Our Story – Why We Exist
PMAST started in 1999 in a high needs high school, struggling with conflict, violence, poor attendance, dropouts and low graduation rates. Our goal was to teach the youth to resolve their conflict peacefully and establish peer mediation teams to assist one another in dealing with these issues. By doing so, we changed the culture of that school to one of safety and respect.
From there we expanded to other schools and venues. However, our vision remains the same – to equip youth, families and communities with the skills to manage conflict peacefully where they live, learn work and play.
While PMAST acknowledges the importance of awareness of these issues and the necessity of counselling, we believe to really make a difference, we must take a pro-active approach and provide children and youth with the skills to deal with conflict, bullying and violence, BEFORE the issues become critical, affecting their emotional and mental wellness. It is proven that when not addressed, these issues impact us for the rest of our lives.
Did you Know – A Little Food For Thought
“According to STATS CAN, in 2017-18 there were 38,786 adult offenders incarcerated in Canadian federal and provincial prisons on an average day”. Cost/per day averages about $330/day per offender. This equals $12,799,380 PER DAY or $4.6 BILLION PER YEAR and this is only the cost of incarceration. It does not include societal costs for courts, police, probation, legal, victims, rehab programs, property damage, etc. In addition, we also have criminals under Community Supervision programs, which cost us another $360,000,000 each year. This does not include costs of the juvenile system.
This is costing Canadian taxpayers a lot of money. How can we change this? How many adult offenders were juvenile offenders? Is it safe to say—most were? What if we could reach these youth before they go down this path? Mark A Cohen, Professor of Management and Law at Vanderbilt University says “We estimate the present value of saving a 14-year-old high risk juvenile from a life of crime to range from $2.6 to $5.3 million”
HERE ARE SOME STORIES FROM PMAST YOUTH
Alex was born in the former Soviet Union during communist regime. Everyone was paid equal and that was barely anything which meant we were all equally poor. It was a very hard life for my family, I recall being 5 years old with my grandfather and we were waiting in a long line for 4 hours, so long that it went around the corner outside on the street and all of that for only half a kilogram of sugar. There were no supermarkets, 7-Elevens or your friendly burger shops, there wasn’t a lot of food or things that you could buy as you would in the Western world. So once the collapse of the Soviet Union occurred, and the wall came down, my family escaped the corruption and violence and immigrated to Israel.
In Israel everything was much better, there were grocery stores, beautiful sights and gorgeous weather. But unfortunately, terrorist acts started occurring all over the country. Suicide bombers would strap bombs to themselves and go into populated areas to blow themselves up. Busses would blow up regularly, my family was living in fear; I was not allowed to use transit or go near bus stops. This was no way to live, so my parents made a very smart move and applied for a Visa to come in as landed immigrants to live in Canada.
I didn’t know too much about it except that it had weather close to Russia and a great hockey program. In Canada we selected to move to Montreal, so me and my parents began learning a little French. It was going to be hard to move again, to lose all my friends and start things all over in a place where I didn’t fully know the language or the customs. We finally moved to Canada and I was having a very hard time fitting in. After 2 years we moved to Calgary which was hard again as I didn’t know English, we spoke only Russian at home.
With my parents being in ESL classes, they couldn’t work and so we had barely to no money. I didn’t have nice clothes or cool Nike shoes which I really wanted. I was a poor Russian immigrant who was poorly dressed and could barely speak English. I was an easy target for bullies. By the time I got to high school, I began fighting back when I was picked on and ended up getting in a few fights which got me in trouble at school. One day my guidance counsellor told me about this organization called PMAST that just began working with our school. They specialized in conflict resolution and she thought this would help me. I still remember the first day I met Winston Blake, the leader and trainer of PMAST. He seemed so confident, suave, giving off a very “cool vibe” as I called it back then. We hit it off instantly, and I was very intrigued by his demeanor. He was very calm and neutral, but very dynamic and inspiring. Along with a few fellow students and Winston we formed a Mediation Club and things in our entire school took a turn for the better!
