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!

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Clients reflect on having worked with HC Link

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Endings are a time of reflection and we are proud to have played a unique role in supporting healthy communities across the province.

Over the years, HC Link has supported a broad range of English and Francophone organizations, partnerships and coalitions, including those in rural, remote and Northern areas of Ontario. The relationships we developed with those we worked with were key to the quality and effectiveness of our services. Our approach was to engage with communities; to listen and work with not for them. As a result, we helped communities identify their assets, strengthen existing networks, form new partnerships, and build resiliency and social capital.

In this post, we’ve complied a number of notable client comments and reflections we have received since announcing HC Link's closure.

It has been our pleasure to work with so many communities, healthcare professionals, and other organizations in Ontario. We hope that you will continue to use the resources and learnings we’ve shared over the years and continue to bring change to communities across the province.


“So very sorry to hear this news. HC Link is really valuable and important. Thank you for all of the important work over the last 9 years. We will miss HC Link.” 

Heidi Schaeffer
Association of Ontario Health Centres


"I have found HC Link to be an invaluable tool for understanding what kind of health promotion activities are going on in the province of Ontario. Thank you for all the great work that you and your team have done over the years."

Kate Walker
Board Member, Canada Bikes


“I’ve always felt so well supported by everyone I’ve connected with through HC Link. The staff are unparalleled at what they do. The work we do in community is hard. Often people don’t understand or acknowledge what it is we try to do, working with community. People, meaning colleagues, employers, partners. When I reach out to HC Link, I feel supported to keep going. I don’t know what it will be like without them and all their resources. There’s so much potential for HC Link to do more and continue on their journey. I’m sad it’s ending. The biannual conference is something I look forward to so much. I feel a sense of belonging and reinforcement and encouraged to keep going and deepen my practice. Thank you for creating a space to safely challenge my practice. I’ve learned so much!”



"Your work to connect groups across the province has been very valuable and I have enjoyed being able to take part in the webinars and professional development opportunities."

Pat Howell-Blackmore
Spark Consulting


“Please don't go away!! This is such a vital resource to support community, residents, and non-profits. Thank you so much for supporting us in engaging residents towards building healthy neighbourhoods."



“I feel compelled to express how appreciative I feel for your coordination of yesterday’s peer sharing webinar. I’m humbled to be engaged with such amazing, like-minded folks in the Province. I’m inspired.”

Tonya Millsap
Early Learning and Child Care


“I used the evaluation tools, as well as the tools used for an inclusive partnership. Once I wanted to do strategic planning, I contacted someone there and they were even ready to accompany me in the whole design process. HC Link has been an excellent means of improving my ability to be reflective on my work and assess if it still is in alignment with our mandate.”

Valérie Assoi
South-East Ottawa CHC


“I first heard of HC Link through a community event held at Northern College Haileybury Campus a year or so ago. That was a very helpful opportunity to connect with agencies and organizations in our community and to learn from each other. Since that day I have often used the online resources that you provide. I am sorry to learn that you will be closing after March.”

Jan Edwards
Veterans Home Corporation


"This is truly sad news for health promotion in Ontario. HC Link has been a very useful service, in addition to the consultation services which I had occasion to use."

Lynn Gates
Retired Public Health Manager


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Building Healthy Communities Starts with the People: A Staff Reflection

hc link staff

At HC Link, we’ve been honoured to have provided 2,974 services over our 9 years in operation. Today, we’d like to take the time to highlight some of the notable comments and reflections we’ve gathered from our staff and consultants. It has been our pleasure to serve Ontario communities and help them build healthier communities through our consulting services, webinars, resources, conferences and other learning activities. 

Our consultants come from a variety of backgrounds at the three member organizations that make up HC Link - Health Nexus, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition and Parent Action on Drugs.

Making a difference at the local level, HC Link staff and consultants have been the shining stars working with communities to help set direction, build skills and inspire change. Please see below several reflections shared by our staff and consultants at HC Link.


"A memorable moment in my 8 years with HC Link was the ‘Wise Crowds’ technique session that I co-facilitated during the HC Link conference in 2015. The technique was a fun approach to collective problem-solving. It enabled a group of people to engage with one another and uncover solutions to common challenges and problems in a fun way. This workshop was memorable because of the laughter that filled the venue and the number of requests that it generated for more information on the technique. These requests spurred a series of blogs on facilitation tools and techniques in the months following the conference. The participants truly felt informed and energized!”

