Sometimes an idea is so worthwhile it takes off instantly.
That’s exactly how events have fallen for a pair of firefighters and advocates of mental health. Chad Guenter and Gregg Schaalje started a fundraising idea called ‘Project All In’ a mere three months ago and it has seen growth like nothing they could have imagined.
Project All In is all about mental health advocacy for all first responders, explains Schaalje, about having those tough conversations around mental health care. Schaalje and Guenter grew frustrated with the number of first responder deaths due to suicide, he explained. It was starting to look like suicides were outpacing desk duty and they wanted to tackle that issue.
Project All In is a fundraiser for first responders who can buy these special coins that are intended to help raise the conversation around mental health needs.
It’s grown so much and so quickly that the pair had originally planned for 250 coins for the Canmore and Rocky View fire departments, but are now seeing over 3,400 coins spoken for with more on the way. Schaalje says the coins are already set to land in four countries and that 70-plus agencies, including the Town of Ponoka, are supporting it.
The coins are a reminder.
“You’re taking the baton from somebody that’s not thinking clearly,” said Schaalje.
The role of the first responder is to care for someone in need, he added, but it seems that sometimes those first responders are the ones left behind when they’re the ones in need. Project All In wants to fix that.
A portion of the proceeds from this project are going to Sheepdog Lodge in Cochrane, which is a project aimed at supporting combat veterans and first responders. The lodge is a cabin retreat providing a chance for first responders to reconnect and recuperate.
“We’re trying to raise awareness for the treatment end,” offered Schaalje, adding that coins sold in British Columbia or Saskatchewan will have money go to that province.
While he feels it’s unfortunate there is such a great need for this type of support, Schaalje is also excited by the solidarity. The idea of mental health supports is hitting such a nerve with folks that the pair have been asked to talk around Canada.
The pair advocate learning yoga, meditation and opening up the conversation around mental health needs. Schaalje calls these tools mind-strengthening. “That’s all part of us trying to break from the stigma.”
What’s next for the pair? To reach as many people as possible while also managing these next few months considering how quickly everything has moved.
Schaalje added his thanks to Ponoka CAO Albert Flootman for offering his support. “The Town of Ponoka has been amazing from the onset,” he said.
For those who wish to reach Project All In, the website: projectallin.ca has a contact form and the pair can also be reached on many social media channels.