EDMONTON -- Edmonton's Africa Centre has partnered with United Way and Alberta Black Therapists Network to offer free counselling services.

Odion Welch, mental health youth coordinator for the Africa Centre, said the program is the first of its kind in Western Canada, because it’s free and it’s Black focused.”

Welch told CTV News Edmonton starting the one-hour virtual sessions had been an ongoing discussion for quite some time and the pandemic helped push the initiative forward.

“We get mad at the pandemic, but in some ways the pandemic forced us to make moves on things we were just talking about,” she said.

Therapy session are offered eight to 12 hours a week with four licensed therapists on hand, all of whom are Black. Different languages and translation services are also being offered to avoid barriers for marginalized groups.

"It helps you because you feel more comfortable," said Noreen Sibanda, a registered provincial psychologist at the Alberta Black Therapists Network. "The rapport is built a little bit quicker when you know the person on the other end of the services is part of your community and also has an understanding of what you are going through.

“It’s even more important that someone just knows that they have a place to go to talk to somebody about their culture, about their history, about any sadness or disappointment that they’re feeling," Welch added.

This service is short-term for now. According to Welch, United Way will fund the program until the summer. After that, they will start outsourcing for support and donations to keep the program afloat.

“Not only does it service the Black community, it services all the communities because we’re all interlinked and I think that’s something really important too as we enter Black History Month,” she said.

Welch told CTV News Edmonton that while the counselling program is intended as a resource for the Black community, it’s also open to all members of the general public.

“There’s so many people that can’t even go to counselling that’s low cost and affordable because the resources that are available are all 9 to 5,” Welch said.

Once restrictions ease, Welch said they will start offering in-person sessions at the Africa Centre. For now all bookings can be made online.