Welcome to HC Link's blog! Our blog will provide you with useful information on healthy community topics, news, and resources, as well as information on HC Link’s events, activities, and resources. Our bloggers include HC Link staff and consultants, as well as our partnering organizations, clients, and experts in the health promotion field.

Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

We look forward to engaging in thought-provoking conversation with you!

To view past blogs, please click on the home icon below left.

Andrea Zeelie-Varga has not set their biography yet

Today is World AIDS Day, the day the world shows solidarity with people living with HIV and AIDS

By Andrea Zeelie-Varga, Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR)

World AIDS Day is held on December 1st each year – it was first celebrated in 1988 and was the first ever global health day. The past few years have focused on the theme Getting To Zero: zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.


We've made incredible strides in the fight against HIV. But it is not over, not yet. There is still no vaccine and no cure, and people living with HIV still face discrimination.

Canada is one of a handful of countries with the intellectual capital, infrastructure, and resources to make a significant difference in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) is Canada's only independent charitable foundation dedicated to eliminating AIDS through research. Notable breakthroughs by CANFAR-funded researchers include a key component of the drug treatment that is keeping many people alive today, and findings that have nearly eliminated the risk of HIV transmission between a mother and her baby.

CANFAR's tech-savvy, youth-friendly campaign Kisses 4 CANFAR aims to help young Canadians tackle misconceptions about the disease. Kisses 4 CANFAR is a national movement that creates an ongoing dialogue about HIV and AIDS, prevention, and stigma reduction.

CANFAR is encouraging people to take a pledge and make a personal commitment to kissing HIV and AIDS goodbye!

The pledge card is formatted for the most popular social media platforms (Facebook., Twitter and Instagram) and is also available in a print-ready format. Pledges are shared online with #kisses4CANFAR and #WAD2014 (and also for #GivingTuesday2014!)


Join us and visit to make your promise this World AIDS Day.

2781 Hits

It’s Prom Season: New resources for parents and teens to help plan for a safe night

By Andrea Zeelie-Varga, Parent Action on Drugs

Experts say teens are paying more and more attention to prom. Outlandish proposals, a perfect outfit and memories to last a lifetime - teens want an occasion to remember. Parents want their teens to stay safe, but sometimes don't know where to start. The Parent Action Pack has bundled a few resources to help parents and their teens make a plan for a safe, enjoyable prom! Health professionals working with parents and teens may find the following resources helpful:

3412 Hits

Webinar Recap: Family-based Approaches for Building Resiliency in Children and Youth – Learning from the Field

By Andrea Zeelie-Varga

Parent Action on Drugs and CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre collaborated with HC Link on an online learning series, Family-based Approaches for Building Resiliency in Children and Youth.

In webinar one, we introduced and defined family-based/ family skills programming, looking at definitions, concepts of resiliency and risk and protective factors, as well as outcomes. Webinar one introduced best practices guidelines for family skills programs from Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and United Nations. The webinar also cited Strengthening Families for the Future, Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth, Stop Now and Plan, Multisystemic Therapy, Triple P Parenting Program and The Incredible Years as examples.

The webinar also took an in depth look at the principles for implementing and delivering family-based programs:


Webinar two gave a brief overview of the principles, and honed in on the last two guidelines, before exploring some learning from the field with three guest presenters:

  • MaryLynn Reddon-D'Arcy, from Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's Child, Youth and Family Program presented her experience with Incredible Years Parenting Program and the Dinosaur Social Skills Program.
  • Megan Dumais, Manager of the Family Health Team at the Sudbury & District Health Unit, gave an overview of their community-based parenting model in the Sudbury and Manitoulin Districts with the Triple P Parenting Program.
  • Kerri Kightley, Manager of The Peterborough Drug Strategy, shared her experiences with Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth in both country and city settings.

The presenters then engaged in a discussion panel, looking at some of the challenges of implementation and the need for adaptation. To hear the presenters' experiences with their respective programs (and to listen to the lively panel discussion!) view the recording below.



