For Founder Michelle Solomon, CONNECT started as a simple vision. This vision was for people experiencing mental illness to not feel shame or live in distress, but to be supported by one another, practice wellness, and flourish in society.
After experiencing mental illness in her teen years, Michelle found it essential to her own recovery to dispel the secrecy surrounding mental illness, speak out about it, and find support. It was this need for support that drove the inception of CONNECT.
At the beginning of her nursing education in the Fanshawe Western Collaborative program, Michelle decided to seek other students who faced similar challenges and share her experience with them. Very quickly, a community of students came forth and a brief support network was formed.
Seeing the need for peer support for young adults in London, Michelle continued with the momentum of creating an organization, putting up posters inviting people to meet for coffee, and sharing her idea to start an organization with others. Soon enough, there were weekly peer support meetings at coffee shops.
In 2007, individuals who shared the mission and vision of CONNECT joined together to create a not for profit organization.
This is where Michelle met Bereketab Tekle, who was the longest standing board member and facilitator of socials up until 2017. Bere created a great presence in the community and has been a huge advocate for CONNECT and peer support.
Over the ten years Michelle served as the founding and volunteer executive director for CONNECT, she worked with board members, the local community, research organizations, and several volunteers to develop, implement, and evaluate peer-support programs. Michelle enjoyed recruiting volunteers, volunteer management, and the creativity that came with program development and grew the organization to a capacity in excess of 60 volunteers.
CONNECT’s programs focused on providing support, education, and outreach to people affected by mental illness. Services included: Reel to Real-movie night and public education on mental disorders; facilitating recovery groups; facilitating weekly coffee socials, a public speaking outreach team; and implementing the peer support arm of The Transitional Discharge Model led by Dr. Cheryl Forchuk’s at London Health Sciences Centre.
This program matched CONNECT’s volunteers with patients being discharged from the hospital in order to support them during their recovery.
In 2014, CONNECT was awarded Champion of Mental Health by The Canadian Mental Health Association and St. Joseph Health Care London.
Michelle obtained her Master’s degree from Western University and has been recognized by Sigma Theta Tau and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario for her contributions to the nursing profession. As a Registered Nurse who is passionate about mental health, she continues her work in health promotion, focusing on community-based programs and research in order to advance evidence-based interventions.
She also teaches nursing students at Western University. Outside of health care, Michelle enjoys swimming, acting, singing, writing, and spending time with friends and family.
In 2017, Michelle stepped down from her role as executive director. Michelle is very excited for the future of CONNECT and the positive impact it continues to have in the community. When people join together for the same mission, to support one another in difficult times, lives are changed.
“Thank you to everybody who has been a part of CONNECT, who helped propel it forward, and who continue to do great work in our community for mental health! You are the heart of the organization. Continue to take care of yourself and others!”
Sincerely, with love
Michelle S. Solomon