Lisa Tolentino
Consultant, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition


"I had the good fortune of working with HC Link on issues of resiliency, harm reduction, youth engagement, mental health, and a range of other topics related to healthy communities. I learned so much from my talented colleagues at PAD, Health Nexus, and OHCC, and from our passionate partners in Toronto and across Ontario. I witnessed firsthand the importance of relationships and community connection, and taking a strength-based approach. Thank you HC Link for taking a chance on a recent grad and giving me my first Canadian career experience!"

Andrea Zeelie-Varga
Communications Coordinator, Parent Action on Drugs


“A highlight for me was certainly building towards the Changing our Destiny: A Regional Gathering in Timiskaming. It started off by partnering with Timiskaming Best Start to do a webinar called ‘What we are doing in a good way: A cultural competency framework model’ that focused on Indigenous ways of knowing and working. Through the collaborative spirit of that partnership, it led to co-developing an event that focused on creating a vision of a community hub(s) in Timiskaming. 

What I loved about working for HC Link was the ability to take the time to listen and learn from our partners and from each other as HC Link consultants. In this example it culminated in a well-attended regional gathering in the middle of a snowstorm!”

Stephanie Massot
Consultant, Health Nexus


“In my extensive community work, both with OHCC and HC Link, I have seldom been as inspired as I was by the ‘Connecting through Stories’ gathering in Thunder Bay in March 2017. My role in organizing the event was to facilitate a collaborative planning committee, and attend to logistics and finances. The driving force of the event was the desire by the committee members to respond to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, by building student capacity for intercultural understanding, and by bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake a collaborative project as a contribution to the reconciliation process. This gathering engaged elementary school and college students, seniors, elders, artists, storytellers, social agencies and other community members in a creative process that combined sharing their stories with a collaborative weaving project. The result was a highly moving experience and a strong intercultural connection!”

Lorna McCue
Consultant & Executive Director, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition


“The best part of HC Link is how we respond directly to the priorities of collaborating groups wherever they are at (in their process, and in the province). When communities who invite us in really take advantage of what we can offer, it is even more rewarding - like when the organizer of a francophone group we supported in Red Lake connected me with the local CCDC who then organized a “reflection and reboot” session for diverse volunteer-run groups. Because we were in lake country, I had fun crafting a fishing theme onto a reflection activity about rewards (fish) and challenges (weeds).”

Gillian Kranias
Consultant, Health Nexus


“For me, a ‘shining moment’ in HC Link’s history was the first Linking for Healthy Communities conference in 2011. The theme was Building from Within. I recall the nervous excitement of the staff team as we stuffed swag bags and triple-checked last minute logistics. Everyone was committed to making this first conference one to remember. John Ott was the featured presenter in that he did both the keynote address and several presentations throughout the conference. He had a tremendous impact on the participants – in part due to his vulnerability and openness when imparting his experiences building community and because of the framework of engagement he presented. The lessons I learned at that conference influences my approach to community engagement to this day.”

Dianne Coppola
Program Coordinator & Roster Consultant


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Looking back: VISION ZERO CONFERENCE: Take Aways - For an Age Friendly City


Taking a look back at the 2017 Vision Zero Summit as we gear up for round #3 beginning in February 2018!


By guest blogger: Adina Lebo, Toronto Senior’s Forum


Back in October 2017, Parachute Canada held their second Vision Zero Summit in Toronto. Parachute invited several members of the Toronto Senior’s Forum to attend the event and I was pleased to be one of them. Many of the panelists throughout the conference came from cities in Europe, the USA and Canada which have adopted many of the safety features that I will be listing below. This has reduced fatalities and casualties in their cities. The overriding principles that these cities are following are that “cities are for people not cars”. Vision Zero started in Sweden in the 1990’s. They are 35 years into the project and their streets have been transformed by it. Vision Zero also fits our Age Friendly City criteria and the Toronto Senior’s Strategy. Every city in Europe or North America that has taken on Vison Zero has fought the prevailing and underlying belief by their citizens that “Roads are for cars, and ….pedestrians should be on sidewalks and if there is an accident on the road it is the pedestrian’s fault or the bicyclist’s fault …..Because they shouldn’t be there! - They weren’t wearing a helmet or they were too slow in crossing"...and the list goes on!


The theme in all cities that are following Vision Zero is that “Streets are for People and we’re taking them back!” The car lobby and people who use cars have been opposed to many of these initiatives…but little by little ….people are gaining strength and winning against the cars. Changing norms and beliefs are critical to changing behaviour.