We were taught mediation skills and techniques, practiced different scenarios and were able to apply them at our very own school with our peers. Students who were involved in any arguments or fights now had a choice, either face the school’s punishment and be suspended or attend a mediation, held by the members of the Mediation Club, and avoid suspension if they could reach a resolution. It was a no brainer. Being involved in this program completely changed my high school experience. I was now a leader, someone people could confide in when they had a personal/school conflict. It also allowed me to use mediation skills in my own personal life. I was able to make friends more easily and resolve any conflicts by identifying the core issues and breaking down communication barriers with my peers and teachers.
The most rewarding moment was when I had a friend call me one evening, he has come out being openly gay to his friends but not his family and that evening during dinner he told his mother and they had a huge argument. He called me in tears and we spent 3 hours on the phone that evening discussing different ways to resolve the conflict, this was back in 2003 when things in society were still different. I later found out from our mutual friend that he was planning on committing suicide after the argument that night but talking to me has helped him approach the conflict he had with his mother differently and he felt like he had the support of his friends to help him through his tough times. I don’t believe I would have been able to help him the way I did without the skills that PMAST has provided me. Years later after high school I saw him again at an expo, we hugged, talked, laughed and it made me realize that we all need to have those skills to help everyone in our life.
After graduating high school, I was very keen to continue my education in conflict resolution and become a fully certified Mediator. Unfortunately, because of my family’s financial situation, I could not afford the program. That’s when PMAST changed my life once again! They provided me with a full scholarship to attend Mount Royal University and study mediation with some of the best instructors in the country. I was the youngest individual to become a certified mediator. I learned skills that have been invaluable in my day to day life, both in my personal and professional life.
PMAST has been a key factor in my life and I want to see other students who are in the same situation as I was, be provided the same tools to effectively resolve conflicts in their lives. This training is life changing. I think it is crucial that we expand our program to be on a Federal level reaching all students across all provinces from the Atlantic to the West. Conflict resolution has provided me the tools to resolve any obstacle I am faced with, it taught me how to properly communicate and be effective with every task I take on, it taught me how to be successful in life!
We can do the same for every kid in our country. Imagine that. Imagine every kid trained on how to express their feelings and ideas and solve conflict in a constructive way. Now imagine those kids doing the same once they graduate and start working, move into leadership roles, become our new politicians, parents and teachers. Imagine what our world would look like.
MEET SAM a troubled and bullied 14-year-old who struggled in and out of school and was considered “high risk.” He had already experienced many challenges in his young life; home was abusive and unhealthy, filled with dangers, and school was unsafe, filled with bullying and pain. Sam often stayed on the streets to escape both environments. He was hurt, fed up, angry and defensive, and quickly falling through the cracks.
Sam was sent to our class to avoid suspension and although initially not very happy to be there, something caught his attention. The idea of being able to deal with conflict and bullying and to learn to help others deal with their issues, spoke to Sam. He volunteered to take advanced training and became a leader of the school’s Peer Mediation Team. He became so proficient at mediating that he became part of a program teaching these skills to junior high school students.
Upon graduation he went on to pursue professional training in Conflict Resolution at Mount Royal University, becoming one of the youngest members to receive accreditation as a Chartered Mediator. Sam worked for PMAST for nearly a decade, teaching and sharing his story and skills with many youth, and is now a prominent member of the work force.
Jenny’s Story – For as long as I can remember I was fighting someone or something. When I was 5 my Mom was pregnant and I didn’t want a baby in our family. I even tried to harm my Mom and the unborn baby. My brother was born anyway but my parents had to take extreme measures to protect him, because I beat him up whenever I could. Mom got pregnant again and had my sister who was really sick for the first few years and spent a lot of time in the hospital. That meant my parents didn’t really have time or money for our family, everything went to care for my sister. So my Grandparents took us all in. Grandpa was physically abusive but I think my parents were so tied up with my sister that they really didn’t know what was going on, except for the outward violence toward my brother which continued.
They did finally recognize that I was out of control and when I was 8 or 9, they did their best to get some counseling for me. It didn’t help much. Then when I was 10 I was sexually assaulted for the second time by a friend of the family who told me that my Dad would be in a lot of trouble if I told anyone, so of course I didn’t. I was too afraid and ashamed to talk about it to anyone.