Webinar 1:

Twitter Chat Recap:

Webinar 2:


2688 Hits

Webinar recap: Family-based Approaches for Building Resiliency in Children and Youth

By Andrea Zeelie-Varga, Parent Action on Drugs

What does a resilient family mean to you?

Participants on our January 29th webinar told us:

A resilient family is...

  • a family that communicates in a healthy manner
  • a family who is able to support each other in healthy development
  • supportive; connected; able to share feelings; able to try new things and take risks
  • respectful of each other
  • having healthy coping skills in difficult situations
  • ability to adapt and cope with hurdles
  • connected and supported
  • having positive behaviours that help to resist "risky" behaviours
  • ability to adapt to changes
  • flexible

The webinar was the first in our online series Family-based Approaches for Building Resiliency in Children and Youth.

Barbara Steep, an equity and engagement lead in the GTA Region Office at CAMH, kicked off the webinar with an introduction and definition of family-based/ family skills programming.  Monica Nunes, a research analyst at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health within the MOHLTC-funded CAMH, provided an overview of the evidence base for this type of work and reviewed best practices and guidelines. Learn more about what Monica had to say in the resource list below. Diane Buhler, executive director of Parent Action on Drugs, gave an introduction to best practices guidelines for family skills programs, peppered with program examples.

We also held a discussion with participants to hear about their experiences with family-based programs.

To learn more about the webinar, check out the resources below:

The series continues with two more events!

  • An interactive twitter chat (#resilientfamilies) will be hosted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. to facilitate continued discussion. Follow @HC_Link and @PAD_Ontario for more information.

  • Part 2 of the series Learning from the Field will take place Wednesday, February 19, 2014 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. This last webinar of the series will feature community partners who currently deliver family-based programming. A panel of practitioners will identify successes as well as lessons learned, while reflecting on the evidence in this area of practice. The session will provide substantial opportunities for discussion with webinar participants.
3697 Hits

“Our world is a better place for having had a Nelson Mandela” Remembering the life of Madiba

“Our world is a better place for having had a Nelson Mandela” Remembering the life of Madiba

Previously on the HC Link blog, we've reflected on Mandela's legacy.

Today in acknowledgement of his passing, we share two pieces of writing that capture Mandela's spirit and honour his life.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.

2659 Hits

Symposium on Healthier Cities and Communities

By Andrea Zeelie-Varga, Parent Action on Drugs

I attended the Symposium on Healthier Cities and Communities last month. And while I chose to sit in two sessions dedicated to collaboration, the thread of positive partnerships seemed to run throughout my day. This should be no surprise, as cities serve as the ultimate test of collaboration: coexisting. The concept of a health city (or community) relies on a number of integrated moving parts: gathering and translating knowledge so that informed solutions can be designed for the complex urban problems impacting population health.

The following interesting collaborative projects were presented and discussed:

Creating Healthier Apartment Neighbourhoods, a project with Toronto Public Health, Toronto Planning and Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal

Digital library and online community of

OCADU and Ryerson's Mental Health Strategy

Hospital-Community Collaboration to Address Determinants of Health: A Resource Guide

I also enjoy (and am rejuvenated by) hearing of initiatives which contribute to the greater good of Toronto. But I was particularly interested in the theme of collaboration because it is such a big part of my work sphere. In my position at PAD, I work with a number of agencies and community groups to coordinate the implementation of one of our programs. Working at PAD also means working within the collaborative HC Link, a partnership of three organizations. In both capacities, I feel the many benefits of collaboration.

In a few of the breakout sessions, participants were asked to share their thoughts and experiences on working together. I found the following to be good reminders:

• Collaboration works when there is a unified genuine interest, flexibility and openness between collaborators.

• Alliances allow for shared resources and wisdom, the ability to achieve or create something that would not be possible otherwise, and increased learning and understanding.

• Barriers to effective cooperation often stem from unclear expectations or varying agendas.