Here are my take aways for Canadians cities and towns: 

1.) Slower Speed Limits in the City. Evidence shows that if you are hit by a car going 20 -25 mph your chances of surviving with fewer catastrophic injuries improves than if you are struck hit by a car going 60, 70 or 90 mph.

2.) No Right Turns on Red, NO left turns on Red ….Red means STOP! This alone could reduce 81% of the accidents. Many accidents happen at intersections where pedestrians are crossing legitimately and a driver turning right or left doesn’t see them because they are looking for cars in the way not people!

3.)Four Way systems and technology for giving bikes, cars, pedestrians “each” the right of way or their turn in crossing streets and at intersections by means of flashing arrows. Also the intersections must be free of cars or trucks that block the site lines which means reducing parking spots. Also paint helps define bike from care from pedestrian walkways. This would reduce 99% of the accidents.

4.) Bike lanes must be protected space with raised borders, posts, colour, etc. separating them from car lanes. Surveys have been done throughout the world by Friends and Family for Safe Streets and 97% of the survey results show that drivers don’t mind their journey taking 3-4 minutes longer in order to avoid traffic fatalities.

Other recommendations: Clear messaging- Non conflicting messages with signals – i.e. showing a red hand saying “stop” and showing 15 seconds left to “go”? Also more time buttons for seniors and those with mobility issues. Seat Belts- Believe it or not people are still not wearing seat belts. They save lives! At lights – safety automated speed cameras, as well message boards approaching lights and crossing areas. More severe penalties for alcohol and drug related driving incidents. 9/14 accidents are driver lead accidents. More organic crossing zones built into city building and development plans.


Toronto Seniors Forum will take up this mantle to make Toronto a Vision Zero city by lobbying for changes at City Hall. For more information on this project and how you can help, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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What does the 2017 OSDUHS say about student drug use and their intent to use cannabis when legalized?



By Jewel Bailey, MPH
Knowledge Broker, Health Promotion Resource Centre
Provincial System Support Program
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)


With cannabis legalization swiftly approaching, the burning question in the minds of many is: will more young people start using cannabis once legalized? Findings from the 2017 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) provide some insights into this question, along with rich information on a broad range of substance use issues facing students. The OSDUHS, which is conducted with Ontario students in grades 7-12 every two years, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2017. This long standing survey among students in Canada is conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 11,435 students, from 52 school boards and 214 schools participated in the 2017 survey.

One key finding: the majority of students (62%) report that they don’t plan to use cannabis after legalization.  However, 8% intends to start, while 4% say they will increase their use. The OSDUHS also found that younger students were more likely to say they won’t use cannabis when legalized, and felt regular use posed the biggest risk of harm.

As someone involved in mental health promotion and the prevention of substance use problems, I’ve been thinking about what messages should be shared with students about cannabis. I’ve also been thinking about the role of attitudes and intentions in health behaviors. Overall, all students should receive information on the immediate and long-term risks of cannabis use so they can make informed decisions. Those who plan to increase their use require more targeted attention since cannabis-related harms increase with frequency of use. Some of the health problems found among those who use cannabis daily or near daily are: mental health problems, dependence, and issues with cognitive, psychomotor, and respiratory functioning.

Students were also asked about their position on the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis. There were no stark differences in how they felt, since one third support this move, another third don’t agree with legalization, and another third are undecided. Students in the older grades were more likely to support legalizing cannabis for adults.      

Because the OSDUHS captures a broad range of information on substance use, you might be interested in findings for other substances of significant public health concern such as, alcohol, smoking, and illicit fentanyl use.

For instance, the 2017 survey shows some encouraging results for student alcohol use. Hazardous and harmful drinking significantly decreased since the 2015 survey, reaching an all-time low in 2017! But given the expansion of alcohol into grocery stores, how do students feel about where they buy their beer? 35% of students think it will be harder to purchase beer in the LCBO or beer store than a grocery store, and 30% felt there was no difference in difficulty in purchasing alcohol in any of these locations. These percentages highlight the importance of controlling the availability of alcohol to minimize alcohol-related harms.

What about cigarette smoking and illicit fentanyl use? The OSDUHS shows we have made significant progress in reducing the prevalence of smoking. Still, if you work in the area of tobacco control and smoking cessation, you might find it concerning that 43% of past year student smokers smoked contraband cigarettes. Meanwhile, 40% of students who use electronic cigarettes used e-cigarettes without nicotine. The latter is particularly important as researchers and practitioners seek to determine if e-cigarettes can serve as a cessation device and reduce the harms from cigarette smoking. 2017 is the first year the survey started tracking illicit fentanyl use, and the results reveal that about 1% of high school students used this drug in the past year. That sounds like a small number—but in fact it represents about 5,800 students.