For the next few years I struggled with anger management, in and out of programs in different schools, but I continued out of control and became a bully. At 13 I tried to commit suicide and ended up in the hospital, and even thought the hospital staff were told of my history with mental issues there was no help for me. Going back to school was overwhelming and I threatened to kill the girl who bullied me. I told the principal and then the school nurse who called the police and my parents. I was arrested and taken to Rockyview hospital for observation. Again, there were no programs for kids my age and with the type of issues I had.
At 14 I met a man quite a bit older than me, who made all kind of promises to me. He turned out to be a manipulator and got me very hooked on drugs and became physically abusive. I started to run away a lot to escape. I was in trouble most of the time and had become a totally dependent victim. Social services got involved and assigned me to a group home for one year, but they had a program that allowed kids to live independently at 15. I got into that, but I was really unprepared to live independently. I felt like my whole world was upside down. I went from being around people constantly and having constant stimulation to being all alone and isolated. My parents discovered that living on my own was not working and I was moved back home. Over this time my parents had split up so I lived with my Dad who was not equipped to handle these issues and mostly had no idea what was going on.
I entered high school and the first year was a nightmare. I hardly remember it – I drank a lot and did a lot of drugs. Everything just became totally overwhelming. About this time the Hull program came to my high school and I recognized that my life was going nowhere and if I was ever going to survive I needed to get straightened out and be more responsible. I wanted to slow down on the drugs and alcohol and focus more on working and on school. I was sent to another high school that had a new pilot program. I went with a terrible reputation and had to attend a daily behavioural program. That summer I was 15 and was brutally sexually assaulted by the older man who was still in my life, but that pretty well ended it. I felt like a walking zombie and thought everyone around me would continue to abuse me. I was done. I thought about suicide, but didn’t want my family to have to go through that with everything else I had put them through.
At high school I was still self medicating with alcohol and through it all I was still a bully, often in trouble and in danger of being kicked out of this school too. I didn’t care anymore. Then I learned about a program called PMAST in this school and I met Winston Blake. He picked me to be part of the pilot, although the school kept saying are you sure you want this kid… we have a really big file on her… she may not be the best candidate. Winston reassured them that I was the one he wanted and so I started with PMAST. This was the first time somebody saw something worthwhile in me, something I had never seen in myself. Once in the program, after completing the initial training and I had that kind of “aha” moment, I was told that if I would continue in the program, I could help with building the Peer Mediation Team in the school and be a team leader.
This training and belief in me gave me a new sense of direction. It showed me a path I wanted to follow and allowed me to engage in the school in a positive way. I became a role model through PMAST which I would not have been able to achieve on my own. It taught me how to be part of a team and think outside of myself; it taught me how to see life differently and how to see the bigger picture. It put the little problems we were all struggling with and all the bullying in perspective. I was a part of the bullying and now I was part of the solution. With PMAST my self esteem and my sense of self worth improved. It gave me a path that I wanted to be a part of. It felt so good to be pulled out of class every day for the advanced training and I learned so many skills that I have been able to use in my own life. I started to learn and understand the concept of boundaries and that it was alright to tell people that something was not okay. I learned to process things like a responsible adult and now the adults in the school started to look at me differently. Now they started to support me – this was such a big thing. Now my goal was not only to finish school, but to help others deal with their issues. I started having friends who were not at rock bottom. For a second year of Grade 12, the school took me back with open arms and I went from showing up 5% of the time and having very low grades, to being there every day, working hard and getting grades in the 90’s. To come from such a dark place and then be chosen as Class Valedictorian was a phenomenal journey.
Then I want on to pursue formal mediation training at college and then social work and got my certificate in addictions and community support. I had the opportunity to work in the schools after grad teaching PMAST’s NO MORE DRAMA program to girls dealing with issues that I had overcome. Getting to see the girls having their “aha moment” was just an incredible experience. Seeing them realize that you don’t have to be the prettiest girl in the world to be effective, be part of the team and to just belong was exceptional. I now have two beautiful children and work alongside Family and Community Support Services to help families. I am a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community and work with youth facing these issues and help them to deal with the reactions they receive.
