Huntsville High School students explore future, connections and mental wellness with Transforming Together 2023

A student pulls a wooden block out of a Jenga tower while an adult, Emily, excitedly looks on.

Emily Kerns, a Family Support Worker with Community Living Huntsville, leads a group of Huntsville High School seniors students through a game-based breakout activity that encourages students to work together in planning for their lives after high school. Photo by Community Living Huntsville.

The sounds of excited senior high school students exploring possibilities for their future lives filled the classroom.

Community Living Huntsville, in partnership with Huntsville High School and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, hosted a Transforming Together 2023 session for Grade 11 and Grade 12 students at the school on April 26. Roughly 16 students participated. The session offered students information about supports, services, and opportunities available to them as they transition to life after high school, and included interactive hands-on activities to inspire them in planning for self-directed and connected futures.

It was the first in-person Transforming Together session since 2019.

“It really showcases us as support people, offering tools and resources. Our hope is to inspire possibilities in thinking about the future and the importance of connections,” said Gwen Jones, a Family Support Worker with Community Living Huntsville. “We learned so much through the pandemic about how important it is to have the courage, support and wellness to go out into the community and how important it is to make connections in the places you go and with the people you meet in the community. We encourage ‘find what works for you, what matters to you, and live your best life.’”

Students learned about education, employment, community resources and programs, advocacy organizations, government supports and services, financial supports, and planning services as well as the importance of physical and mental wellness now and into adulthood.

3 students and 1 adult, Gwen, sit around a table playing cards.

Gwen Jones, a Family Support Worker with Community Living Huntsville, uses a matching card game to encourage Huntsville High School senior students to think about places in the community, things to do there, and the people they could meet. Photo by Community Living Huntsville.

Students seemed fully engaged throughout the half-day session, asking questions, sharing personal experiences and future dreams, and inspiring and supporting each other in discussions. Students celebrated one classmate, for example, who would soon have her own apartment and another who had secured a summer job. Other students were soon sharing their own plans and exploring options.

“When you have the courage and support behind you, other people believing in you and inspiring you, you are going to do it and you will use your voice,” said Jones. “Thank you to Huntsville High School for partnering with us to help prepare and empower youth for their best life in community.”

One of the most popular activities was the games-based breakout stations focused on community connections, future planning, and mental wellness.

Jones led a community connections station with a matching card game. Jones would place a card in the centre of her station’s table that showed a place in Huntsville and then students would have to match it with cards from their hands that featured things to do and people to meet at those places.

Emily Kerns, a fellow Family Support Worker with Community Living Huntsville, led a future-planning station with a Jenga game. Students, cheered on by their classmates, would each draw a numbered brick from the Jenga tower, then Kerns would ask them questions based on the number, giving students opportunities to share interests and experiences or problem solve scenarios together.

And Kim Newberry, a School Public Health Nurse with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, led a mental wellness station with topics such as coping with stress and asking for help now and into adulthood.

“We talked about healthy lifestyle things they can do, too, such as eating well, having connections with people in the community, family and friends, knowing how to take care of their sleep, and being physically active,” said Newberry. “All of those pieces are tools they can practice to also support their mental health.”

An adult in a face mask, Kim, stands in a classroom holding an apple.

Kim Newberry, a School Public Health Nurse with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, says it is important for students to have goals and skills to support their mental wellness now and into adulthood. Photo by Community Living Huntsville.

After, Jamie Arnold, a Direct Support Professional in Community Participation and Supported Employment with Community Living Huntsville, talked about resources, like Developmental Services Ontario’s Passport Program, and opportunities to build confidence, choice, and connections through community, volunteer, and employment support services from Community Living Huntsville.

As the students broke for lunch, the room filled with enthusiastic talk. One student shared why he was so excited about the day: it inspired possibilities for him about his future.

Sara Taylor, a teacher with Huntsville High School, said the session was valuable because it prompted students to dig deeper into long-term planning, what they want their future lives to look like, and how they could get there. She noted, too, that it was good for the students to see the event partners working collaboratively to support them on their journeys as community members.

“Community Living staff, Gwen in particular, have known many of the students since they were in kindergarten, or even younger, and that is really valuable for me, too, to have this better picture of how far students have come, to celebrate that with the students, and to encourage them to keep going,” said Taylor. “And I think it’s also good for the students to know that we work together.”

Community Living Huntsville is a not-for-profit, registered charity that supports and advocates alongside more than 300 children and adults, and their families, to live, work, and play in unique and purposeful ways in North Muskoka. Learn more at and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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