Last weekend, I had the honor of sharing the ILFFPS mission as well as the collaborative partnership opportunity we have with the Rosecrance Florian program at the Tema Conter Memorial Trust Common Threads educational conference that was held on February 10th in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. Taken from their website, the history of the memorial trust is as follows:
“In 1988, former paramedic Vince Savoia attended to the homicide of Ms. Tema Conter. This event not only changed his life, but it also changed the lives of the Conter family.
Dealing with feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration, Savoia began his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Flashbacks, nightmares, isolation, and hyper-vigilance were some of the symptoms that he needed to deal with.
In 2000, Savoia requested permission from the Conter family to establish a Trust that would end the silence and ease the suffering of others like him who were dealing with PTSD. The Trust would also serve to honour the memory of the Conter family’s beloved Tema.
The Tema Conter Memorial Trust began in 2001 as a modest charity offering scholarships to paramedic students. Today, it has grown to become a hub for research, education and training, as well as a peer and psychological support resource for the men and women serving in Canada’s public safety organizations.
In 2011, the Trust welcomed Canadian actor, Enrico Colantoni as its national spokesperson. With Enrico’s help, and the simple yet powerful slogan, “Heroes Are Human”, this charity has been able to spread awareness across the country and beyond. In the summer of 2014, volunteers of the Trust and various speakers and celebrities embarked on a cross-Canada PTSD-awareness tour that reached thousands of people in 47 towns and cities from Newfoundland to British Columbia.’’ (Tema.ca, 2017).
The Annual Common Threads educational conference took place on Friday and had over 300 attendees. I was a little nervous prior to my session, but once I started to share our story – I quickly hit my groove. Through feedback, I was told that my presentation was well received. I had several attendees sign a sheet requesting more information about what we do. I also had conversations with several of our brothers and sisters from Canada, and learned that there are no borders between countries concerning first responders with respect to physical and emotional wellbeing. The rest of that day I attended several other breakout sessions with topics that included mindfulness, spousal/significant others “First Eyes” program, and “Essential Characteristics of First Responder Therapists”.
That evening, I attended the awards ceremony dinner honoring TEMA volunteers. Additionally, several educational scholarships were given to students who are entering the public service and military professions. These individuals are required to submit and essay covering any of the following topics: PTSD, critical incident stress, signs and symptoms of stress, etc. They must relate this to present day emergency services, and include their own thoughts on researching the topics (TEMA, 2017).
On Saturday evening, I attended the Heroes Tribute Gala along with 500+ other first responders, families, supporters, and Members of Parliament. This annual gala serves as one of several fundraisers that the Tema Trust holds throughout the year (they are a charitable organization). This event included both silent and open auctions, a preview of their new public service announcement, keynote speeches, and a night of fun and networking.
A major highlight for me was to meet people whom I have followed on Twitter for over a year and vice versa. It truly shows how small this world really is when we came together for the “common thread” of advancing wellness for first responders. Yesterday, I wrote Vince and his team a letter of thanks (I share with you now) of what this weekend really meant to me:
Dear Vince and TEMA Team,
Time has flown by so quickly since I had the honor of sharing my story and what we do here with Illinois Firefighter Peer Support. This past week has been one of great reflection upon all that I had experienced over four days spent in Canada. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by the most kind, heartfelt, and authentic people who welcomed me with open arms. However, last weekend was about a whole lot more.
Since my diagnosis of PTSD in 2014, I have looked for ways to expand my posttraumatic growth- always in a positive way. Often this is accomplished by public presentations of my story and how peer support became a big part of my continuing recovery on this awesome healing journey. Other times it simply happens through observation of human interaction.
I had the privilege of watching a dedicated group of individuals (led by you Vince), each of whom share their unique individual talents with the sole purpose of advancing the awareness of behavioral health issues that affect first responders. I also find it most wonderful that you provide scholarships to future first responders, and have even inspired the Tema student group who will ensure that the next generation (s) live a more balanced life both during and after their time in public service. So, how did this affect me?
As I write this letter, I realize that after the sharing of stories, tears, and hugs with people whom I just became acquainted with- my posttraumatic growth expanded 1000-fold. This humbling, human experience will be something that I remember for as long as I live and breathe on this planet.
With abiding respect and gratitude,
Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team
There were many more experiences and stories to share, but I can only put so much on paper. If you want to know more, reach out to me so we can chat. It truly was a life-changing experience. For more information about TEMA visit their website at tema.ca/home I leave you with a song written by Canadian paramedic and country singer Kevin Davison that sums up our lives as public servants. Until next time-
Be well and stay safe,