Portrait photo of Kennedy Ordano smiling at the camera with a forest background

Making mental health a priority

January 4, 2022

Wellness Peer Kennedy Ordano shares her story

Third-year Bachelor of Science student Kennedy Ordano says maintaining your mental health is the most important thing you can do for yourself.

“It’s the foundation of everything else that goes on in your life,” she says. “Taking care of yourself first isn’t selfish, it’s necessary to be able to help others. If your cup is full, you can pour out of it; you can’t if it’s empty.”

Kennedy, who grew up in Campbell River, began taking note of how important positive mental health is when she moved to Nanaimo to start the Forest Resources Technology program. 

“My teachers had a major emphasis on it because the course load is heavy. We had regular class check-ins where we would go around the room and people would share what’s going on with them lately and any concerns they had.”

Kennedy decided to stay on at VIU and finish a degree once she completed the diploma program, and this year she’s volunteering as a Wellness Peer, a new program at VIU. Wellness Peers are students who are trained to listen and support other students, and they have their own space next to the third-floor library commons. Students can visit them on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays starting in mid-January. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, St. John Ambulance therapy dogs join the peers.

The Wellness Peer area incudes hot chocolate, colouring books, fidget toys and comfy chairs to study in. There are two Wellness Peers on shift at a time to listen and chat, and all are familiar with the various resources a student might want to access – but only if students ask for help with finding supports.  

“You don’t need to seek support while you’re here – you can just come hang out,” says Kennedy. “One of my favourite parts is when you see someone come back again and again so you can really start to get to know them. You know they have a mid-term coming up and then the next week you can ask them how it went. I really like that continuity.”

Here’s more about the Wellness Peer program, and why Kennedy is enjoying it so much.

How did you get involved with the Wellness Peers?

I got involved after reading about its launch through VIU’s social media. I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of the program because after having so many fantastic teachers act as mental health advocates for myself and my peers, I wanted to be able to offer the same support to students in other programs. 

What can people expect when they come visit?

Anyone who drops by can expect to be welcomed with hot chocolate and comfy chairs. They can also expect to be met exactly where they are at that day, whether that means discussing what’s bothering them, being referred to other services at VIU or just sitting and relaxing with us. 

What is the most rewarding aspect about working as a Wellness Peer and why?

When somebody looks like they need a break and they come over and say “Hi” to us and get a hot chocolate, then they look better when they leave. It feels good seeing someone else get that because I know that I would benefit from it too if I was in the same situation.

What do students hoping to become Wellness Peers themselves need to know?

They should know that they are going to get just as much out of it as they are putting into it. You get to know the other Wellness Peers so while you’re supporting students, you have this whole team there to support you if you need it. We do a lot of training on empathic listening, which is a very important life skill to have, as well as how to be there for someone else without stressing yourself out over it.

Any tips or advice you can share for those struggling with their mental health?

I think the most important thing for anyone who’s struggling, but especially students, is to know that it’s okay to give yourself a break when you need one. Your well-being is the most important thing. 

Can you give us three random facts about yourself?

  • I’m a certified yoga teacher.
  • I have two pet bunnies.
  • I’m one of Dolly Parton’s top listeners on Spotify.

What’s next for you?

I have a few years left at VIU, but once I’ve finished my bachelor’s degree, I’m going to go after my Registered Professional Forester and Registered Professional Biologist designations. At that point, I also hope to move back up to the north Island and work in forestry as an environmental consultant.  

Kennedy Ordano portrait shot in the Wellness Lounge

"Anyone who drops by can expect to be welcomed with hot chocolate and comfy chairs. They can also expect to be met exactly where they are at that day, whether that means discussing what’s bothering them, being referred to other services at VIU or just sitting and relaxing with us."

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