“Right now I feel like we are pretty disconnected,” says Stephanie VanDeSype, Recreation and Community Wellness Manager for the Town of Assiniboia. “How can we open conversations in town? How can be become friends? How can we let people know we’re here for one another? We can do something small to bridge the gap by wearing a ‘Better Together’ t-shirt. We need to realize that we truly are better together.”
The “Better Together” project will kick off on Tuesday May 18th after a proclamation on behalf of the Town Council. It’s an initiative to bring awareness about mental health, and also to create new friendships in our community. Every Tuesday, participants are invited to wear their “Better Together” t-shirts, and when they see somebody with a matching shirt, the hope is that they will take a moment to chat, listen to each other’s stories, and give everyone a voice.
The “Better Together” program, which is now across Canada, began in North Battleford in 2018 in response to a number of suicides in a short time. “A very grieving community was trying to find a way to keep people together so they started this t-shirt program,” says Stephanie. “Daycare children began visiting senior citizens, and it turned into so much more. One example is a couple people who met down town while shopping. When they saw each other’s t-shirts, it sparked a conversation and they began talking. They started going out for coffee, and became good friends.”
For $25, people can purchase a t-shirt and begin to make small connections that could mean a big difference. Timothy Daniels is the distribution centre and Ashley Kaal will have t-shirts and hoodies in all sizes starting at infant sleepers and up. The t-shirts feature pictures of foods that are different, and yet belong together, such as bacon and eggs, salt and pepper, PB & J, and milk and cookies.
“I’m overwhelmed with the support our town has already shown for this project,” says Stephanie. Businesses and schools are encouraged to consider purchasing t-shirts for their staff and students. Individuals can buy their own, sponsor a classroom or donate towards a group purchase. So far the Town of Assiniboia, Southland Coop, and Pastor David and Vanessa of the Apostolic church have purchased t-shirts for their staff.
The Assiniboia Ministerial is also endorsing the "Better Together" project. Every life has purpose and value. Pastor David Mehrer of the Assiniboia Apostolic Church says, “It is a privilege to participate and promote the “Better Together” initiative in our community. It is important that we are all there to support each other. We were created for relationship and this project is about connecting with people to show we care for them. It gives us an opportunity to step outside ourselves and encourage one another.”
Stephanie says, “I think this project says ‘I value you. I care about you, no matter what your life looks like.’ My hope is that if I see someone who is having the worst day of their life and I strike up a conversation with them, then maybe they will smile and that smile will go on and we will bring some joy to our community.”
‘Walk for Wellness Wednesdays’ is another project Stephanie encourages the community to participate in. “On Wednesdays, I want to see everyone walking to work, or out for a walk anytime. I love when my family and I go for a walk and see 15 other families and we stop and have a chat. No matter what is going on, take a few minutes to get outside. My hope is that by getting people active and involved in their community, it will help with their overall wellness.”
Dennis Silliker, a new member of the RCMP in town, asked what he could to do engage with the community. He will be participating in the 'Walk for Wellness Wednesdays' along with Stephanie. “See if you can spot us walking on Wednesday nights and you might go home with a t-shirt.”
“Some of our residents are fearful to go out because of what they have heard on the media, but if you put on your ‘Better Together’ shirt, go for your mail, and talk with somebody, it will be an instant boost to your day," says Stephanie.
“I hope we have conversations with people we have never met before. I hope that people feel important. I hope they go home and feel a little more hopeful because we really are better together.”