How CAMH’s Quinn Kirby Turned Tragedy into Gifts of Light

After losing her younger brother to suicide in November 2014, Quinn Kirby was devastated. “You never imagine it will happen to your family,” she says. “Then one day your world is turned upside down.”

Some days, the loss seemed impossible to bear. It was then that Kirby felt a calling. “Ironically, the most painful and tragic part of my life has led me to a fulfilling and life-changing career,” she says. She left the advertising world she had built her career in and started a position working at CAMH in their Gifts of Light program. “The opportunity came at a time when I needed it most,” she says. “It allowed me to channel my sadness and pain into passion and hope.

As the Manager of Gifts of Light, Kirby works alongside different stakeholders—clinical and non-clinical staff, volunteers, donors and community partners. Together, they work to bring resources, funding and opportunities to enhance the daily experience of their diverse patients. “It is my responsibility to ensure donations from our supporters are put to the best possible use and bring comfort and dignity to some of our most vulnerable populations.”

“If you have ever been to our hospital, you may have noticed that CAMH is one of the only hospitals in the GTA without a gift shop,” says Kirby. “We don’t see a constant flow of visitors or people bringing flowers and ‘Get Well Soon’ cards to our patients. Mental illness is often a very lonely diagnosis.”

Here’s where Gifts of Light steps in and relies 100% on donor support. It provides the daily basic necessities (e.g., socks, toiletries, a change of comfortable and weather-appropriate clothing) and special events and opportunities for patients and staff to socialize in a non-clinical setting (think Blue Jays BBQ, holiday parties, spa days and movie outings). It also offers skill-building experiences through community partnerships (fitness and yoga classes, art and photography workshops, hiking excursions, drum making, music programs, and more).

The impact of these gifts is profound. “Every day at CAMH, I get to witness an interaction that reminds me why I am here,” says Kirby. “I’ve watched a mom walk hand-in-hand with her young child as they enter our Child and Youth program for their first time. I have witnessed a patient look in the mirror after a spa day makeover and cry tears of happiness because they ‘looked like themselves’ again. I’ve seen a timid patient stand up in the middle of a singing group and walk over to the piano, only to find out he was a Juno Award-winning pianist. These moments of real human emotion and connection happen every day at CAMH.”

Kirby is excited thinking about the possibilities of where this program will go and how many lives it will continue to change. “We are currently serving about 200 patients per week, and that number is rising. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re growing with every new donation, every new partnership, and every new idea to help our patients. Everything we do will always be about ensuring our patients feel the love and support they deserve.”

She reflects back on the loss of her brother and her initial motivation to make a positive change. “It seemed impossible at times, but my family has been able to get back on our feet and live our lives in a way that would make my brother proud.”

Want to give a Gift of Light this holiday season? Do it here

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