Nearly six years ago, Christopher Yendt (BA ’15, BEd ’15) found himself at the centre of a mental health crisis.
Experiencing mania, paranoia and suicidal thoughts, he gave up his positions in student government and other campus involvement, lost his licence and was unable to return to his apartment out of fear of his roommates.
It was the most challenging time of his life and seemed, in the moment, insurmountable.
But with the support of family, friends and the Niagara community, Yendt, who graduated Friday, Oct. 16 at Brock’s Fall Convocation and was honoured as one of two Spirit of Brock medal winners, learned resilience and turned his story into one about survival and success. He has since started using his experiences to help others who are facing a similar battle.
Also recognized with the Spirit of Brock award was Carly Magnacca (BA ’16), who received her Master of Arts in Applied Disability Studies with a specialization in Applied Behaviour Analysis. Yendt received his Bachelor of Education in Adult Education.
Each with an impressive list of accomplishments throughout their Brock journey, Yendt and Magnacca were acknowledged for their leadership, courage, innovation, inspiration and community involvement.
Yendt, who is also simultaneously completing a Master of Education, prides himself on his work in the Brock and local communities. He is President of Brock’s Graduate Students’ Association, President of the Board of Directors for the Niagara branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and Chair of the Board of Directors for Rainbow’s End in Hamilton, an organization that provides employment for people living with mental illness.
“I often joke that CMHA saved my life,” said Yendt, who credits his affiliation with the board, which began more than five years ago, for helping him rebuild a sense of place and attachment to community, while allowing him to discover his life’s purpose.
The 30-year-old Hamilton native now aims to help others struggling with mental health issues through his research and participation with the Crisis Intervention Training program for local police.
Yendt doesn’t view his experiences as unique, having seen others struggle with similar challenges, but wants to share that things get better once you reach out for support.
“I’m about showing people that, yes, you can overcome things, succeed and you can blaze a path forward,” he said.
Yendt is a firm believer in “leaving things better than you found them.”
Through his various avenues of involvement, he is working to ensure barriers faced by those with mental health concerns are addressed, allowing everyone to get the help and support they need.
“My mission is to plant trees I’ll never sit under and cultivate gardens I’ll never enjoy,” Yendt said. “I like setting projects alight and afire knowing they will grow as I move on.”
Magnacca’s impact at Brock will also continue beyond Convocation, as she is now a lab manager in the Psychology Department’s Adolescent Development Lab and is working with the Lifespan Development Research Centre on knowledge mobilization — one of her many passions.
“Disseminating research and ensuring it gets into the hands of those that need it is something that I value greatly, and something that Brock really emphasizes,” she said. “As I graduate, I hope to continue engaging in authentic knowledge dissemination and improving community resources, as I have learned from so many at Brock.”
Throughout her studies, Magnacca has been heavily involved in the community, conducting community-focused research, mobilizing research to community partners and volunteering with many community organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Reach Out Centre for Kids, the Learning Disability Association of Niagara Region and Niagara Region Sexual Assault Centre.
She is currently volunteering with the Kids Brain Health Network Trainee Advisory Committee.
The 28-year-old Thorold resident said she is “beyond honoured” to be chosen for the Spirit of Brock medal, knowing all that it represents.
“I think my values are quite aligned with Brock’s,” she said. “I really appreciate the University’s focus on community involvement and leadership. I think those components are sometimes underemphasized in academia, but lead to impactful change.”
She extended her gratitude to Brock for the financial support and recognition she received during her graduate degree.
“I have been fortunate to receive an enormous amount of support from the University, including leadership, research funding, awards for academic merit and funding to travel to conferences to present my research.”
Magnacca also stressed how appreciative she is “of those that provided me with opportunities to learn outside of the classroom and refine skills that I value.”
She encouraged students to explore all avenues of learning made available through the University.
“Think about the social, academic and professional skills you would like to graduate from Brock with and explore a variety of opportunities to refine those skills,” she said. “This may look different for everyone, but take advantage of the diverse opportunities Brock has to offer, even if they are outside of your comfort zone.”