News and Events

Legacy provides hope for community mental health

Brandon Niwa
November 18, 2020

One local family is shining a light on community mental health education and research by creating a lasting legacy in memory of a son, brother, and husband.

Brandon Niwa, affectionately known as Beej, passed away suddenly on May 29, 2020, leaving behind a loving family committed to bringing the community together to partner for mental health.

In honour of Brandon’s legacy, the Niwa family has gifted $100,000 to Medicine Hat College (MHC) in support of community mental health education and research, with continual legacy funding being provided through the Niwa Family Fund with the Community Foundation of Southeast Alberta.

Lindsay Niwa, Brandon’s sister, says the idea for “The Beej Project” stemmed from a quote that resonated deeply with her father, and the conversation that followed.

“My dad shared a quote with me that said, ‘We need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re there.’ From that we realized instead of being reactive, like we had been for the last few months, maybe we should start at the very beginning and try being proactive by giving kids the coping skills right out of the gate.

“Why is it that our mental health, which affects every aspect of our physical health, our ability to learn, and our relationships isn’t made a priority every single day? Doesn’t that make the most sense?”

The Niwa family’s intention for the gift is to ensure knowledge and tools that support mental health are shared with children and parents at a young age, enhancing their ability to deal with life’s challenges in a positive and healthy manner.

“Our hope is that all kids know what mental health is and are equipped with the skills needed to cope with the challenges they face every day, and that parents also have tools to help build coping mechanisms and resiliency in their children. Most of all, we hope we can avoid our kids ever experiencing anything that resembles the events of the last five months in our community.”

Led by MHC, a community advisory panel including Medicine Hat Public School Division No. 76, Prairie Rose School Division, Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education, and Medicine Hat Police Service, will oversee the direction of funds aimed at building a stronger, more resilient community through enhanced mental health education and research.

Kevin Shufflebotham, president and CEO of MHC, says, “Medicine Hat College is honoured to be part of such a meaningful legacy. Mental health is a critical component in building a healthy future of our community and we look forward to seeing the difference this gift will make.

“We’re committed to working with our partners to utilize these funds in a manner that best serves the needs of our community, and we thank the Niwa family for their generous contribution to mental health research and education. Our thoughts continue to be with family members and friends who have lost loved ones through this mental health crisis. We believe the legacy of this gift and the spirit of this partnership can help bring light and hope to others.”