• Collaboration requires trust and relationships – both, which take time to build.

2306 Hits

PARENT ACTION PACK: A new resource helps parents guide teens in making healthier and safer decisions about alcohol and other drugs

By Andrea Zeelie-Varga, Parent Action on Drugs


Parent Action on Drugs recently launched the Parent Action Pack, a free online website and print brochure that provides parents with a toolkit of essential facts and talking points about alcohol and other drugs, along with effective strategies to enable them to have meaningful discussions with their teens and guide them in making healthier and safer decisions. Health professionals can provide this resource to parents and caregivers of adolescents in the 14 -18 year age range.

Both the website and print brochure provide reliable information in an easily digestible format. The Parent Action Pack includes stats and facts on drugs commonly used by youth (alcohol, marijuana, caffeine and prescription pills) as well as parenting and teen development. Information about the studies and science behind the resource are also outlined on the Parent Action Pack website. This website can be used as a resource that parents return to, with additional facts, references and links to new sources of information and research related to teens being updated on a regular basis. PAD hopes that professionals will find this resource useful in their work with parents. If there is related information you feel could be helpful to parents, please feel free to contact me, Andrea (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), for inclusion on the Parent Action Pack website.

The Parent Action Pack brochure is a free resource intended to be easily distributable. A print version can be downloaded at Bulk copies of the Parent Action Pack brochure can be ordered by contacting PAD (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). Print copies are available free of charge, but shipping charges may apply.






5598 Hits

Pink Tour increases awareness and accessibility of breast health services

By Andrea Zeelie, Parent Action on Drugs

Earlier this week, PAD visited the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Toronto for the launch of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's Pink Tour.The Pink Tour is asking people to get "on board" with breast health as its bus visits over 90 communities across Ontario this year. The bus aims to educate women about breast health, encourage screenings and provide information on living a healthier life, in an accessible way. 

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 1.43.49 AM

The launch was packed with people looking through information tents and listening to speeches.  A newcomer gave her testomonial about navigating breast health services, and representatives from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as the tour's sponsors, spoke about the importance of prevention – and shared their own stories about how breast cancer has affected their lives. The real highlight was the chance to board and explore the bus.

On the bus

Between posted facts and tips about breast health, visitors can watch illustrated videos which demystify the screening process or play interactive learning games. Information on the bus is available in English, French, Arabic, Chinese, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Spanish, Tagalog and Urdu – languages prominent in the communities the bus is set to visit. Educational resources – including some of PAD's resources - will also be distributed on the tour! Visitors are encouraged to sign the bus or make a video pledge to lead a healthier life and Women aged 50 plus can book an appointment for a mammogram at the nearest Ontario Breast Screening Program.

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 9.13.50 AM

PAD's has developed Hook Up to Breast Cancer Prevention, a program for young women concerned about breast health and those who support them. The program provides basic information about breast cancer, as well as information about three important factors that can affect the risk for developing breast cancer in the future: nutrition, physical activity, and alcohol consumption. 

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 9.16.31 AM

To learn more about breast health, visit or!


3309 Hits

Taking Charge: Young Women, Alcohol & Sexual Assault

By Andrea Zeelie, Parent Action on Drugs

May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month. Approximately 1 in 3 women experience sexual assault in their lifetime [1]. Ontario (and Canada) recognizes May as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issues surrounding sexual violence and to promote prevention.

Sexual assault is often underreported. In cases where sexual assault is reported, alcohol is often involved. Recent research reports that "conservative estimates of sexual assault prevalence suggest that 25 percent of women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both. Alcohol contributes to sexual assault through multiple pathways, often exacerbating existing risk factors. Beliefs about alcohol's effects on sexual and aggressive behavior, stereotypes about drinking women, and alcohol's effects on cognitive and motor skills contribute to alcohol-involved sexual assault." [2]

Half the respondents in a survey of over 130 health and education professionals in Ontario who work with girls in secondary high schools, teen clinics and community health centres, indicated that a teenage girl had disclosed to them that she was sexually assaulted or thought she may have been date-raped by a partner or dating acquaintance. [3] Some young women are not even aware that they have been assaulted due to their lack of understanding of consent.