When we teach kids to effectively communicate with each other and the adults in their world, we teach them how to be better people. We teach them how to communicate with bosses if they feel they are being treated unfairly and with their families. By teaching people how to communicate we empower them to use their words instead of their fists. We need to teach our children how to communicate from a young age and it is so important that we allow them to communicate; we need to listen and respect that they too have opinions. We must remember that by providing these children with good communication skills, we are changing adults who will one day be raising children of their own. It pays forward.
I am a huge supporter of PMAST and have always seen it as something bigger. I have come so far and I am so grateful for the healing it has given me and for the ability to believe in myself and make better decisions for my family. PMAST has given me so many fantastic opportunities and now working with the girls at risk in PMAST’s NO MORE DRAMA program is a labour of love. I would like to see every child learn these skills. My hope is that PMAST’s programs be propelled into all schools in Alberta and across Canada. I wish for kids to be comfortable going to their teachers and saying “I am having a problem” and having someone actually listen. (No matter how the words “No More Drama program” are written, they should match, and I think the word “program doesn’t need to be capitalized. I think the rest should be italicized.
Brenda worked at the Energy Resources Conservation Board and became part of a movement towards changing the culture in our workplace; one that embraced diversity, was not totally male or management-dominated, recognized and fostered the assets of their employees at all levels and provided a fair yet competitive progression towards promotion. We wanted a place where staff who struggled with co-workers, supervisors, systemic issues, or their own challenges could go. Six of us were selected to attend the Mediation/Negotiation program at U of C and upon completion I was asked by some of the instructors to coach future classes. One of the students in a group I was coaching was a young man who worked for the City of Calgary as a youth probation assistant. He kept saying that if he could just teach these skills to the youth he worked with, what a difference it could make. We kept in touch and in 1999 we piloted our first program at Lord Shaughnessy High School although there was no money available, we proceeded on a volunteer basis.
Lord Shaughnessy was a high needs school; probably the toughest school in Calgary. It was the last ditch for students who were expelled from other high school and for youth coming out of lock-up. It had an Integrated Occupational Program (IOP), with a high percentage of special needs and high-risk youth.
I remember the day I arrived at the school to coach the first class. I reported to the office and had to wait for someone to escort me down the hall as it was unsafe to go by myself. The students had been hand-picked by the principal, guidance counsellor and teachers; it was either come to the class or be suspended or expelled. They were not very happy to be there. These were kids with ADD, ADHD, behavioural issues, etc.; far more than half had been diagnosed with some type of condition or disability. Somehow, even under those conditions – they got it. The idea of being able to handle their problems better sparked their interest. They were so open and honest and so in need of someone to listen to them. Someone to care; someone to show them how to deal with their problems. If we could make their lives a little easier and steer them in a better path, all the hard work we were putting in would be worth it.
For one semester we worked with this group, then were asked to present again to a larger group. Soon the school wanted all their students to receive this training. It was remarkable to see the bullies or “ring leaders” refocus their power and influence to become leaders of peer mediation. The CALM Teacher was Carrie Cook who looked after her flock with the utmost care, in and outside the classroom. The Principal was Brad Adams and he became PMAST’s strongest supporter. He watched the transformation in the students who had been the biggest problem in his school and saw the school’s culture change from one of danger to a place where the students looked out for one another and their school with pride.
The teachers and staff noticed the difference in the students and they asked for the training. The parents noticed the difference and some of them asked for the training. The youth responded to this process and built it up with so much pride – their success rate in actual mediations was over 80% – including student/teacher mediations. There were far less confrontations in the school and even outside the school. Students now intervened when discussions started getting out of hand.
These students used their skills in their places of work, on their sports teams and at home. Hearing their stories about how, for the first time, they could do something that stopped a violent situation at home, we had no doubt of the impact this program was having. When the principal spoke about the rate of students graduating from Lord Shaughnessy, which was at 21 students out of a possible 240 the year before the program, and how in one year that rate showed such a significant increase and continued to increase each year – you know it made a difference. The graduation rate in four years was over 60%.
We put on Peace by Pieces Symposium at Mount Royal College where we invited youth from all five schools, guest speakers and visitors. It was amazing to see some of these kids in a college atmosphere; students who had experienced extraordinary life changes did presentations, sharing their stories. The day always ended with everyone, including presenters, coaches, trainers, teachers, visitors, and the students standing in a big circle and each person sharing what they found that day. It usually ended with a few tears, lots of hugs, and the kids leaving all fired up to go and make changes in their lives. A great day for all! Unfortunately, the logistics of getting the students released from the various schools for the whole day and transporting them to MRC became a huge obstacle so we only had the symposium for two years. It has since been replaced by our Wellness Symposium which is hosted by one school at a time.
