By Kevin Mitchell
Upon entry, you find a slick-looking lounge and a big-screen TV, followed by the gateway to a 3,200-square-foot workshop containing an array of wood and metal working “drool tools.”
And that’s just the hands-on part of Men’s Shed Vernon’s passion for building meaning and well-being into men’s lives by engaging hands, hearts, and minds.
There isn’t a spec of dirt on the floor in a place open for creativity from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm seven days a week. It welcomes nearly 100 members, who work shoulder-to-shoulder on projects while improving their health and well-being.
They are reaching out to involve local high schools such as the AIAO program at Fulton Secondary School. Intergenerational relationships are a key part of a well-balanced life. There is also a "She Shed" initiative starting up at The Shed. They have just completed 20 weekly meetings.
“While we’re not a therapy group, we’re also planning to invite men over 18 to drop by Monday nights from 6-9 to work in the Shed or just watch TV,” said Vernon Men’s Shed (MSV) vice-president Nels Carlson, who calls himself a ‘Jack of all trades’ when it comes to working with tools.
“It’s a welcoming workshop environment for men,” said Carlson. “It’s a space where men can go to share skills, teach and guide each other through their projects, and create connections.
“We work on community projects by working in teams and applying our skills to support other charitable organizations that need repairs, building and construction assistance, deck work, and other carpentry-style projects.”
Calling the Shed “A clearing house for talent under one roof”, Carlson says sometimes a community project may take two men, while others take 10.
So far this year, MSV members have built a bell structure for the Japanese Cultural Centre, two boardroom tables for Community Futures, trophies for the BMX Association, windowsill planters for two high schools, two horse jumps for the Vernon District Riding Club, planter boxes for Maven Lane, five corn holes for the Army-Navy club, and a periodic table for the Okanagan Science Centre.
Engaging Hearts & Minds
Carlson, 74, is a member of the ‘Zipper Club’ after suffering a heart attack and having open-heart surgery seven years ago. He’s quick to share his story at Men’s Shed, which goes a long way toward engaging the hearts of members who might otherwise experience isolation and loneliness.
“We have a fair number of guys who’ve had prostate surgery, a couple with Alzheimer’s, a few are close to family with Parkinson’s. We make people aware so they’re not alone and they can prevent it and fight it. We had a few guys with depression – one who tried to commit suicide. We got them to share their depression stories and gave them ways to prevent getting there.”
MSV’s welcoming and comfortable social space supports opportunities for coffee, conversation, and connection. In fact, mandatory social breaks are built into shop time.
“That’s our secret sauce!” says Carlson. MSV also offers a wellness group meeting once a month.
“The basic plan is to have a monthly barbecue where we give information with speakers coming in on Monday mornings. We had a lawyer speak on estates and wills. Our newest member, Dr. Gavin Smart, spoke about being kind to your heart on Valentine’s Day. Another member spoke on Prostate Day, and there was a lot of interest.”
Smart, a highly active 65-year-old athlete who downhill skis and cycles, was impressed with his tour of the Shed.
“The most important thing is the sense of feeling valued and giving back to the community,” said Smart. “MSV is also very well organized, and the leadership team is amazing.”
Men Need a Plan for Healthy Outcomes
Carlson explained that “Men of all ages need a plan, and if you don’t have a plan, it can lead to feeling disconnected, isolated, and lonely. Loneliness increases the risk of physical and mental illnesses, including substance abuse and depression.”
Carlson says members report having a significant increase in physical, mental, and spiritual health and overall well-being.
“Attending the Shed, members stay physically active and their participation in projects offers a sense of satisfaction and meaning from their contributions. Members also report that going to the Shed has made them more aware of the importance men’s mental health.”
The Shed offers leadership and mentoring opportunities, skills training, workshop guidance, and group projects. There is a shop team, a membership team that gives tours and recruits new members, a safety team, and a communication team that works on the website and phone apps and helps build members’ computer skills.
John Halper smiles widely when talking about the Shed.
“Since joining the men’s club, it’s easy getting up in the morning because I know I have a great day to look forward to.”
Learn more by watching this video of John and other members’ incredible experiences with MSV.
Kevin Mitchell has been a professional writer for newspapers and magazines for 45 years. His love for journalism began in high school when he was editor of both the school paper and yearbook.
Men's Mental Health Resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or suicide-related behaviour, help is available. Connect with a crisis responder 24 hours a day by calling 1-833-456-4566 or text to 45645 between 4:00 pm and midnight, Eastern time.
If you or someone you know is affected by depression, start by contacting your/their family doctor. There are also numerous resources available by phone or online, including:
The questions below will help stimulate discussion among family members, friends, groups of seniors, and with health care providers.
- Had you heard about the Men’s Shed and its programs before?
- What is your first impression of the program and its goals?
- Men are often thought to be reluctant to talk about personal things like mental illness. How do you think the Men’s Shed can help them with sharing feelings?
- Does the Men’s Shed sound like a good place to get information about mental health issues and other health concerns?
- Are you a senior man who struggles with isolation and loneliness?
- Do you like the idea of the opportunity to hear expert speakers and other speakers on personal experiences in an informal setting? What are some of the issues that men might like to hear more about?
- How does Nels Carlson describe what the Men’s Shed does?
- How do the men help themselves, each other, and the community?
- Are you a senior man looking for a way to give back to your community?
- Why is sharing skills and experiences while helping others important for the mental health of men of all ages, particularly in retirement?
- The program has already helped the community in many ways. Can you think of any other ways they could make a positive difference?
- Does the program offer a good balance of activities, learning, and social interaction?
- Do you think there needs to be more awareness, research, and services for men’s mental health?
- Would you or anyone you know be interested in knowing more about or going to the Men’s Shed? Would it be a good place for men who are new to the community to go?
- Is there a person or particular group of people who would benefit from you sharing this story?
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Building a Men’s Shed
There are 35 Men’s Sheds in B.C., 75 in Canada and more than 2,500 in the world, with Australia starting the movement in 1998.
MSV was founded in 2018 as an informal group, when three friends chatted over coffee about how they could contribute to men having a more vibrant “fourth quarter” of life after leaving work. They’d heard a broadcast about how the Men’s Shed movement was spreading worldwide to achieve the same goals.
“We were most fortunate to be welcomed to make a shop home in a 900 square foot space provided by Elephant Storage, said Carlson. “There was no heat, no running water, and little parking.”
By early 2020, the group had a qualified volunteer coordinator and a fledgling leadership team to manage what had grown to 30 guys with a stated vision and mission.
One was philanthropist Jim Popowich, who stopped at Fisher’s Hardware and returned with an armload of professional power hand tools to stock the shed. The Canadian Mental Health Association helped the Shed to become officially registered with the province.
Grants from Rotary International and United Way Lower Mainland, along with a generous donation from the Jim and Laverne Popowich Foundation, enabled the Men’s Shed to renovate their new facility and improve their financial sustainability.
MSV now has more than 100 members, with plans to grow its programs to meet increasing community demand. For more information about joining MSV, or starting a Men’s Shed in your community, visit these websites at Men’s Shed Vernon, Mens Shed Association of British Columbia, and/or Mens Shed Canada.
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