The role of alcohol in the assault was acknowledged by 80% of those who disclosed the incident. Professionals reported:
• " She couldn't stop the assault because she was too drunk."
• "Alcohol impaired her choice".
• "Some do not realize an assault had taken place till the next day" [3]

Alcohol-related sexual assault is often kept a secret, or is dismissed by young women, as they feel ashamed, or worry they might not be believed. Young women are concerned about what others think and fear humiliation from their peers, reprisals from the boy and consequences from their parents.


PAD developed Taking Charge: Young Women, Alcohol & Sexual Assault, a tool kit to help professionals who work with women to support and inform young women to "take charge" and deal with sexual assault. The tool kit was developed with young women and a partnership of health and education professionals.

The tool kit is available in English and French, and is suitable for a variety of settings and curriculum programs. For more information, visit PAD's website



[1] National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. Child Sexual Abuse, Ottawa, Public Health Agency of Canada, 2008.
[2] Abbey et al, 2001, "Sexual Assault and Alcohol Consumption: What do we know about their relationship and what kinds of research are still needed," Aggression and Violent Behaviour, Vol. 9, No 3, May-June 2004
[3] Parent Action on Drugs "Taking Charge: Young Women. Alcohol and Sexual Assault" Project Report. 2008.

4970 Hits

Recap: Francophone Provincial Forum

Last Friday, HC Link/Réseau CS, in collaboration with the Regroupement des intervenants francophones en santé et en service sociaux de l'Ontario (Rifssso) and the Réseau franco-santé du Sud de l'Ontario held a French Forum. The focus of the forum was building inspiring partnerships for the well-being of the francophone community.

forum 12 avril collageWhile the event was predominantly delivered in French, English speakers were welcome to attend and participate. Simultaneous interpretation in English was available on site - and provided that connection so that English-speaker such myself was engaged in the day. I attended the morning's program.

I highly enjoyed Ontario's French Language Services Commissioner François Boileau's presentation on working together to become leaders in the delivery of French Language Services. He made a case for the need for vulnerable populations to be able to immediately access services in the language they are most comfortable it. He talked about how phrases like "Can we continue this conversation in English" can be interpreted by service-seeking individuals as though an organization putting their organization's needs over that of the individual's. French-speaking people should not have to hesitate to ask to services in French.

The following panel discussion was insightful. Representatives from four organizations (Chigamik Community Health Centre, Durham Catholic Family Services, Sudbury Community Legal Clinic, Centre communautaire régional de London) discussed the challenges in meeting needs of the francophone community as well as strategies about how to work together to deliver services. Some highlighted challenges included:

- Hiring qualified staff with the right expertise and being able to marry language with skills and competencies

- Having a visible presence

- Finding where Francophones populations are

- Gaining and maintaining trust

- Reaching other populations

- Recognizing some populations are low-income

- Remaining culturally competent and culturally safe

- Providing services as all four organizations wanted to provide actual services, not just the illusion of doing do.


Participants had the opportunity to engage with the panel, and then were also able to share their own initiatives and projects in the works.


Want to learn more about the day?

6577 Hits

Webinar Recap: Social Media Series

HC Link recently offered two webinars on social media. The first webinar, Social Media Overview – Getting a Grasp of the Basics, was a brief overview of common tools used by non-profits, and how they can best be used. The tools included Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ and Pinterest. Of the six tools, HC Link uses two (Twitter and LinkedIn). HC Link also operates an English blog and a French blog, hosted directly on our websites. HC link has opted to use these platforms as they fit our social media plan and overall communication strategy. Tools are also chosen based on the audiences organizations wish to reach. Its important to figure out who you are trying to reach, and why.

