Scholarship awarded to honour legacy of Guelph mental health advocate Darlene Walton

L-R: Dr. Roy Cameron, Alyna Walji, Gary Walton

Darlene Walton was passionate about mental health. A well-known Guelph resident, she dedicated her career to helping people impacted by mental illness and addiction. She was also a strong supporter of mental health research and contributed in many ways to Homewood Research Institute (HRI), a mental health charity which she saw as having potential to transform Canada’s mental health and addiction services.

When Darlene passed away in 2018, HRI established a scholarship to honour her legacy. The Darlene Walton Scholarship Fund was designated to support a student pursuing studies in the field of mental health and addiction research. On June 18, 2019, the award was presented to its first recipient, Alyna Walji.

Walji is a Health Studies co-op student from the University of Waterloo. During her 2018 work term at HRI, she developed a prototype tool that displays research data in a simplified and interactive way. Known as the Data Visualization Tool, the prototype was created to help health data users such as hospital administrators, program directors and others use data and improve programs by identifying critical success factors, areas for improvement, and research priorities.

Walji worked in collaboration with Dr. Jim Wallace, professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, to develop the tool and move it from a paper-based blueprint to a fully-functioning electronic dashboard application.

The Data Visualization Tool is currently being piloted at Homewood Health, HRI’s founder and primary research partner. Using the prototype tool, clinicians can quickly explore data from patients who have been in recovery for up to one year following addiction treatment, and use findings to inform changes to treatment programs and ultimately improve patient outcomes.
“The Data Visualization Tool is a resource that can transform the way our research data is shared and used,” says Dr. Jean Costello, a Research and Evaluation Scientist at HRI who supervised Walji’s work term.

“Oftentimes, data is shared via static media, such as infographics and reports. This tool allows people to interact with the data in a user-friendly way. It makes otherwise-complicated data more accessible, meaningful and understandable for those tasked with making data-driven decisions and improvements to mental health care services.”

Members of Darlene Walton’s family were in attendance during the award presentation.

“Darlene believed that science was the key to finding solutions,” says Darlene’s husband, Gary Walton.

“She viewed HRI’s practical research as vital to the future of our nation’s mental health, and our family is grateful that her passion will live on through the generous donations made to this scholarship fund. We are very pleased that Alyna is the first recipient of Darlene’s award. Darlene would be so happy to know that her legacy is supporting the next generation of researchers and scientists who will make a difference.”

“We can’t think of a student more deserving of the Darlene Walton Scholarship Fund than Alyna Walji,” says Dr. Costello.

“Darlene is an inspiration to us all, and we are pleased to honour her by awarding this scholarship to a student who shares Darlene’s vision of a brighter future.”

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