Other significant 2017 findings are: the increase in the non-medical use of over-the-counter cough or cold medication when compared to the 2015 findings. Males show a significant increase in past year use, because of the euphoria produced by a certain drug found in some medications. Their use jumped from 7% in 2015 to 11% in 2017. In addition, the non-medical use of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder drugs has shown a significant increase over the last 10 years – from 1% in 2007 to 2.3% in 2017.

As the OSDUHS turns 40 years, there’s much to celebrate when it comes to the reduction of student drug use in the last four decades. Most past year drug use has shown a significant decline. There have been decreases in the use of substances such as alcohol (binge drinking), tobacco cigarettes, inhalants, and non-medical use of opioids. In addition, students are delaying their initiation of drug use; their first use of cigarette, alcohol, and cannabis is beginning at older ages.

This is encouraging news for those of us who work in health promotion. We know that positive shifts in population health can take years to achieve; progress might appear elusive when we’re immersed in the day-to-day activities, but the OSDUHS shows that progress is being made, and is possible.

In measuring long-term health impacts and outcomes, change cannot be attributed to any one program or policy; it’s the combination and culmination of multiple interventions and the collective efforts over time that make the difference. What will be the story about students’ use of cannabis and other substances when the OSDUHS celebrates its next 40th anniversary? We don’t know.

What we do know is health promotion, public health policy, regulation, and supportive environments have worked to reduce the prevalence of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, and are still relevant in addressing current substance use problems.

Want to learn more about the 2017 OSDUHS drug use results, and low risk guidelines for cannabis and alcohol? Why not check out the links below:

1 Harmful/hazardous use is based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. This is a 10-item screener which identifies problematic alcohol use. A score of eight or higher is considered

  hazardous/harmful drinking.

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Living Library Café at HC Link’s conference: eye-opening, powerful, positive and hopeful

A key highlight of HC Link’s 2017 conference (Linking for Healthy Communities: With Everyone, For Everyone), was the plenary activity on day two that provided space for reflection and dialogue on how to work across difference to build more inclusive communities. Through this “Living Library Café”, we helped participants co-learn through respectful group conversations with fellow conference attendees and a library of “Living Books”. These Living Books — each with varied knowledge and expertise (lived/inherited and/or as an ally) in equity, diversity, cultural humility, inclusion and allyship — shared their stories and facilitated discussions to explore successes and barriers in this work.

Our approach to this activity (a Human Library/World Café hybrid) was grounded in participatory learning with three primary objectives:

  • To create greater capacity for perspective-taking by cultivating empathy across diverse experiences.

  • To challenge prejudices and discrimination.

  • To create an environment where attendees can integrate learnings and/or identify barriers and strategies.

We hoped our Living Library Café would facilitate collective learning by harnessing the knowledge in the room, and also help conference attendees reflect on their own successes and challenges, and explore how they too can create meaningful ways of continuing this important work.


Conference participant, Alison Stirling, shared the following observations on her experience at the Living Library Café:

This Living Library Café blended the World Café and a Human Library – the vibrant changing dynamic exchanges of the café of people from many worlds, mixed with the learning, sharing and respectful contemplation of a library of living ‘books’ telling their stories.   “Making stories is not a natural act, some stories take more space than others” noted social justice activist and Living Library Café moderator Sara Mohammed. “It is how we come to know our stories that is key.”

In her opening, Sara addressed the audience to explain the structure and context of the activity, as well as introduced us to a select panel of three additional books. We were invited to reflect briefly upon what we heard from the book panel and our table’s living book and how their tales aligned with who we are as people and who we want to become; our ‘mission’ or ‘goal’ of sorts. Changing gears to delve into deeper reflection with our table’s living-book and their individual story was somewhat disorienting, yet it was a good way to hear about their lived experience more deeply and share tips of success and what to improve.

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Conversations came from the heart. All around the room I heard lively discussions on what defines ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. I learned more about engaging and acting on awareness of privilege and bias. We also took a deeper look at the golden rule of “treating people as you want to be treated” and its reformed version introduced to us by Kim Katrin Milan, the conference’s keynote speaker, “treating people the way they want to be treated”.

