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Wee Jasper weekend away makes friendships – and cheese!

Fortem’s Mark Kennedy caught up with Gen Lindsay, one of the organisation’s amazing Community Engagement Coordinators, to chat about her recent couples cooking retreat in the relaxing and scenic Wee Jasper Valley 

Hi Gen, tell me a little bit about the group you took along to this weekend away. 

Most of these guys had attended a previous Fortem wellbeing activity –  a barbecue cooking class last year. And from that class, they had developed friendships, so much so they were cooking the barbecue recipes that they’d learnt at each other’s houses and making dinner – just as a result of their friendships at that initial class.  

So this latest get together – the Wee Jasper cheese making outing, was a really nice opportunity for them to catch up again, and do something as a group of friends, to further develop the friendship they have forged through our previous activities.  

From my perspective, that’s really important to me, because it makes me feel like I’ve succeeded in terms of bringing people together and actually connecting people socially.  

Yeah wow! That sounds like they’ve forged some strong ‘social connections’ out of the activity, which is one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing – something that we definitely like to see here at Fortem.  

How many people in total did you end up taking along for the weekend?  

Three couples were part of the social circle and then there was a fourth couple who didn’t know anybody. As it turns out, they all worked for the same agency – so they were able to chat, catch up and get to know each other better. 

There’s a very good chance they’ll all end up hanging out together more.   

That’s so lovely, I mean that’s absolutely what you aim to do with your job Gen.  

So did you feel like the participants were getting a kick out of doing this stuff together? Is that a fair comment? I mean it sounds like they obviously enjoyed each other’s company, and they were enjoying the activity… 

I think the enjoyment of it sort of crept up on us all, but it was definitely there. It wasn’t ‘high energy’, with lots of cheering or banter. It just seemed like everyone was very comfortable around each other. It was very easy, very organic. And the socialising was, you know, just natural. 

That’s really interesting feedback when I think of the activity that I attended at the snow recently. With that activity, I was surprised by how ‘in-the-moment’ people were, would you say there was an element of that with your activity? 

Yeah, definitely – I would say that. When anybody is learning a new skill, like cheesemaking, they definitely have that opportunity to not focus so much on other things that are going on, but really to give themselves that focus in that moment. And like you said, just be in the moment.  

Look – being mindful and learning a new skill – that’s another two of the Five Ways to Wellbeing right there. 

But just going back to the activity for a sec – I’m really interested to hear a bit more detail about this cheese-making process – and I’ve got to say, I’m someone who loves eating cheese – which you can probably tell by looking at me – so tell me more about that. What actually happens with the cheese-making? 

Yeah so we made ‘Buratta’, which almost starts out like a Mozzarella – you have to stretch it, as part of the process of making it. The one we made is actually a ‘hot cheese’ – as in, you are actually supposed to eat it hot – so you cook it and bring it out and it’s almost a bit runny. 

Yep right. Well now I’m getting excited – because it sounds like we’re getting close to the part where we eat the cheese?  

Yeah that’s everyone’s favourite part. We ended up so full. I don’t think anyone wanted dinner after we’d finished!  

So did you just make the mozzarella-type cheese, or were there a few different types you made?  

It’s actually a two-part cheese class – we did Fetta and Buratta, and then we did Brie and Blue.  

Tell me a bit more about the surroundings, did I hear you say it was in a homestead?  

Yeah, we do it at a five-bedroom homestead and we have an overnight stay afterwards. It’s a beautiful location. It’s away in the Wee Jasper Valley, right on the river, in the middle-of-nowhere.  

Lots of opportunities to just slow down a bit.   

And I know you said before that people had eaten a lot during the activity – did you end up organising dinner afterwards?  

We are just really lucky with that group. One of the participants just decided that she was going to make dinner, so she actually cooked lasagna and brought it along, and then some of the other guys brought salad and then another couple brought dessert.  

To top it all off, we brought down a fire pit to make it a bit toasty. 

Sounds like a great weekend, is there more of this type of thing on the calendar? 

Yeah absolutely. This particular event is only run every now and again, but there are lots of activities that couples can get involved in.  

Probably my personal favourite is our cook together at home classes, but we also run regular walking groups in many areas – a good opportunity to get away from it all and just spend time with your significant other.  

So how do people get involved in these activities?  

Just go to the website and register! Click on the ‘Wellbeing Activities’ tab  – you can then filter by area.  

Myself or one of the other guys in our team will get an email and we will get in touch – it’s that simple.  

When we see friendship groups forming out of our activity groups, then we do try and organise additional opportunities every now and then, for those guys to spend a bit more time together – which is exactly what this one at Wee Jasper was about.  

So if you’re a first responder, get involved and get along to some of our Fortem events – you might make some new friends. 

I’d love to see some new faces. 

Mental health resources for first responders and their families can be found in the Fortem Resource Library.

Fortem activities, events and community engagements are designed to support the mental fitness of our first responder families. Read more about Our Approach.
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