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Stories of Impact

New kitchen brings taste of home to youth inpatients

A new kitchen in The Royal's Youth Inpatient Unit is a little taste of home and a chance to learn life and recovery skills for young people living with mental illness.

The kitchen is a gift from Joan McRae, who is 102, barely five feet tall, and vibrant. She has been donating to The Royal for more than 10 years.

"I have been very fortunate; I have more than I need," says McRae. "I don't really see myself as giving — I see myself as sharing."

The stove in the new kitchen was donated by Kayla Villalta, a former patient of the Youth Psychiatry Program, who now supports The Royal by fundraising through Kayla's Garden of Hope. Villalta paints flowerpots and sells them, with 100% of proceeds supporting youth at The Royal.

"When I was a patient in the Youth Program, we really used the kitchen a lot, and that was time where I was able to build friendships with other people and learn from them," she said. "It was a chance to do something meaningful, which is such a big part of recovery. It really made you feel like you were at home when you weren't."

"If you can focus on coping strategies and how to manage it when you're young, you can carry those tools through the rest of your life."

The new kitchen provides a useful space to cook and gather together within the inpatient unit. Previously, patients had to leave the unit to use the centralized therapy kitchen. Having a kitchen within the unit opens participation to patients who may not be ready to do an activity outside their unit, but would be comfortable doing one within.

The kitchen uses appliances and tools similar to those found in many homes, and occupational therapists work with patients on planning and preparing simple, skill-instilling recipes that patients could make on their own in the future.

"Dealing with mental illness at that age is really hard because you're going through a lot of changes in your life. You're becoming more independent, but at the same time your mental illness is pulling you back," says Kieran Menard, a former patient in the Youth Psychiatry Program. "Learning life skills, even the little things, helps young adults become more independent."

Supporting youth mental health is so important, says Villalta, because it's a chance to move young people's lives forward to give them the tools they need to live their best lives.

"I personally have struggled with my mental health, and so have many people around me," says Villalta. "It's so important to focus on youth mental health, because that's where a lot of mental illness starts. If you can focus on coping strategies and how to manage it when you're young, you can carry those tools through the rest of your life."