It's a sunny Friday afternoon, The Grand Slams have taken the lead, but The Way Backs are now up to bat. At this point, it's anyone's game. The batter steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park— cheers and applause from the crowd of family and friends ensues. And while the scorekeeper might be keeping track of the innings and runs, this game is about so much more.
Now in its 14th year, over 175 people came out for the annual Dave Bland Memorial softball game— bringing clients, staff, and contracted care providers of Richmond's mental health and substance use services community together. In fact, what started off as a way to remember a beloved member of the Richmond Adult Mental Health team who tragically lost his life in 2015, has now become an annual celebration of building community through sport, partnership, and access for all.
“Dave was such a huge believer in using sport to build relationships and connect with our clients," says Scot Elphinstone, case manager for the Richmond Adult Mental Health Team and organizer of the annual event. “Although his memory and legacy will live on, the game is now more of an opportunity to break down barriers and stereotypes often associated with caring for people with mental health issues. To get out in the community, learn from each other, and most importantly, have fun!"
Natalie McCarthy, Operations Director for Richmond's Mental Health and Substance Abuse and Residential Care echoes this sentiment, adding she's always inspired to see clients and care providers coming together for this annual event.
“The event reflects the caring and dedication that exists in Richmond between providers and clients, and the inclusivity we strive for in our community."
Verna Hamilton has witnessed the benefits of this positive approach first-hand with her daughter Sheri. The softball game in South Arm Park is an annual tradition; one they've been participating in since the very beginning.
“Every year, Sheri looks forward to coming here, seeing everybody, and participating as much as she can. Activities like these are so good for her—I don't know what I'd do without these types of programs and the dedicated team members who work with us every day," she says.
For the past 10 years, Jose Campillo has also been a loyal attendee of the softball game—albeit with slightly different motivations. As both a client of Richmond's Mental Health and Substance Abuse services and a Peer Support Worker for the Richmond Consumer and Friends Society, Jose has a unique perspective and credits Dave Bland for believing in him from the very beginning.
“Dave was a mentor to me and was the one who suggested I look into becoming a Peer Support Worker. He knew how to take the best out of people and push them to do what they could do—and he wasn't wrong," says Jose, who has now worked in this role for almost 20 years. “The event is an opportunity to bring everyone together—it's like a big family. It also helps to remove the negative stigmas often associated with mental health. It's important to be visible, to be out in the community, and to have open and honest conversations about it."
Above photo: Jose Campillo, client of Richmond’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse services and a Peer Support Worker for the Richmond Consumer and Friends Society
After enjoying a delicious barbeque generously donated and prepared by contracted care provider Andre Chevier and his staff and the team from Southdale Manor, trophies were handed out, and Scot shared memories of Dave. Next year they'll be back to celebrate the game's 15th anniversary and the legacy of hope and recovery that inspired it.