In our third year at Lord Shaughnessy we were invited to attend their awards night. We were amazed that a girl who had spent a year in lock-up was now the class valedictorian. The ring leader from our first class had become the team leader and recruited the hardest cases into our group. After graduation he continued his connection with PMAST, speaking at workshops, police and school resource officers’ conferences, and with potential funders. When we first met this student he had a long rap sheet and was turning 18. His next offence would have sent him to jail. Another young man who came to us part way through Grade 10 and had quite the track record and matching attitude, received an award and a scholarship. Every one of the youth who won awards that night were part of our team. That was a truly amazing night and made us all so proud. We realized, without a doubt, just why we do this and why it is so important.
For me, PMAST has been a labour of love. I love seeing the kids grow and develop as they absorb these new skills. Watching their transition is the most rewarding experience.
It is sad that we struggle for funds to provide this service when the benefits are so great, not to mention the savings to society for monies not spent on incarceration, court costs, probation, legal costs and property damages, let alone the lost souls and lost lives. This program should be provided to every youth in Alberta. As an assistant principal wrote “In a perfect world every school would be staffed with a mediator who can work with staff, students and families…”
For me the greatest gift is still to change the life of a child – it’s a gift to all of us.
Our Impact – What We Do
From those humble beginnings our programs grew at the request of the schools, to cover issues with their families, in their workplaces and their communities. It started with a program for youth at risk and that was very successful. Look at our stories of individual youth who turned their lives around.
From there our programs grew to encompass all students, their families and school staff; addressing such issues as ethnicity, gender and family dynamics. We now include programs for immigrant and refugee youth to assist in their transition into Canadian society. We also make programs available to communities and families. We have also moved to the Junior high school level.
By providing these life skills to youth, we are empowering them to change their lives and those around them for this and future generations.
We do it through the following programs, which are customized to meet the clients’ needs, budget and timing availability. Alberta Learning has placed a high priority on programs which deal with the overall wellness of the students. However, the tight budgets make it necessary for fund raising events to cover the cost of these programs.
All PMAST programs are delivered by qualified and experienced mediator/trainers.
· Raise awareness of how individuals interact
· Learn strategies to manage conflict
· Cultivate your communication skills
CONFLICT SEMINAR SERIES
Provides practical skills to manage conflict and resolve disputes – three-part series.
· Raises awareness of conflict styles, building empathy and relationship management
· Provides micro skills with break-out groups with coaching
· Applies skills to negotiation situations with coaching
CONNECTED FAMILIES PROGRAM
Explores family dynamics together by learning communication skills and engaging in fun, wholesome and respectful dialogue (for families with children aged 12 and up).
Develops knowledge and awareness of mental and emotional wellness issues with students, school staff and community members.
· A full-time in-school program with mediator/trainer dedicated to providing shared language and intention.
· Develops Peer Mediation Teams promoting youth helping youth to deal with issues of conflict, bullying and resolving disputes.
Rewards youth for good deeds and acts of kindness; a community initiative.
Support – PMAST Fund Raising events, volunteer to work events, sell tickets, etc.
Donate – directly to PMAST via our website, or through Birdies for Kids campaign. When thinking of what to gift someone who has everything, make a donation on their behalf and get them a tax receipt.
PMAST does not hire any staff, all tasks except our Program Director (on contract), are performed by Board members and volunteers. Mediator/Trainers for program delivery are also hired on contract as needed. We operate with a virtual office to keep our administrative costs at a minimum.
Volunteer – We have committees for Fund Raising, Promotions, IT, Finance, Program Development, Governance, Strategic Planning and Community Outreach and are always looking for volunteers to assist in these areas. Contact us if you are interested in becoming a Board member.
Promote – promote our organization and the importance of what we do to your friends, family, co-workers, employers, etc. Do you want this program in the school your children attend or for your club, group or place of work? Contact PMAST and set up a meeting for us with your contacts.