How Foundry Victoria is a game changer for coaches like Dave Saunders

Having worked as a hockey and fastball coach for 16 years, Dave Saunders has seen Island youth at their absolute strongest. He’s seen them grow as athletes, overcome physical challenges, and achieve their dreams. He’s been by their sides, witnessing these athletic youth experience new highs.

With this, he’s also seen them at their lowest.

By nature, Dave is the kind of person who wants to help others. He served as the Mayor of Colwood between 2008 and 2011, he co-founded the Comfy Kids program in 2013 to support families travelling to Vancouver for health care, and his family started the Saunders Family Foundation in 2010, which raises funds and supports several individuals and community organizations.

But before Foundry Victoria’s official opening, Dave wasn’t equipped to help the athletes who approached him with their mental health challenges. In that realm, he felt unprepared.

Coaching struggles before the opening of Foundry Victoria

According to Dave, coaches play a special role in kids’ lives, and the coach-athlete relationship is often different from the connection a kid or youth has with their family. Because of Dave’s approach to coaching, he was often his athletes’ trusted role model and mentor.

As such, those kids opened up to him in ways they wouldn’t open up to their families. But Dave wasn’t sure how to best support his young athletes who showed signs of mental health struggles.

“Players confide in their coaches if they have that bond with them. I was about fun and teaching them respect. It wasn’t just sports — it was mentoring, so I had a lot of kids come to me,” says Dave. “The kids would tell me things they wouldn’t tell their parents. They’d tell me not to tell their parents, so that puts a coach in a very difficult situation.”

Dave had youth confide in him, telling him they didn’t want to play their sport any longer. He had kids open up to him and say they were thinking of hurting themselves. He witnessed youth try to harm themselves while out on the ice. And there were kids that he just knew were struggling, simply because of the time he’d spent with them and that connection they’d forged.

“For coaches, there are really no tools in your tool box to deal with that… We’re not taught how to deal with mental health issues,” says Dave.

For Dave to best help his youth, he had to get the parents involved, which meant sometimes breaking the trust of those who had asked to keep their struggles quiet. But Dave, who knew help was needed and thought only of the youth’s well-being, had no other option.

Providing coaches with more tools

The opening of Foundry Victoria was a game changer. Now, Dave feels like he is able to offer guidance and support that can make a positive difference, both for youth and their families.

“For the first time, it gave me some tools in my tool box to be able to say to a parent that there’s a place to go. I was able to use it. To be able to call Foundry Victoria and have them set up a meeting — even just a phone call when the parents are distraught. To be able to say that Foundry Victoria is available is absolutely huge.”

Dave knows that Foundry Victoria will support Island youth and provide the services they need, when they need them most. When youth and their families are feeling helpless, Dave found that just sharing Foundry Victoria’s phone number offers hope.

Now, he knows exactly how he can help the youth or parents who come to him.

Supporting the work of Foundry Victoria

Dave recognizes that the work is far from over. Much still needs to be done to support youth mental health.

“I don’t think there’s a family, big or small, that hasn’t been affected by mental health issues,” says Dave.

Mental health challenges touch us all, and Dave knows that ongoing support is needed so Island youth and their families can continue to receive the essential health care provided by facilities like Foundry Victoria. While no longer coaching, Dave continues to give back to Island youth today. The non-profit that Dave and his family founded, Saunders Family Foundation, donated a generous gift in support of Foundry Victoria. And in the day to day, Dave continues to be a mentor.

“The first thing I say is, you’re not alone. There’s support. How can I help?”

Foundry Victoria is a space downtown Victoria for young people ages 12 to 24 who can receive a range of services including physical and mental health care, substance use supports, social services, and peer support.

To support youth and their families with mental health and substance use issues through Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, including places like Foundry Victoria, make a gift to the Innovation in Mental Health Fund today.

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