Month: May 2015

It’s Not Just a Bike – It’s a Really BIG Bike

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Early in May, I saw a post on Twitter putting a call out for volunteers to assist with this year’s Big Bike for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. If you’ve never seen the Big Bike, it’s something to put in your calendar for next year. I participated in the Big Bike event years ago as an undergraduate student in Guelph, ON, and it’s a memorable way to cap off a great fundraising campaign.

Having helped to run many a fundraising event in the past as a non-profit employee (if you recognize the word “voluntold,” you know what I’m talking about!), I called Peterborough’s Heart and Stroke Foundation office and got in touch with the lovely Sara Lunn, who coordinated this year’s Big Bike events, as well as their Jump Rope for Heart initiative in many schools.

I was able to sign up to help run the registration table for two days’ worth of Big Bike outings in downtown Peterborough, stationed in the courtyard behind Peterborough Square. If you saw my fellow volunteers and I alternating between shivering with cold and jumping up and down with noisemakers to cheer on the Big Bikers, thank you for joining in the cheering!

We got to meet so many amazing community activists that week, with teams participating from large companies like Pepsico and GE, the team from PRHC, and smaller organizations like the Peterborough Huskies – who stepped up to join the Big Bike for another team, cycling after theirs, who didn’t have enough members at first. What a great example of community spirit!

Thanks to Sara and her team at HSF Peterborough for letting me join in the fun and give back for a few days.

Press Release: Musician Robert Atyeo Returns to Peterborough’s Vibrant Scene to Launch 6th Album

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Dancing Goosebumps album launch show May 27 at The Venue Lobby Bar kicks off Atyeo’s latest tour across Ontario cities

Tuesday, May 19, 2015, PETERBOROUGH – After 25 years as a career musician with live performances from coast to coast, Robert Atyeo returns to his hometown of Peterborough to launch his sixth studio album, Dancing Goosebumps, and to kick off his next tour with a live show at The Venue’s Lobby Bar on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 at 8:00 p.m.

Often compared to J. J. Cale, John Prine and Tom Waits for his acoustic style that melds folk and blues, Atyeo is a songwriter’s songwriter. He takes the listener all over the emotional map with a delivery that is boisterously entertaining and wry observations often verging on the black.

Along with past bandmates Willie P. Bennett and Tony Quarrington, Atyeo and The Friendly Giants were staples of the Canadian acoustic scene during the 1990s. Atyeo played 200 shows a year, touring from Newfoundland to Victoria and appearing in concerts and festivals including Guelph’s Hillside Festival, Mariposa, Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife, and the Ottawa Folk Festival. In 1993, at the height of the Toronto Blue Jays’ journey to the World Series, Atyeo and The Bird Sisters performed the national anthems during the American League semi-finals in front of 80,000 people at Skydome.

For Atyeo, returning to Peterborough to launch his sixth album is a homecoming, both to the place where he grew up and to the place where his musical career began 25 years ago. “I threw a dart at the map and that dart had to go to Peterborough, it couldn’t land anywhere else,” Atyeo says. “Especially once I came back for a visit and saw that Hunter Street had turned into Queen Street West, and the music scene had really exploded here. This was where I wanted to be.”

Now 60, he first moved to Peterborough with his family at the age of 9 and lived near 5-Mile Turn (now Pinto’s Corners). Atyeo attended Crestwood Secondary School, graduating in 1972; worked at the Mustang drive-in movie theatre; and spent his high school years playing music at parties and making friends laugh. After picking up the ukulele and the guitar as a child, he went on to study the piano at Capilano University in Vancouver, BC from 1980 to 1982.

“Being a musician was a dream – it was something I always wanted to do,” Atyeo says. But it wasn’t until he moved back to Peterborough in 1989 that his career in music began. Atyeo had been living in Toronto and working in an office, and decided to leave his lucrative career to pursue a different life.

“As soon as I got here, I was involved in this rich, vibrant music community that Peterborough had,” Atyeo says. “I said to myself, now is the time to do this – live your dream, go for it.”

