In 2017, Seaforth, Ontario, a small farming community within Huron County, was shaken by the sudden loss of 19-year-old Tanner Steffler. After battling with substance misuse and mental health challenges, Steffler passed away from an overdose.
Following Tanner’s death, many community members began reaching out to his family to share their own experiences with substance misuse and mental illness. In honour of their son’s life, John and Heather established the Tanner Steffler Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to helping provide better mental health and addiction resources for Huron County youth.
Tanner’s father, John, explains, “We’re a relatively small population spread over a large geographic area which makes government funding difficult to come by, so I’m very proud of the way our community has come together. This foundation allows Tanner’s legacy to continue, and it feels good to take this tragic loss and turn it into a community gain.”
Since its inception, the foundation has spearheaded programs within county high schools where students now have better access to support—the kind that may have helped Tanner. “Through foundation funding, we’ve been able to help the local school boards hire mental health and wellness coaches and create customized programming designed to meet the unique needs of Huron County students.”
Impressed with their substantial progress in such a short time frame, local farmer Mike Van Aaken was inspired by the Steffler Foundation and nominated them to receive a $2,500 grant from the Bayer Fund’s Canada’s Farmers Grow Communities program (CFGC). He and his wife welcomed their first child just over a year and a half ago, and he takes comfort in knowing that these kinds of mental health programs are being put in place, should his son ever need it.
“It can be hard for youth to speak up or ask for help, and there are some conversations they don’t want to have with their parents. So, having someone else they can trust, and feel safe with, is so important. The Steffler family has definitely made a lasting and positive impact on our community,” Aaken says.
“The nomination took us by surprise,” said John Steffler. “Although we knew the Van Aaken family, we didn’t know Mike directly. So, when he called to mention that he was going to nominate us, it was a huge deal for us. It not only meant our community was thinking about us and valued our efforts, it meant our message was getting out.
Then, to find out we were awarded the grant, it was just a sense of – ‘wow.’ To have an organization donate such a large sum of money with no strings attached and say, ‘go help your community’ was incredible. It’s the same way we feel every time we receive a donation; it reaffirms that we’re doing the right thing and going in the right direction. We can’t say, thank you, enough.”
Equally appreciative of Van Aaken for the nomination, Steffler continued, “Thank you for believing in us and allowing us to create a culture of change for the youth in Huron County. The support is overwhelming, and we thank you for nominating us.”
Having worked in the farming industry for almost 20 years, Van Aaken was honoured to be able to nominate the foundation. “We’re not always able to write the cheques ourselves, so when there are programs that are willing to help our communities, it’s great. Bayer has a huge customer base and it’s nice to see them give back to the communities where their customers live,” he says.
The foundation has allocated the grant funds towards the My Journey Program, where youth (ages 12-24) in farming communities can connect with a professional psychotherapist to help them and their families navigate their way through the appropriate mental health and counselling services.
Additionally, the Steffler foundation is now in the final stages of developing an implementation plan to be a provider of Mental health and substance misuse services, which is fantastic news for the entire community. For more information on the foundation and their activities, please visit TannerStefflerFoundation.com