Three Oaks respite cabin opens in May

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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

Heather Wright/The Independent

The Bergsmas dream is finally reality.

The Dawn-Euphemia family is accepting bookings in May for Three Oaks Cabin – a respite centre designed for farmers and first responders.

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.

Within a month of Dalles’ death, the family was working with the township on their vision of a place for farmers and first responders to take a break and re-evaluate their situation.

The road to helping other families was not easy, says Diane. In October, the family welcomed the community to visit the cabin in the woodlot. Then they had expected to start welcoming farmers and first responders to the cabin for self-guided mental health care by January.

Bergsma says it took until March for the airBnB style booking system to be set up with the first available slot on May 3.

“Throughout the winter, we’ve had several phone calls a week for sure saying ‘Just wondering about updates on when will you be receiving bookings? I have a friend I have a neighbor, or I just need a break myself,” says Bergsma.

The calls, she said, “definitely reaffirms the fact that this facility will serve its purpose…I suppose taking care of people’s wellness is a bottomless pit because…people get sick. People have things happen in their life that are difficult on a continual basis, so we’ll never get to a point where everybody is better, right? It’ll be an ongoing, communal effort to come alongside people who need our help the best way we can.”

One of the tasks which needed to be completed before Three Oaks Cabin could start accepting bookings was a unique system which “makes sure that our guests are in a healthy place to be alone at the cabin, if that’s their choice,” says Bergsma. Before a booking is confirmed, people will have to take an online questionnaire.

“We want to make a real concerted effort to make sure that people understand we are respite facility and not a crisis facility. We’re not equipped to deal with people in crisis. And we’re hoping that we can redirect them to places where they can receive help for the position or the place that they’re in.”

Bergsma says the family is looking forward to helping the farming and first responder communities. But they could not have made their vision reality without the help of the community, which raised money for the cabin and those who offered assistance.

“People would come out of nowhere to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this business, you know, a plumbing business… an electrical business, can I help?

“I just think that just speaks of a level of generosity and kindness in our communities that we will treasure forever and I hope it has ripple effect into the communities outside of Dawn-Euphemia.”
Bergsma says there will also be opportunities for group sessions at the cabin. They hope therapists will book the loft meeting room to provide workshops for a dozen people.

As the opening day draws closer, Bergsma says there are mixed emotions. “It will always be somewhat bittersweet. The support that we’ve received in the build itself and also on a personal level has made this a very momentous moment, but a very beautiful moment where we actually have transformed grief into something that will hopefully avoid this type of grief in other families.

“I’d be remiss to not mention how our faith has been strengthened and the people that have come alongside have been the hands and feet of Jesus in our crisis, and our journey. And so it will be a privilege and an honor to in turn serve other people.”