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Working together to support student mental health: LOCUS and the Ross and Doris Dixon Charitable Foundation

In 2020/21, “off-campus” included most Laurier students. Thanks to the support of the Ross & Doris Dixon Charitable Foundation, Laurier Off-Campus University Students (LOCUS) was in a strong position to pivot and open to all Laurier students, free of charge, offering them crucial emotional and social support during the pandemic.

LOCUS has traditionally been aimed at first-year students who live off campus in Waterloo or Brantford, providing an opportunity for students to make new friends, find academic and emotional support, and connect to campus or community engagement. As a complement to the residence experience, LOCUS provides an important and meaningful service to students who live at home or in off-campus housing.

In 2020, in response to pandemic safety protocols, LOCUS ran programming in the summer months for the first time. They automatically enrolled all first-year, off-campus students into the program, offering a senior student mentor to help students cope with new or increased feelings of isolation, loneliness and loss of connection. Support from the Foundation also allowed LOCUS to continue to offer mental health training and first aid sessions to faculty, staff and residence dons. Online events and social programming included games nights (Among Us, Jackbox, Codenames, UNO, etc.), Netflix movie nights, themed trivia nights, yoga, open mic nights and a virtual escape room. Academic support included online peer-to-peer study sessions; campus partner study sessions, time management workshops and schedule-building workshops with academic coaches; a resume and cover letter workshop with the Career Centre; and a stress and mental health workshop with Wellness Education.

"Being a LOCUS student in my first year helped me come out of my shell and gave me the confidence I needed to succeed in my first year and to apply to more student leadership roles going into my second year. Without the support and encouragement from the LOCUS staff and my fellow LOCUS students, I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence to apply for any leadership positions. Even when staying home, I felt connected with so many amazing people and started many friendships, even if my year was entirely virtual." Matilda (LOCUS Student 2020-2021)

“LOCUS saw its biggest student population ever in the 2020/21 academic year, connecting students virtually across programs, faculties and campuses through a series of programs led by our amazing student staff members,” says Mitchell Higgins, coordinator, Off-Campus First Year Initiatives at Laurier. “We wanted to ensure that there were consistent opportunities for students to connect with one another, or access campus supports as needed. Whether it was an opportunity to come together with a group of peers to watch a movie, meet new friends during a large-scale games night, or connect with a campus resource, the program aimed to ensure that it was doing everything it could to help students meet their own definition of success. A lot of these efforts and initiatives would not be possible without the support of incredible donors. I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Ross & Doris Dixon Charitable Foundation for their support of the LOCUS program.”

Ross and Doris Dixon, and their Foundation, have a long history of positive impact in Waterloo Region.

With a highly successful business legacy, and no children, the couple set up the Ross & Doris Dixon Charitable Foundation to serve young people. The Foundation supports scholarships and programs for university-aged students, as well as programs for younger children. It also funds healthcare and cultural organizations that might touch on the lives of young people. Doris passed away in 2008 and Ross in 2009.

The Dixons were highly committed to Laurier. They received the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association’s Awards of Excellence Honorary Alumnus and Alumna Award in 1998 and were presented with Honorary Doctorates from Laurier in 2002. Ross served on the Board of Governors from 1979-85. The Foundation supports scholarships and bursaries, and in the past ten years, has begun to support mental health programming on campuses, including funding for training counsellors and peer support. As the 2020/21 school year approached with full remote learning, and much emotional and financial struggle, supporting LOCUS was a natural fit for the Foundation.

“The pandemic has opened up a whole new range of mental health challenges for students,” says Steve Brown, Foundation president and Ross and Doris’ nephew. “Meeting the challenges of providing mental health support during remote learning seemed like an area where there was need and where we could help.”

“I encourage all students not to be ashamed or afraid to admit if you have a mental health issue,” continues Brown. “Seek out help as quickly as you can – if you’re feeling anxiety about exams, or studying, if you feel helpless or unmotivated, or just feel like something isn’t quite right – you can talk to someone. Look for help when you need it.”

Thanks to the Ross & Doris Dixon Charitable Foundation and the amazing staff and students at LOCUS, help is always just a click or a call away at Laurier.

“Personally, being part of the LOCUS team was an incredibly positive experience. With the amount of members on the team, there were various events to attend every week. The daily interactions with the staff team through meetings, the planning of events and socials helped make up for the lack of day-to-day interactions that are missing in the pandemic. Further, the opportunity to guide and support students was extremely rewarding. Social events became an integral part to their student experience, and it was amazing to see how a sense of community impacted so many students even in a virtual environment as it helped them transition and stabilize into university life. Overall, being able to build connection with students and staff provided an outlet from the academics and gave me a sense of purpose throughout a difficult year.” Neelesh (LOCUS Off-Campus Advisor)


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