Shortly after moving home, Atyeo met his mentor Willie P. Bennett, whom he describes as a “national treasure and musical hero;” Quarrington, who often accompanied Atyeo on guitar; and Lynne Hurry, who became his manager. Bennett co-produced Atyeo’s first three albums, playing harmonica and mandolin as well, leading to the founding of The Friendly Giants in 1990. “They were friendly to me and they were giants in the music business as far as I was concerned,” Atyeo says.

In 1996, after becoming a father, Atyeo moved to Guelph, ON, drawn by the music scene populated by award-winning songwriters like Stephen Fearing of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, to whom he was introduced by Bennett. Fearing played on Atyeo’s fourth album and Atyeo often opened shows for Fearing, becoming good friends. Atyeo later spent 15 years in the Eastern Townships near Montreal, to give his son, Jackson – whose mother is French-Canadian – the chance to live in Quebec. Now that his son is in college, Atyeo is ready to wear out yet another vehicle performing coast to coast.

Dancing Goosebumps is a collection of songs that came out of Atyeo’s survival of a “wicked” bout of depression, and how our society slowly evolves to understand and treat mental illness. “A lot of the songs are autobiographical – I was always told to write what you know,” Atyeo says. “The depression weaves itself in and out of the tunes on the album.”

True to Atyeo’s style, the album balances tales of sadness with tunes about love, life, and humour. “Falling Down the Stairs” is a tongue-in-cheek song that started with a nasty fall taken by Atyeo, and became a light-hearted consideration about life.

“After someone you’re close to passes away, you often get a visit from them, whether in a dream or you just feel their presence,” Atyeo says. “There’s a song about being visited by my mentor, Willie P. It was almost like he was overseeing or even helping to co-write the song.”

Atyeo has worked with high-profile musicians and producers over the many years of his career, such as well-known drummer Al Cross, who plays on Atyeo’s new album; legendary bass player and multi-instrumentalist David Woodhead, who played with Stan Rogers; and Bob Graves, one of the best mastering engineers in the world, known for mastering Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and U2’s Joshua Tree, who mastered Atyeo’s third album, Angels on a Cliff.

Please visit to learn more about the music of Robert Atyeo and upcoming live shows, and check out his Facebook page for videos and recordings at

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For more information about tour dates, or to book interviews or appearances, please contact:
Robert Atyeo, 705-927-7008,

Photo credit: David Walsh

Enriching Lives Through Sport: Working with Special Olympics Canada

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In February, the chance came up for me to work with Special Olympics Canada – one of the most well-known and respected organizations in the world. I immediately jumped aboard to help their Information Systems and Marketing & Communications teams with several exciting projects.

One of the major projects I have assisted with at Special Olympics Canada (SOC) has been an assessment of their current national website, in advance of an eventual full redesign. The initiative included a professional analysis of the existing website, interviews with stakeholders, and recommendations for addressing any gaps or issues.

I managed the assessment project from start to finish: developed a concept brief, created a timeline with deliverables and responsibilities, sourced potential vendor agencies to carry out the assessment, reviewed proposals, assisted SOC in selecting a vendor, and provided the project structure. After The Pixel Shop, a Toronto web design agency, was hired to carry out the assessment, I worked with them directly to provide necessary information for their analysis, scheduled interviews with stakeholders (athletes, coaches, volunteers, staff, etc.), and coordinated with the SOC team for their input into the project.

This process has been invaluable for me, in terms of learning more about web content strategy, but also because it allowed me to hone my project management skills. Combined with the other initiatives I have been involved in with SOC, including support for online fundraising pages, the website assessment was an extremely interesting and worthwhile project for me, especially participating in the final results of the usability studies and recommendations for future implementation.

The past five months have sped by, and I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to work with a group of individuals who are so dedicated to a wonderful mission.

