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Sir John Franklin High School holds first ever mental health virtual coffee house

Benji Straker doing My Hero by the Foo Fighters
Benji Straker doing My Hero by the Foo Fighters

Sir John Franklin High School held its first ever virtual coffee house last Friday night through the school's website and Youtube channel.

The evening show featured 10 musicians and nine other performers involved to support the school's mental health advocacy group - MAGMA (Magnanimous Advocates Generating Mental Health Awareness).

Paul Bennett covered Yesterday by The Beatles
photo screenshot of the MAGMA virtual coffeehouse 2020

Mark Kilbride, the master of ceremonies of the event, kept the flow going through the livestream. He said the event has been taking place every year since 2015 to support the school's group. The event is usually small every year, but important to the students and this year there were 165 students and staff who watched the event, with eight likes.

Organizers saw participation high again this year as far as the number of staff and students who came together as performers, Kilbride said.

Viewers heard a wide range of musical covers from Paul Bennett's version of The Beatles' Yesterday to Levi Davis's covers of Eddy Arnold and Jimmy Reed tunes.

MAGMA exists to build mental health awareness, knowledge and literacy as well as works to reduce negative attitudes like shame, stigma, and silence around mental health, he said. The group also advocates for more appropriate and accessible mental health services.

Kilbride said one of the key issues as an educator of young people is that youth have a greater tendency to suffer from mental health issues. Given some discussion that has taken place about mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is an important point to keep in mind.

"Now more than ever I feel students and staff alike need to be aware of mental health and its importance," he stated in an email this week. "I feel the students and staff members did a nice job of providing strategies to help cope with this pandemic.  Also, youth ages 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness than any other age group. It is important that young people know how to support their own mental health, and also how to be there for others."

Kilbride said the event was a bit different than years in the past where the coffee houses provides a social forum to break out of their comfort zones and perform a talents.

"In the past, SJF MAGMA has organized several Coffee Houses in various locations inside Ecole Sir John Franklin High School," he said. "A Coffee House is a social event, often held to raise funds for and/or generate awareness of a social cause, in this case, the cause is mental health awareness. Coffee houses allow patrons to sing, dance, read poetry, perform stand-up comedy, or demonstrate other talents as entertainment during the event.

Taylor Soloy and Andrea Pellerin covered Dreams by Fleetwood Mac
photo screenshot of the MAGMA virtual coffeehouse 2020

"Under normal circumstances, we would have quite a small intimate crowd. There have been some great moments during these coffee houses, where generally quiet students, would get up in front of the crowd and open up during their performance. It can be hard to put yourself out there (especially online) and I am very proud of our students and staff for stepping up for such a meaningful cause."

Zack White, a member of MAGMA and Grade 11 student, has been a leading advocate with the group for about a year and a half. He said the point of the evening was to ensure that students and staff can come together as a way of "self-help" and "self-care" and thinking about mental health issues in a positive way.

"We want to have a coffeehouse where we can bring people together," White said of the event. "We want to Have a calm night where we celebrate, promote effective self help, and self care, and look at ways of bettering your mental health. We do that with music and community and connection

Usually we have a little cafe place which has a bunch of cute baked goods and stuff so it's nice, but we couldn't do this here because of obviously the pandemic. So, we had to compromise with the video which I believe still has the message. But being a fan of music and especially live music, I would have loved it if it was a live thing."