Based on our observations:
• Seniors are more comfortable using email, and passively use Facebook.
• Youth use platforms that can be accessed on their smartphones, like Facebook.
• First Nations engage on Twitter and blogs.
• People living below the poverty line will use phones and text based platforms. Platofrms which do not require real time communication are also effective.
• People at work have trouble navigating security walls so phone based applications or anything with email notifications work best. Twitter tends to go unblocked.

Our second webinar, Social Media and Healthy Communities - How to Get Started, looked at first steps and the creation of a social media policy and plan. HC Link is preparing an upcoming resource on these two critical components.

Before reaching that stage, do some groundwork:
Figure out why you're there! What do you want to do with social media? Determining why you want to be present on social media will guide the creation of a social media plan.
What are similar organizations doing? Whether it is partners or others in your circle, it is important to learn about what's already happening online. Organizations that excel in social media are social! This also allows you to determine how you see yourself joining in.
Create an inventory of your current communication tools (such as newsletters, bulletins, or listservs). This inventory will allow you to take stock of existing content that can be repurposed and used to feed new social media channels.
Fill out a Starter Sheet! This document pulls together information that will be useful when setting up new social media accounts.


Keep an eye out for our upcoming resource on creating a social media plan and a policy!

2684 Hits

Social Media at #Sundance

Late last week, I sat in on an keynote lecture with director Ondi Timoner, the only filmmaker to have won the Sundance Grand Jury Award twice. Timoner shared her experiences as an emerging, and now successful, filmaker. She stressed that social media has become game changer: "it's no longer good enough to produce a really good film. If there isn't a team supporting it online, it doesn't really matter". I immediately thought about the barrage of tweets I saw regarding Fire in the Blood, a critical favourite at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Some further digging revealed how Sundance Institute is using social media to better connecct with audiences, and is encouraging the use of  social media to democratize film submissions.

We're working heavily with social media to bring the festival to people who can't be here... - Sundance Film Festival

That technology and the Internet has changed how interact with each other was a theme in Timoner's film "We Live in Public" but it has also changed how she herself engages with moving images. Rather than continue to focus on long format documentaries, she's embraced a changing landscape and is currently working on web-ready content, concentrating on a 5 or 10minute introduction of stories. The current emphasis is on innovators and entrepreneurs – many of who are responsible for shaking up how we use the internet. To get a learn more about some of the brightest minds in tech, take a look at Total Disruption.

Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post on our social media series!


2665 Hits

Did you know... You can subscribe to news updates from HC Link / Réseau CS?

HC Link / Réseau CS delivers three different electronic mailing lists: HC Link News, Nouvelle Reseau CS and Partnership Links. Learn more about each one (and how to sign up!) below:


  • HC Link News

HC Link News provides news, information, and announcements from HC Link to community groups, organizations and partnerships supporting healthy, vibrant communities. Information is circulated each Wednesday in an easy-to-read weekly digest. On occasion, individual posts are made outside of the weekly digest schedule.

Subscription to HC Link News is open to members of Ontario community groups, organizations and partnerships working in health promotion or healthy communities.

  • Nouvelles Réseau CS

Nouvelles Réseau CS is the French equivalent of HC Link News. Nouvelles Reséau CS provides news, information, and announcements to individuals and groups supporting health promotion and healthy communities.

Subscription to Nouvelles Réseau CS is open to members of Ontario community groups, organizations and partnerships supporting healthy, vibrant communities.

  • Partnership-Links

The Partnerships-Links listserv provides an opportunity for those working within the Healthy Communities Partnership Stream and the six related priority areas to receive and share information and ideas related specifically to Healthy Communities Partnerships. Subscribers receive relevant news from the HC Link and have the opportunity to post their own information, announcements, questions and ideas to fellow subscribers.

Subscription to Partnership-Links is open to anyone involved in the Partnership Stream or interested in the six priority areas: physical activity, sport and recreation; injury prevention; healthy eating; reducing tobacco use and exposure; preventing substance and alcohol misuse; and mental health promotion.

