A passion for mental health
Odion Welch, an Athabasca University (AU) alumni from the Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations (BHRLR) program, has a deep passion for mental health awareness and advocacy.
While going through an extremely difficult time in her life—experiencing a break up, facing homelessness, and tending to a serious injury—Welch was still met with heavy workloads and high expectations from her employer. It wasn’t until someone from Human Resources (HR) explained the benefits she was entitled to, that she realized the importance of acknowledging mental health and how it related to the field of HR.
As the Amazon-bestselling author of the book, Breakthrough: A Courageous True Story of Overcoming Depression and Anxiety, Welch donates all the proceeds of her book sales to those in need.
Having recently begun her masters with a current thesis focus on Black women in leadership, Welch was searching for an organization that aligned with her values and gave her the opportunity to practice what she was researching in her program. That’s when she saw the Africa Centre in Edmonton, Alta. was creating a mental health program and knew it was the perfect place for her. She was hired as their mental health coordinator and has been focusing on breaking down barriers and enabling access to mental health and wellness programs for the Black community.
The Africa Centre runs several programs, but the mental health program creates the following activities: Conversation Café, a safe space for youth to discuss various issues; YUPE, wellness taught through art-based activities; Mentorship, pairing youth with a mentor for six months; and Rites of Passage which teaches cultural history through various areas including wellness. Welch emphasized that all events at the Africa Centre are open to anyone who wants to participate—it’s an open door for all races and ethnicities.
Utilizing her HR skills to perform daily tasks, Welch is proud of the success of all the programs, but particularly appreciates what is taught in the Rites of Passage. In one of the classes, participants were taught about the kings and queens of Egypt where they learned about how Egyptians ate for health and that kinetic yoga originated in Africa. Welch reflected on how a mom she works with, who’s young son needed to relax, used the pharaoh breathing technique he learned in the workshop.
“It’s so easy, especially during Black History Month, for people to want to talk about slavery and not all the cool things that have happened, and all the layers that exist in Black culture,” said Welch. “Black Canadian vs. Black Caribbean vs. Black European vs. African—they’re all different. It’s like calling Irish and Scottish the same… they’re not.” Anyone who wants to learn about Black culture, or mental health from a Black perspective, is welcome to join the events held by the Africa Centre.
“Black Canadian vs. Black Caribbean vs. Black European vs. African—they're all different. It’s like calling Irish and Scottish the same… they’re not.”– Odion Welch
The first in Western Canada
One of the most recently notable programs Welch has been involved with is Western Canada’s first free Black focused counselling program in collaboration with Alberta Black Therapist Network and United Way. Since opening three months ago, the program has helped 78 families of whom only 25 per cent had been to counselling before, impacting a wide range of ages. “It is also interesting to see how it affects interracial families as parents have told me they previously felt they could only find ‘white’ help,” said Welch.
For those interested in the Black focused counselling program, Welch encourages them to check it out before it ends this summer. Donations to the Africa Centre for both the counselling and mental health programs are always welcome. Having seen the positive effects of these programs, Welch hopes they receive the required funding as they have been very beneficial. The mental health program at the Africa Centre has an end date of April 2022.
“If you don’t ask for help with your education, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. You’re not supposed to know (everything).”– Odion Welch
Welch believes her studies at AU in the BHRLR program has made her much more efficient with time management. “It made me look at what I need to do and consider the bigger picture,” she said. She also learned that, “if you don’t ask for help with your education, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. You’re not supposed to know (everything).”
She believes HR and labour relations look different in all organizations and industries stating change makers, like herself, must be prepared to be met with some resistance. However, she thinks the skills you learn in HR transcend any field and empower those who choose HR positions.