The Vanier Peer Support Network (VPSN) is a place where Vanier students can go when they’re feeling down, and/or when they want support; whether its academic related, for relationship support, or any other kind of support that Vanier students feel they need. Even if they just want to chat, if they want to share their good or bad news, VPSN has supporters for them. Ermine Paronyan is the president of the VCSA as well as the president and founder of the VPSN. She started this program last April. One day she wasn’t feeling great, so she walked in to the VCSA and started talking to one of the members, but in the middle of her conversation, the person just left because they got distracted by something. After that she wondered if there was somewhere in Vanier where students could go and be able to talk to their peers and just have someone to listen to them, and the answer was “no”. There are professional counselors of course, but sometimes we just want to share our stories with a peer, so she decided that she would create a program for exactly that; and it’s the VPSN.
The VPSN has a website called vanierpeersupport.com where you can go and book an appointment; there is a calendar with all the supporters’ availabilities and you can book your appointment online. They encourage students to book appointments online, but if for some reason nothing fits a student’s schedule or they need to see someone as soon as possible, the VPSN has drop-in hours. So when the door is open and there is someone in the room, anyone can go in and start talking. Another option is their new chat system that can be found on their website if a student doesn’t have time or feels uncomfortable talking with someone in person, although there is an obligatory confidentiality agreement form that every student needs to sign when they talk with a supporter.
They hope that this program will help Vanier students, and they believe that it has a big life effect when you know you can talk to somebody about your problems and know that they will listen to you without you having to be afraid of being judged or of someone not really listening. Paronyan says that even if only one person benefits from this program, she’ll still be happy because at least she was able to change one person’s life for the better. They have a few people who are with peer supporters constantly and they say how the program has helped them and made their lives better. They talk about relationship issues, family issues, and academic related issues. They talk about what the student wants to talk about. They could also have cases where a student tells them that they want to commit suicide, and they have had cases where a student has had a panic attack; in cases like these it’s too serious for a peer supporter so the student is brought to a counselor or student services.
To be a peer supporter, you must be at least 17 years of age, because the program looks for people who are mature and capable of handling tough situations as well as lend a supportive ear. The program gets many applicants and they choose their supporters carefully after many interviews. Once they are chosen, they go through training and finally become peer supporters. If you are empathetic and good at active listening you should think of sending in an application because they happen to be recruiting for the winter semester right now and the applications are due December 8th. Go to vanierpeersupport.com for more information on how to join.
Written By: Kirstin Lachance
Photo By: Peter Zhuang
Originally Published: December 2015