2822 Hits

Health Promotion Today

Health Nexus Santé, one of the three member organization of HC Link, operates a blog which may be useful to HC Link blog readers. And (just like the HC Link Blog) readers have the option to subscribe! 

Health Promotion Today includes news roundsups, event recaps and other health promotion focused posts written by various members of Health Nexus Santé staff. Click here or on the banner below for the latest posts!



What other blogs are you currently reading? Do you write for a blog? Leave a comment and let us know!

3116 Hits

Recap: Online Conversation About Youth and Drinking

Last week, Parent Action on Drugs and HC Link hosted a three-day informal conversation online on Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines for Youth. The conversation began with a review of the evidence around guidelines for youth and then opened up a discussion on youth and drinking. The conversation received over thirty comments, and over 800 views.

Respondents agreed that youth cannot be told not to drink, given a culture that supports drinking and media messages linking drinking to peer acceptance and "fun". That youth are drinking is highlighted in the OSDUS report: 54.9% of all students between the grades of 7-12 used alcohol in the past year and 22.3% reported binge drinking.

Youth are not likely to seek out the low-risk drinking guidelines on their own. Respondents who work directly with youth reported that youth are told to "drink responsibly" but - aside from not drinking and driving- youth are unsure of what that really means. The low-risk drinking guidelines can outline what "responsible drinking" means. Evidence suggests there is a large group of youth that are drinking at low risk levels (one to two drinks) – and a group drinking at slightly elevated levels (but below binge drinking) who may be persuaded to reduce their consumption.

In order for the guidelines to be effective (known and used), parents should use the guidelines in a dialogue with their teens. In addition to having open dialogue, respondents felt it was important for parents to lead by example. The issue of parental involvement seemed to divide respondents. Some respondents felt that parental supervision – which does not always translate to parental provision of alcohol - condones drinking. However, research shows that those youth who drink under supervision tend to drink far less than those who are unsupervised while drinking.

Parents play an important role in the socialization of drinking. But parents cannot message alone. Media gives youth the impression that lifestyle-friendly alcohol brands and beverages can enhance their social lives at a time where image and popularity is of great concern. Many respondents felt that there was a strong necessity for increased advertising regulation.

Some respondents felt youth-specific messaging needs to focus on moderate consumption. Youth-specific messaging must to highlight the short-term consequences (vomiting, injuries, embarrassing behavior, and hangovers) and long-term consequences. Messaging to youth requires youth input in all stages of development.

Some youth workers, however, felt that that the guidelines could cause further complication in the area of underage drinking. The guidelines create a grey area where legal drinking limits are ignored. As many youth programs have a zero tolerance policy, the guidelines may complicate rule enforcement.

Finally, there was the aspect that engaging programming, youth leadership and the development of individual resiliency can all contribute to a the ability of youth to make informed and safer decisions concerning their alcohol consumption.


Related Downloads:


6083 Hits

Webinar Recap: Emerging Trends in Youth Substance Use - How to Distinguish Evidence and Hype

We live in an age of constant information; we are bombarded by the latest news as it happens. This information – while timely – is often sensationalized, incomplete or removed from context. Fortunately we can employ filters to substantiate what we read or hear.

Today's youth spend an excessive amount of time with various types on media on electronic devices. Youth, however, tend to be influenced by media and may not have the same experience or skills – or desire - to filter and verify the barrage of information.


Parent Action on Drugs recently presented a webinar on this topic. The webinar Emerging Trends in Youth Substance Use: How to Distinguish Evidence and Hype examined the influence of media-driven information and how to distinguish the facts. Parent Action on Drugs examined the research and considered what is significant in contributing to youth risk, and how policy, educational messaging and community action can use credible information to mitigate risk. The particular topics focused on included high caffeine energy drinks – and their combination with alcohol, the effects of youth exposure to mixed media, new research on cannabis and youth, and the intersection of these with adolescent brain development.

There are a number of challenges to staying informed with the correct information - how do we, as health promoters, educators and youth workers, separate out the evidence from the hype?

