Health Change Lab students (l-r) Joanna Seow, James Wang, Lana Friesen and Sophia Lam conceived Sober Stay, a roommate-finder offering support for those going through post-rehabilitation, during the fall semester course in Surrey.

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Sober Stay roommate-finder among solutions conceived in Health Change Lab

November 29, 2016
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Sober Stay, a roommate-finder for those transitioning out of rehabilitation and returning to the community, is among several community health solutions that students in SFU’s Health Change Lab conceived over the past semester.

The Health Change Lab is a seven-credit course in which students work together in teams to understand local social and health challenges, and devise projects to potentially resolve them.

Students shared their ideas this week during a course windup at Surrey City Hall. They hope their efforts may eventually lead to resources for some of the community’s most pressing social issues.

Sober Stay grew from one student team’s initial goal to develop a general resource website for those completing rehabilitation and moving back into the community.

The team spent several weeks interviewing community and health workers locally as well as in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where they also met with residents.

“It was powerful to meet with individuals who candidly shared what it’s like to return to the community with fresh hopes,” says Joanna Seow, a student in SFU’s Beedie School of Business, whose team included students Sophia Lam, Lana Friesen and James Wang.

“But while we began with a general website in mind, it became clear that the most basic need was for a supportive and encouraging environment. And we thought, who better to support and encourage than someone who has been in the same shoes?”

The students were also inspired by what they learned from the John Volken Academy, which provides an affordable residential addiction recovery and treatment program along with support for cultivating self-worth and developing job skills.

“We saw that housing that was not merely a place in any neighbourhood, but rather something that ultimately reinforced their sobriety. We created Sober Stay with continual recovery in mind.”

Sober Stay is one of a slate of solutions students conceived. Other teams focused on food security, transportation for seniors, and mental health and substance use among youth. Another team conceived a First Nations cultural competency educational initiative for schools.

The Health Change Lab was developed by SFU’s Beedie School of Business’ RADIUS social innovation lab and the Faculty of Health Sciences, partnering with the City of Surrey and Fraser Health. The 30-student cohort spent one day a week in Surrey, conceiving ideas and creating projects designed to impact health and wellbeing in the community.

“This is a unique approach because students are not only learning, they are looking to make a difference in this community by working on priority issues identified by Surrey partners,” says Paola Ardiles, a lecturer in health sciences, who taught the course with colleague Shawn Smith, founder of RADIUS.

This year's change lab has also been supported by entrepreneur and philanthropist Scott Shaw, whose assistance provided a course retreat, additional in-class support, and project funding for eligible teams.

Change Lab is integrated into the SFU Innovates strategy. Graduates can, depending on their goals, to carry their ideas forward via additional classes at SFU and through entrepreneurship support programs at Venture Connection and RADIUS. They can also apply for seed funding to continue testing their ideas.