In a world going way too fast, feeling overwhelmed is not uncommon for any of us, but it can be especially pronounced when kids make the transition from childhood to adolescence.
A byproduct of such angst is heightened anxiousness; an overwhelming sensation that things are spinning out of control and there’s no one at the wheel. While such a feeling is quite common, when outside factors — stressful situations, moments of crisis and/or traumatic experiences — come into play, the effect can be and often is debilitating.
The Hicks family, who live in Uxbridge but spend summers at their cottage north of Apsley in the Kawarthas, learned this firsthand through the struggles of their son Cameron (“Cam” to his family and friends).
One of three boys raised by Gord and Linda, Cam had a happy childhood with his parents and brothers Andrew and Mitchell. He loved sports, learning to play hockey at age four and later playing at the rep level. Well adjusted, socially accepted with a wide circle of friends, and physically active, Cameron’s childhood was all any parent would wish for their child.
But, as Cam moved into adolescence, things started to change.
“It was early in high school that Cam really started to struggle,” says Cam’s father Gord in a moving YouTube video (see below).
“Having just been the master of ceremonies at his graduation from public school the previous year, going into Grade 9 started to be very difficult,” Gord explains. “He came home one day and he looked quite distraught.”
“The next day, he didn’t want to go to school, complaining of a stomach ache, and then headaches, and then more stomach aches. It got to the point where he was missing two or three days of school a week. Then it got to the point where he felt he couldn’t go to school any longer.”
About Cam Hicks’ Kids Foundation featuring Cam’s father Gord
Perplexed, Gord and Linda’s initial thought was that Cam was dealing with a medical problem. What followed was a series of tests to diagnosis to determine the cause. When a medical condition was ruled out, it was determined the source of Cam’s ailment was related to his mental health; specifically, anxiety.
The Hicks learned shortly thereafter that, in just his second week of high school, Cam had been assaulted by another student. That incident, says Gord, was the trigger.
Over the next two years with the help of doctors and health care practitioners, Cam slowly learned to manage his anxiety through various techniques, including cognitive behaviour therapy. Staff at Uxbridge Secondary School supported him in his completion of grades 9 and 10 through online courses and the writing of exams in the school office.
In short, they had his back and it paid off. For Grade 11, Cam was back in the classroom and was fully participating in sports and other aspects of high school life, eventually graduating and enrolling at the University of Ottawa. In September 2014, he was away from home for the first time and living in the nation’s capital. Having learned to cope with his anxiety, Cam had begun his independent life as a young adult with a bright future ahead of him.
Then unimaginable tragedy changed the Hicks family forever. On Friday, October 31st, after only two months at university, Cam was struck by a hit-and-run driver while walking along Highway 417 in Ottawa and was pronounced dead at the scene. He was just 19 years old.
“I remember standing here in the room surrounded by loved ones and people that had come the following Monday,” recalls his mother Linda. “The flowers had started to come and I thought, ‘We should really try to do something good.'”
“I was thinking maybe in lieu of flowers we could set up something to request funds to help others struggling with whatever they struggle with. Then it came into my head … let’s call it Cam’s Kids. I have no idea where that came from. It just sort of popped into my consciousness and I blurted it out.”
Linda’s initial idea led to the creation of the foundation in Cam’s name.
It began simply, with the establishment of a bank account by faculty members at the Uxbridge high school. Today, the Cam’s Kids website at www.camskids.com is at the heart of the foundation that aims to help families identify heightened anxiety in young people earlier, understand fully its debilitating effects if left untreated, and provide resources for help.
As well, via an ambitious “ambassador” program, Cam’s Kids aims to have volunteers working in communities across Canada, promoting the website, organizing fundraisers, and reinforcing Cam’s Kids’ core message: if you’re experiencing heightened anxiety, you’re not alone and there is help.
“Feedback on the website has been overwhelmingly positive,” enthuses Tavis Smith, national manager of Cam’s Kids. Raised in Uxbridge, Tavis arrived back in Canada last October from Edinburgh where he attended university and worked. His sister Haley, who herself struggled with anxiety, was already doing work on the foundation’s behalf.
“Haley brought me up to speed on what it was all about,” Tavis says and, just 10 days before the website went live, the 25-year-old Tavis was named Cam’s Kids’ national manager.
“From week to week, the momentum has been evident,” he says. “On a personal level, to be involved in a grassroots organization is exciting. We’re doing a lot of learning by doing.”
Tavis notes that, since the website’s launch, a regional ambassador is representing Cam’s Kids in Halifax, another is getting started in Ottawa, and inroads have been made in the GTA. The plan, he notes, is to sign up more ambassadors across the country.
The duties of an ambassador include representing the foundation in schools and at community functions, and distributing posters promoting Cam’s Kids and related events.
Not lost on Tavis is the prevalence of a number of foundations helping Canadians cope with and get help for various mental health challenges.
“There’s a lot of doubling up,” he says. “I’d definitely like to see more collaboration. I think all the various foundations complement each other in many ways. We’re all trying to achieve the same thing.”
The specific goal of Cam’s Kids is to make kids’ lives better by helping them cope with anxiety.
“We would like anxiety and anxiety disorders to be at the forefront of people’s awareness of what’s going on with their bodies,” Tavis explains. “Measuring our success is a complicated endeavour but if we can change the life of one person, that’s our goal.”
The staging of special events plays a huge role in raising both awareness and funds for the foundation. That includes initiatives held to date at Uxbridge Secondary School and the University of Ottawa. This past winter, a pond hockey tournament was held and, on June 25th, a second annual golf tournament and dinner will be staged at Wooden Sticks in Uxbridge. There, front and centre, will be the Hicks family.
“Special events are important in terms of fundraising and raising awareness,” Tavis notes. “But the conversations that take place at them are priceless. It creates awareness that people are not dealing with this in a bubble, but it’s an experience shared by many.”
Tavis’s dedication to and work on behalf of Cam’s Kids draws nothing but praise from Cam’s mother.
“He’s very passionate,” Linda says. “Tavis has an understanding of what his sister went through. He has a different take having witnessed that.”
While Cam’s Kids grew out of an unthinkable tragedy for her family, Linda is thrilled by the foundation’s growth in a relatively short period of time and is clearly proud of her involvement.
“I love the work; I don’t even want to call it work,” she says. “It’s very exciting to collaborate and work on something I wish we had access to or had known more about when we were going through this.”
“Of course, I would trade it all to have Cameron back,” Linda adds.
Cam’s father Gord says that helping other young people dealing with anxiety is the best way to honour his son.
“Identify it early, be aware of the fact that there are resources out there that can help you learn how to cope and manage, and move forward with your life in a very meaningful way so you can reach your full potential,” he says.
“This is the legacy that we’re hoping that we can leave for Cameron.”