Unmasking the Stigma: The Tanner Steffler Foundation (TSF)

Hindsight is 2020. A silly cliche, but also true. Now that we have 2020 in our rearview mirror, we can focus on the new year and the future. Considerably more blurry, but to focus the vision we have a blog from a wonderful and relatively new foundation committed to a cause that is more relevant now than ever.  commUNITY was happy to partner with them on a new initiative. Alison Wilson is the Youth Intake Navigator for the Tanner Steffler Foundation and she helps us understand their mission. 


--The Tanner Steffler Foundation (TSF) is a grassroots mental health and addiction organization that is three years young. It was founded by John and Heather Steffler of Seaforth, Ontario after the death of their son. On June 6th, 2017 after battling with a substance use disorder. Tanner Steffler was sadly poisoned by a drug overdose at the young age of 19.

TSF's mission is to cultivate transformational change for youth struggling with mental health and addiction. TSF aims to help youth and families navigate between and across multiple services, serving as a central hub that supports them move seamlessly between the various services in Huron and Perth County.

The vision at TSF is for youth and families to have equitable access to quality, evidence informed mental health promotion. This includes better mental health outcomes, addiction prevention treatment, as well as harm reduction programs and services. The focus is on improving integrated youth services and integrated service delivery.

In honour of TSF’s core value of magnifying the youth voice, I assisted TSF in recently launching a Youth Advisory Council (YAC). The council is welcome to everyone 12-24 years old and is currently co-facilitated by the YAC Co-Chairs and myself. The council meets virtually in the evenings bi-weekly where there is always a Wellness Support Person present. The council guides TSF in all mandates and working group projects, provides TSF with voice and direction to best support youth needs, works as active participants in the growth of TSF and also sets its direction.

TSF’s objective in launching the YAC is to engage and empower youth as valuable partners in addressing and making decisions about mental health and addiction services in Huron and Perth County. Specifically those that affect them personally, but also other areas of treatment and services that they believe to be important.

With the compassionate support of commUNITY masks, the YAC was able to engage in their first campaign as a council. This campaign was a multipurpose experience and would not have been possible without this partnership with commUNITY masks.

The loyalty and encouragement that was received from Deanna (co-founder of commUNITY) allowed for the YAC to strengthen their roots in the community as they were given an incredible opportunity to bring this campaign idea to fruition.

After much discussion, the YAC ordered white jersey masks with the commUNITY logo on one side along with the TSF logo on the other side. Various tie-dye colours were also ordered which allowed for the participants to revel in an afternoon of tie-dying. They were able to flex their creative muscles, take a break from their busy schedules and come together as a council. The final look of each tie-dyed mask was beautiful, and importantly, the message behind the mask design held a lot of significance.

Through the practice of tie-dying, each mask was intentionally created to appear unique. Each YAC member was given the opportunity to explore their individuality through this form of inventiveness. This meant that not one finished mask was the same. Even those that designed multiple masks using similar colours! The council did not want to duplicate patterns. Why? To symbolize the diversity of every individual’s personal experience with mental health and addiction.

The YAC believes that every single person has a story and each story is wildly different. We do not want folks in the community feeling as though they have to hide their story and suffer in silence. The aim of this campaign was to demonstrate that each unique mask represents each person’s extremely different mental health and addiction journey. This acknowledges that there is not a one-size-fits-all formula for recovery. Each person experiencing mental health and/or addiction requires different supportive services which aligns with TSF’s client centred approach to practice.

The YAC used the uniqueness of the tie-dye masks as a metaphor to represent the core message which is to Unmask the Stigma of mental health and addictions, raise awareness of the current fragmented mental health and addiction services, and form solidarity with this community. This was a collaborative process that brought the YAC together which in turn, strengthened their foundation as a council to move TSF forward.

While the bulk of the masks were used as a fundraising opportunity for the TSF, they were also included in TSF’s participation in Giving Tuesday . Through the partnership with commUNITY masks, a number of masks were donated by TSF to four different relevant organizations in Huron-Perth. Of the four organizations, two were shelters and two were agencies that offer youth mental health and addiction services. Each organization received 20 masks, mask filters, and a letter of gratitude that were packaged in hand-made bags. TSF’s Executive Director and myself personally dropped off the Giving Tuesday bags to each organization who were all incredibly appreciative.

I hope TSF gains further support to continue on the journey of transforming mental health and addiction services in Huron and Perth County. We continue to seek further funding to expand and evolve as a Foundation which includes distributing honorarium to the Youth Advisory Council. TSF values the time, energy and perspective the youth advisors bring to the table in their membership. Click the link and you can support us by making a donation to the Tanner Steffler Foundation. Thank you for believing in us.

We encourage you to Unmask the Stigma in your community.

Alison Wilson

TSF Youth Intake Navigator and Engagement Coordinator

Read our blog: Are you ready for a home refresh? Budget friendly tips.

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