As we rotated to different tables to join a new living-book, my next book wanted to share more about actively engaging with people and youth, exploring the arts, and addressing equity and faith communities. Here I can say we learned how to become receivers of messages, information and change. Among the people seated at my table, we shared tales of diverse communities that struggle to find common ground. When clashes of beliefs, faith or culture arise, leadership on both sides is required to step in and talk about barriers and how to communicate and work together.

AHA! moments came in talking about relationships, understanding conflict, and the context of experience:
“We do not have the lived experience of people at the table. We have to understand context.”
“Relationship building is vital in working with youth – respect and ask, listen and support.”

Time calls to move and to wrap up came too fast! Voices and gestures sped up, talk and questions flew about ways to act on change. “Don’t stop here” said our table facilitator/living book – “write an email to yourself or to [the facilitators/storytellers] with comments, ideas, commitments to ourselves for what’s next”.

There was energy to keep the exchanges flowing. Like other participants, I felt that the Living Library Café was eye-opening, powerful, positive and hopeful.

“Look forward to the future, keep on dreaming”


To see proceedings from HC Link’s 2017 conference, including presentation slides and materials,  visit:

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A conference attendee reflection : What you missed.



By Tracy Kwissa, Community Navigator for Lanark County

First, I need to give kudos to HC Link for booking their conference at the BMO Institute for Learning in Toronto. Maybe it is because I come from a small rural community that I was so in awe of the facility, but I found it absolutely breathtaking. It was state of the art architecture, with forethought and insight into every possible need a person may have when attending a conference. The complex and the suites were impeccably kept, and cleanliness was flawless. I was in awe of the space and the service provided; it was second to none. The conference was also awesome! It was an eye-opening and educational experience that I will not soon forget. I met many interesting people and I came away with new knowledge and insight that has empowered me to be braver in my role as the Community Navigator for Lanark County. I feel that I have a deeper understanding of intersectionality, Affinity Bias, Privilege, and Cultural Sensitivity. I also feel validated in my empathy, compassion and passion for community/social service and advocacy and I know that I am doing the work that I am meant to be doing.

We began the Conference with a Water Ceremony gifted to us by Whabagoon, an Ojibwe Elder. They are a water and land protector. They explained the meaning and teachings behind the Ceremony and they wore traditional Ojibwe attire. The ceremony was beautiful and the song Whabagoon sang was “Water we love you, Water we thank you, Water we respect you.” It was powerful, and I really appreciated that Whabagoon shared with us where the ceremony teachings come from and what the significance of the ceremony has to their people. Many of the workshops and gatherings began with a land acknowledgment. I am always humbled when a Land Acknowledgement is spoken at any training or event I am attending, and I would like to begin incorporating this practice into my work when presenting at expos, seminars, workshops, etc.

The Keynote speaker, Kim Katrin Milan, is a dynamic, humorous and engaging speaker. She is community organizer and advocate of equality and inclusion who helps people build their ability to relate to others - especially to those who, on the surface, may seem quite different from ourselves. Kim’s keynote address deepened my understanding of the concepts of equity, bias, intersectionality, cultural competency, allyship and inclusion.

Allyship, is a process, an active, consistent and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating in which a person of privilege seeks to navigate the world in solidarity with a marginalized group of people. It means bringing space for others’ voices to be heard. This is a more recent area of understanding for me which I was looking forward to learning more about. I realized that as Community Navigator, it is important for me to be an ally as well as an advocate and a support for those vulnerable persons in my community who I am working to help and empower. Without allyship, I cannot be effective in empowering my clients. Being an ally is not just about human decency.

I also found it interesting how she explained intersectionality; we are diverse and layered and existing in the same space at the time. We are not opposite one another. We must learn to respect intersectionality, embrace it and strive to understand all the layers of a person’s being and their (current) situation. Things that I will continue to think about going forward:

Visibility for some, does not mean safety for all.

When working with/interacting with person we don’t know, we should use gender-inclusive language such as everyone, friends, folks.

Start where you are, do what you can.

Accessibility includes: physical and mental health, language, hearing, vision etc.

Intention vs Impact: intentions may be good, but the impact may be negative.

Kim said, “One person’s lived experience doesn’t negate that of another, but it should complicate it.” I really felt impacted by this and have continued to examine and unpack this to greater understand how this applies to my work and to my life.

The first workshop I attended was presented by Samiya Abdi and Kim Bergeron and I found it interesting and enlightening. Samiya was very engaging and direct and I found her tongue-in-cheek humour a great tool to keep the tone of the room lighter despite the topics being discussed.

