Respite cabin near Florence may take first clients in January

Diane Bergsma stands inside Three Oaks Cabin near Florence in October 2023. The Bergsma family has poured their grief due to the death of their son, Dalles, by suicide into the cabin which will help farmers and first responders deal with mental health issues. The facility is now complete and is accepting reservations to start in May. BLAKE ELLIS/LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE PHOTO

Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative

A cabin to give first responders and farmers a place to deal with mental health issues is slated to open in January.

That’s according to Diane Bergsma whose family opened the doors to the Three Oaks Cabin to neighbours and friends Saturday to see the progress made on the respite facility.

Diane and her husband, Al, and their family have been working on the project since the death by suicide of their son, Dalles. The young farmer and volunteer firefighter died in 2020.

Dalles’ death stunned the community. But research shows farmers and first responders are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. A University of Guelph study conducted in 2022 by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton shows one in four farmers contemplated suicide over a 12-month period. First responders also have a higher risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges which can lead to suicide.

The family wanted to do something to help others with the struggles Dalles faced and within a month, Diane and Al had a plan at the township office to build the cabin. “It is purpose in the pain,” said Bergsma during a tour of the cabin.

There is much to be done at the 1,400 square foot log cabin tucked in the woods in Dawn-Euphemia before the first person comes to stay. The trim and the floors are still a work in progress. And the three-bedroom facility needs a hydro hookup.

But Bergsma expects the first clients will be able to book a stay in January.
People staying at the cabin will have access to resources from the National Farmers Mental Health Alliance. Each person will work through mindful exercises set out in the resources and reconnect with nature in the bush. A mental health professional will follow up with the person once they leave the cabin.

Bergsma said when individuals reach out for help, they only get one crack at it. She feels the follow-up call is very important to find out what is further needed to help each person.

The services offered at the cabin will be free, something Bergsma says the support from the community has allowed the Three Oaks Cabin to do.
Bookings for stays at the cabin are not being taken yet, but Bergsma is seeing a lot of demand.

Right now, the focus is to help farmers and first responders, but the scope can be expanded in the future, said Bergsma. “The sky is the limit.”

The cabin contains a multi-purpose room which will also be available for meetings or events centred around mental health.

An open house was held on Saturday afternoon where approximately 250 people were in attendance.

Many were supporters and partners who have contributed to the project. Three oaks trees were also planted on the property, in recognition of the facility’s name.

At this point, Bergsma says she is depleted as the construction nears completion. It has been an emotional process for her, but when asked what Dalles would have thought about this facility, Bergsma said, “He would have said don’t make it about me.” He would have wanted it to be about how Three Oaks Cabins will serve the many people in need.

• The Independent

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