beacon is to make students feel “connected” and have someone to talk to when they feel stressed out.
“We know some of our students might not want to go to counselling, or think it’s a little bit scary. That’s why we’ve created The Beacon. Talking to a student is less of a barrier,” she said.
So far, the majority of students who have accessed The Beacon have mostly been online. Crawford is hoping that changes as the year goes on.
“There’s not a ton of awareness about it. We’ve tried doing stuff, but without everyone being back on campus, it’s harder to promote,” Crawford said.
The idea of a student peer support space was discussed a few years ago, but with the rise of COVID-19, Crawford and her team weren’t able to reach the funding they had hoped for.
Student staff has been hired to help support this project. The three students that run the peer support space are Ana Vlajkov, Oniqua Kamaka and Melissa Marchand.
“They all receive training from myself and one of the counsellors. They’re trained on sexual health, sexual violence disclosures, substance use and harm reduction approach,” Crawford said.
“I think COVID really illustrated that there’s a lot of issues with mental health and being able to access resources. Our current counselling department is pretty overloaded with people trying to access mental health services,” said Ana Vlajkov, a student in the social services worker program.
“I think the peer support space is just a way to help alleviate that pressure and allow students who are going through similar situations to help other students,” Vlajkov added.
The Beacon peer support space is in room E346, located on the third floor of the Student Commons building. The room has a couch and TV to make students feel comfortable.
“We wanted to create a home-like environment for people to come in and have that nice connection,” Crawford said.
It is open on campus Monday to Thursday from 12 p.m. to 5. p.m. and open online Monday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Students can access The Beacon virtually via Microsoft Teams for face-to-face conversation, use the live chat feature for text-based chatting or text the peer support line at 613-703-8883.