• Be aware of how information is presented. The internet has increased the time pressures around publication – but often incorrect or partially accurate information is released. Check the credibility of sources. Who provided the information? Was it funded? Understand the perspectives of your sources.

• Stay on top of the issues, in how they relate to you. New substances are constantly appearing, but they may not be an issue in your area. Each community is unique.

• Watch for trends - ask local community about what is prevalent in your areas.

• Work with knowledge exchange specialists such as Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) to provide knowledgeable filters and summaries, such as

The webinar can be viewed via recording or through modified slide handouts. For original slides and questions about or access to research references, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

3454 Hits

Online Learning for All

With school now fully in session, I can't help but envy those bright minds sitting in lecture halls. Although I don't envy the essays and exams - or student loans - that punctuate all institutionalized educational endeavours. Free online courses are now offered by some of the world's most esteemed universities. Most classes can be completed on your own schedule, at your own pace. However, courses cannot be counted as class credits, and no certification is offered.



Individual Course Offerings:

Learning Modules

Guest Lectures

  • Want a five (or twenty-five) minute cerebral boost? Try a TED talk!

What's your experience with learning online – have any recommendations? Did I miss a class? Leave a comment and share with us!

3912 Hits

Designing Cities for Health and Happiness

I recently attended Designing Cities for Health and Happiness, a public lecture hosted by 8-80 Cities in partnership with the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the Design Exchange. The lecture provided an enlightening overview of the role urban planning plays in creating vibrant cities and healthy communities.


Opening remarks by Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, concluded that a great city must be good for everyone. The keynote presentation delivered by Helle Søholt, a founding partner of Gehl Architects, focused on the life between buildings. Much of urban planning does not account for the needs of daily life and that real people live, work and play in these spaces. But people will only do what is optional when space is inviting. People require stimulation and will only spend time in places that are social, cultural, recreational, healthy and fun. Ghel Architects have a history of changing behaviour through design. Søholt used examples from four quite different cities to illustrate this point:

Copenhagen, which shares many of the same geographic features of Toronto, was once a car-reliant society. Only a couple of decades later and two thirds of the population now use bicycles or public transport as the main mode of transport (with 70% of cyclists continuing to cycle in winter!)

Melbourne has considered the large population of students and residents with flexible lifestyles who use the city at all hours of the day. The introduction of steel furniture allows passersby to enjoy areas for longer periods of time. Abandoned alley and laneways were transformed to create new network of pathways and outdoor contemporary art galleries (complete with a few designated graffiti zones).

New York City, powered by Mayor Bloomberg's commitment to public health, has transformed Broadway and Times Square into pedestrian friendly boulevards.  Sidebar: the fifth annual Summer Streets occurs next month, opening up seven miles of city streets. Toronto's Celebrate Yonge is a similar, albeit much more minor initiative kicking off next month too.

Mexico City has introduced a bicycling strategy as an overwhelming 95% of all trips within the city are cyclable. Public spaces must be transformed to prioritize quality of life and inclusive accessible environments.

The lecture was followed by short presentations from a panel of local urban visionaries.  Monica Campbell (Director of Healthy Public Policy for Toronto Public Health) reiterated three points from the keynote: the need for evidence, the problem of inequity - citing many of the same issues favoured by Sir Michael Marmot - and how Toronto has led the example of the WHO's holistic Healthy City model. Associate Professor Robert Wright (Director of the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Toronto's Daniels Faculty) gave an entertaining overview of the City of Toronto as a patient, with ailments approximating some of Toronto's biggest issues (including $200 billion deferred maintenance costs and impending loss of tree coverage). Shawn Micallef (writer for Spacing and Toronto Star) questioned "what about the suburbs?" and encouraged thinking about Toronto as a whole, whereas City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27) zeroed in on the history of Yonge Steet. Wong-Tam highlighed examples of retailers emphasizing heritage buildings amidst the bright lights and big billboards of Yonge and Dundas Square. Wong-Tam, who concieved Celebrate Yonge, closed the lecture by echoing the need for fair distribution of public space.


