Nestled on the bottom floor of Providence Care Hospital you’ll find the Harmony Centre.
And while its bright colours are sure to get your attention, not very many people know what the centre is.
But those who do call it a hidden gem.
“I like it so much, if I could I would leave a sleeping bag here,” said Terry Sambirsky.
“I get excited to come here, because I’m always happy here,” added Chris Litchfield.
“It’s an oasis. A wonderful place to come and be welcomed wholeheartedly,” echoed Marty Jordan.
“The Harmony Centre is a safe space for people with mental illness,” explained Yoon Andrews, an Occupational Therapist with the Harmony Centre.
“We serve mostly inpatients, people who are receiving care through the Adult Mental Health program at Providence Care Hospital. But we also serve some clients from the community, individuals who started as inpatients, who have since transitioned back into the community.”
“They could have mood disorders, schizophrenia, intellectual disabilities, or dementia,” added Lisa Quanz, the centre’s Recovery Guide.
“We don’t discriminate on who can participate, we’re very inclusive.”
The program is split into two sessions.
In the mornings, it offers more structured group activities that focus on relaxation and wellness, sign language and music.
“They’re productive groups where clients get physically, cognitively and socially stimulated,” said Andrews.
In the afternoons, clients choose what they want to do from a wide range of activities; everything from playing cards and doing arts and crafts, to table tennis and karaoke.
Clients can come and go as they please, and they decide what sessions they want to attend and for how long.
The Harmony Centre also prides itself on its home-like environment.
Artwork covers the walls and everyone is greeted with a smile.
“It’s a place where people find the fun part of themselves again, and get to explore the potential of recovery in mental health,” explained Andrews.
“We’ve had a lot of people living with depression come here and smile, and show us glimpses of the person they used to be.”
There’s even a pet therapy dog named Baxter, who hangs out at the centre two days a week.
“He lets clients hug him, and he’s very, very gentle and affectionate. Clients really enjoy him,” beamed Quanz.
Sambirsky has schizoaffective disorder and has been with the program for four years.
You’ll often find the 52-year-old busting a move on the dance floor.
“Terry is a great dancer,” said Quanz.
“I’m no Michael Jackson,” joked Sambirsky. “I was a Ukrainian dancer for five or six years in Toronto.”
Sambirsky started with the program as an inpatient four years ago and attends twice a week.
“People that have mental illness or emotional trauma, you don’t think about that when you’re here, you’re just enjoying the day, spending time with other people,” said Sambirksy. “Yoon and Lisa are like family, and family means the world to me.”
Sambirsky often plays cards with Litchfield, who has an intellectual disability.
When Litchfield isn’t telling Sambirsky to ‘go fish’; he’s on the centre’s iPad, or maintaining his high scores on Wii bowling.
“I wish I could come here more,” said Litchfield.
Marty and Mike Jordan happened to be in the right place, at the right time, when they learned about the Harmony Centre.
Mike has dementia and now resides on Parkside 2, the Seniors Mental Health unit, at the hospital.
“Yoon just happened to be there on the floor,” recalled Marty. “Just so fortuitous, she told us to give it a try. And I have to say, the best thing that’s happened to us here at Providence Care Hospital is the welcome we received from the centre.”
Mike can no longer communicate and doesn’t show much emotion.
But every Thursday when the Jordan’s attend group dance, Marty says Mike has a little spark.
“Mike was such a humble, beautiful, charming person,” said Marty, holding back tears. “Mike loves music and to see him have the chance to show a little bit of who he is, I just can’t express what that means to me. I have to work so hard to keep my spirits up, and this is always a beacon, it’s just a gift. Not only is Mike respected, but I also feel respected.”
Marty thinks the centre shines as bright as a diamond, but not just any old diamond.
“It’s more like that big diamond that Lady Gaga was wearing at the Oscars,” she joked.
And while the Harmony Centre probably won’t win an Oscar, Andrews and Quanz say the smiles they see from their clients’ faces every day, is the only award they need.