Seeing the good

Citation Award winner Tammy Richard has spent around 20 years supporting Augustana students and staff with their mental health

Anna Schmidt - 19 January 2023

Photo of Tammy Richard
In her early twenties, Tammy Richard landed her first job in the mental health field, working as an addiction counsellor for the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission in Fort McMurray, Alta.

Just a couple years into the role, a local First Nations community presented Richard with an eagle feather and an award for her work in helping youth, young adults and families struggling with addiction issues.

“When I think back to my mentors in the First Nations communities, [they] really helped me discover my natural ability to connect with people, see the inherent goodness of others and recognize the importance of working with people in their community as we are all connected in this web of life,” says Richard. “That was a moment in my career where not only did I receive the support to do the job, but also knew I was on the right track.”

Her path was set. Richard has spent over 20 years (and counting) “helping people find their way,” and is now an addiction prevention and mental health promotion facilitator with the Alberta Health Services Addictions and Mental Health Clinic.

Since moving back to her hometown of Camrose in 1993, she’s offered her time and talents to the Augustana community, providing education and support around mental health and substance abuse. Richard has led classroom presentations, counselled students, trained resident assistants and helped plan campus-wide wellness events — among other initiatives. Her commitment to this work earned her Augustana’s 2022 Citation Award, an honour given to non-alumni community members each year for significant contributions to the institution.

“I’m only able to receive this award because of the welcoming community on campus that invited me to do the work,” says Richard. “I'm working with people who are just as passionate as I am.”

From the dean to faculty members to cafeteria staff, Augustana’s openness to community members kept her coming back to campus, she adds. For Richard, it was important to offer her counselling services on campus, so students could easily access the help they needed.

Reflecting on the relationships she built, she remembers one young woman in particular. “[The student] said, ‘I was dancing with depression. I was dancing in darkness, and I've learned a new dance. You've helped me find some new steps in my dance,’ ” recalls Richard. “Those kinds of stories — sometimes you just don't know the difference you made until after.”

Beyond counselling, she also supported countless education events, setting up booths in the Forum for Wellness Week and Mental Health Week. Other times, she’d give tips on test anxiety or lead a yoga class. “I love being on campus. There's something about working with university students — they have an openness and a willingness to just talk about what's happening.”

Most recently, Richard shared feedback on the campus’ mental health policy, providing insight on the continuum of care for students and staff, with the goal of helping build a bridge between the campus community and local treatment services.

Ultimately, she says her work with Augustana has centered on building capacity, so both students and staff can enhance their own wellness — and pass on wisdom to others. 

“In all of their stories, I learned from them too,” reflects Richard. “It's difficult work, of course, listening to people's pain and trauma… But there's also something that is so empowering to hear the resilience of a human being and how they make their way through hardships and find their strength.”