Additional Resurces:

HC Link Resources on the Built Environment

Active Design Guidelines: Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design

14864 Hits

Reflecting on Madiba

Today is Mandela Day, and Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday. With South Africa six hours ahead of Ontario, I woke up to a flood of emails, social media alerts and articles celebrating the life of Madiba, as he is affectionately known. But as the day wore on, I noticed international tributes circulating as well. As a South African, his effect on me is profound. But I often forget that his legacy is admired around the globe, as he is arguably one of the most influential people in the world. Amongst the wishes and reflections, one quote was shared more than the rest:


As a bibliophile and a quote fanatic, one of my most cherished gifts is Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations, bestowed upon me by my brother. Organized by theme, the entry on poverty is four pages long. It is not surprising that Mandela became Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience. In his acceptance speech, he says:

"Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of fundamental human rights. Everyone everywhere has the right to live with dignity, free from fear and oppression, free from hunger and thirst, and free to express themselves and associate at will.
Yet in this new century millions of people remain imprisoned, enslaved and in chains. Massive poverty and inequality are terrible scourges of our times - times in which the world also boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom...
People living in poverty have the least access to power to shape policies - to shape their future. But they have the right to a voice. They must not be made to sit in silence as "development" happens around them, at their expense. True development is impossible without the participation of those concerned."

Today we reflect upon, and celebrate, a man who dedicated his life to equality. He made a difference in a once divided land. He left the prison gates as a friend of the prison wardens; he ventured into the new South Africa with no bitterness, as he said he had to leave that behind to be truly free. For a time, he made everyone know what it is to be united as one, to share a common destiny. He chose to focus on the future rather than the past, on reconciliation rather than retribution. There was a euphoric sense of community – South Africa celebrated as one! We need to be reminded of this as the South Africa, and the world, prepares for a time without Nelson Mandela. With so few giants of his stature bestriding the world stage, it is imperative that his values live on, even as his physical presence will inevitably fade away.

To learn more about the life of Madiba, visit the Centre of Memory.

5856 Hits

Brazil’s National School-based Drug Education Program

At the July 5 meeting of the Prevention Working Group of the Toronto Drug Strategy, Dr. Ines Gandolfo Concepcion, from the University of Brasilia, presented Curso de Prevenção do uso de Drogas, a national school-based drug education program.


The program was created by the National Anti-Drug Secretariat, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and the University of Brasilia, in line with Brazil's National Policy on Drugs and "Crack Can be Conquered!" campaign. Brazil is currently experiencing a crack cocaine epidemic, likened to that of the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The policy includes the following under general guidelines for prevention:

"Preventive action must be planned and geared toward human development; education for healthy living; access to cultural assets, including sports, cultural, and leisure activities; dissemination of knowledge about drugs validated by scientific information; encouragement of youth leadership; and the role of family, school and community in replicating such activities."

The accredited distance-based learning course trains public school teachers on the prevention of drug use in public schools using a non-judgmental curriculum. The extensive training hopes to shift the negative attitudes and biases of public school teachers who traditionally use shock tactics when dealing with drug use. Rather than presenting basic drug information (as in the past), the text and video-based curriculum encourages students to become actively engaged in the learning process. The program insludes a final project which requires each school to implement a prevention-focused initiative in their community.Teachers have access to a virtual learning platform and tutors who provide guidance on all aspects of the program.

The program piloted in 2004, with an enrollment of 5000 teachers. Now in its fifth cycle, the program is steadily growing with an enrollment of 70 000 teachers in 2012. The program also recognizes and rewards those teachers and school with the best prevention initiatives. The program aims to educate 210 000 public school teachers (and 3 300 military police instructors) by 2014.

However, almost 20% of Brazilian youth either don't enroll in highschool or drop out before graduating. The program is currently investigating ways of reaching youth outside formal education.

5561 Hits
1 Comment