Press Release: Nurses Combat Nurse Fatigue by Sharing Their Stories on International Nurses Day 2015

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Toronto journalist Aysha Mendes to host eight-part web series featuring an international group of nurses sharing their care experiences to combat caregiver burnout and fatigue

9 May 2015, TORONTO – Nurses from around the world will share their care experience stories in an eight-part web series aiming to combat the issue of nurse fatigue and compassion burnout on International Nurses Day on Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

Aysha Mendes, Toronto journalist, nursing columnist and former Deputy Editor of the British Journal of Nursing, has commissioned the series to raise awareness about compassion, caring or nurse fatigue, also referred to as caregiver burnout, which can prevent nurses from providing the best quality of care to their patients.

“In addition to International Nurses Day, it’s also Canadian National Nursing Week, and the theme this year is With you every step of the way,” Ms. Mendes says. “It’s the perfect occasion to highlight this critical issue that affects so many nurses, so that we can show our support for the caregivers who support all of us in our times of need.”

Eight long-time nurses from Canada, the United Kingdom and as far afield as Hong Kong, will tell their stories in the series, which will be hosted at and will also feature a Q&A with Caryl Eyre, a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) from the US with a psychiatric mental-health background and more than 40 years of experience, on compassion fatigue and what can be done to address it based on the steps she has taken within her own hospital.

Nurse fatigue can manifest as physical or mental exhaustion, and is influenced by physiological, psychological, behavioral and environmental factors, from sleep deprivation and work schedules to stress. The condition interferes with an individual’s ability to function physically and cognitively. The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) states that over 55% of nurses always or almost always feel fatigued during work, and as many as 80% feel fatigued after work. According to the CNA, nurse fatigue is also strongly linked to the likelihood of errors and risks to the safety of nurses and patients. The issue is a global one: a 2014 article by Ms. Mendes in the British Journal of Nursing shares results of a survey of 3,000 nurses across England, 40% of whom stated they suffer from “emotional exhaustion” or “burnout”.

“I’m honoured that these amazing nurses have chosen to share some of the most heartwarming or difficult nursing care experiences of their careers, some of which have spanned 30 years or more,” Ms. Mendes says. “I’m excited to bring these stories to light so that members of the public can better understand what nurses go through.”

The series will also include stories from nurses who have experience as unpaid family care-givers, who are often an over-used and under-recognized group, carrying much of the burden of the cash-strapped and resource-poor healthcare system. Some healthcare organizations have systems in place to offer nurses a healthy outlet to share and reflect on their caring experiences, topping up their emotional reserves to continue providing compassionate patient-centered care to those who rely on them. But at other institutions, or for individuals caring for family members on their own, there is little to no support provided and a lack of recognition of this crucial issue.

“There is no better time for healthcare institutions to start putting their nurses first and invest some energy into programs and initiatives, some of which can cost little to nothing to implement, so that nurses really do feel like their practice is ‘with them every step of the way’,” says Tahira Alarakhia, a Calgary nurse who contributed a story to the series of her experience working in a children’s hospice.

In 2011, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) released a report offering best practice and guidelines on preventing and mitigating nurse fatigue. The recommendations included government funding for educating nurses about fatigue and for facilities designated for rest; further research into the causes of fatigue and reducing impact on patient safety; and educating workplace leaders on providing a culture that minimizes the factors that lead to fatigue and support services for those who experience it.

International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world every May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Nightingale was a British nurse during the Crimean War in the 1850s, who improved conditions in military hospitals and, along with her fellow nurses, dramatically reduced mortality rates among wounded soldiers. She later founded schools for nurses and midwives, published books on healthcare reform, and advocated extensively for improvements in hygiene, hospital administration, and healthcare for the poor.

About Aysha Mendes
Aysha Mendes is a British-born Canadian journalist based in Toronto, Canada, specializing in health, psychology and nursing. She spent several years in London, UK as the Deputy Editor of the British Journal of Nursing, and has managed several other healthcare titles. Her first job was caring for seniors in a care home owned by her parents, both of whom were nurses. She now freelances full-time as a writer, editor, columnist and editorial coach. Along with her love of telling stories, she seeks to demystify the complex, highlight the fascinating in the ordinary and, above all, reveal truth.

Interviews are available with series host Aysha Mendes and with participating nurses.
For more information, please contact:
Aysha Mendes, Freelance Journalist