She talked about how we should not Parachute solutions into situations and be mindful of the White Saviour Complex: I know you better than you know yourself…I can fix this for you. We must be mindful of Intention vs Impact and not take away someone’s power. This is very relevant in my work as Community Navigator because while my intentions are always good and with the purpose of helping someone, I must be mindful of their power and not take ownership of their problems and “fix it” for them. The impact of that could lead a person to feel even more powerless. This is counterintuitive to my role and my goal is to empower people and work with them to find solutions to their challenges. I learned about White Fragility which is centering “whiteness” as the standard of what is normal and “othering” everyone else. It is the concept that white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to their racial worldviews. This is something that is very prevalent in my rural community and I feel that I have a better understanding of it and have some tools to help me address this when I bump up against it in my work.

The final event of the conference was a Living Library. The Auditorium was set up with numbered tables. Each table was “hosted” by either a facilitator from one of the workshops or another person with lived experience. I sat at a table hosted by a woman named Shaneen. We discussed Burn Out in Social Work and discussed methods of self-care and the importance of making this a priority. Compassion Fatigue is real and can happen when we do not take care of ourselves. We do not want to become apathetic in our work, so we must provide for ourselves a soft place to land when we are feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, stressed etc. It is also important to keep social justice and advocacy as part of our work; it is not just about mandates and agendas. We are working with people and we must be mindful of their needs and their already precarious situations and remain hopeful in our work to provide an opportunity for our clients to also be hopeful. We must be mindful of the space we are in and the other persons sharing that space and the circumstances that brought us all together. We are all individuals; we all have our own unique stories. We discussed how, often, workplaces do not celebrate success, but focus on the statistics, the reportable outcomes and the shortfalls. To have an environment where employees feel valued, even the smallest of success must be acknowledged and celebrated so that employees are recognized for the efforts and passion they put into their work. I think this is particularly true in the not-for-profit sector as employees work tirelessly everyday to help their clients and so easily get bogged down by the disappointments, the frustrations and the disillusionment that are so much a part of this work. Celebrating even the smallest of successes can help build a team up and keep people motivated to continue the splendid work they are doing.

I was so excited about being at the conference and sharing space with so many intelligent and passionate people. It was an invigorating and educational two days and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Having an opportunity to be in a space with such a diverse group of people, all sharing the same goal of building healthy communities was an amazing experience. I was sad to learn that this was the last conference that HC Link would be hosting as their funding will end in early 2018. I feel like this organization could have been a great resource for me in my own journey as Community Navigator. I will be sure to make the most of the remaining time they will be continuing their work so that I can continue to learn from then while I do mine.

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Conference Workshop: Facilitating Community Conversations on Inclusion – Angela Connors and Kim Hodgson

Kim and Angela facilitate 1


By Karen Scottie of OHCC


Full disclosure: I have worked with Angela Connors and Kim Hodgson on the OHCC/ONESTEP project Kitchen Table Conversations for Action on Inclusion. But because my role has been limited to tech support for webinars and making travel arrangements, I attended this workshop to experience the actual ‘kitchen table conversation’ aspect of the project.   


participants at the workshop


Angela and Kim began by acknowledging the territories of Indigenous peoples. They emphasized that the acknowledgement must be more than just a check mark on a to-do list. The acknowledgement is an act of reconciliation and a reminder that the land wasn’t empty when colonizers arrived. The acknowledgement to make visible that which for so long has been made invisible echoed through the rest of the workshop. Angela asked us to offer up a story about our names’ origins. Many of us, spoke of having to shorten our names to make it easier for those in power to say/spell them.  The workshop ended with a discussion of unconscious bias, microaggressions and how to become an accomplice to make change toward inclusion.

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Conference Workshop : Engaging Young People from Diverse Backgrounds

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by Aly Tropea 

Working with Young People means actually having to listen.

Do you ever think “Why ask me for advice if you’re just going to ignore it?”. Whether it be a colleague asking for your input on a group project, a friend planning a trip somewhere you’ve been many times before, or a spouse asking for your opinion on redecorating the house, it happens to us all at some point that you get asked for help but that advice you take the time to give back gets ignored. It can be frustrating when people seek you out purposefully for your input, only to completely disregard it in the end. 

I attended the workshop Actionable Knowledge & Helpful Tools for Engaging Young People from Diverse Backgrounds on the morning of day 2 of our conference and this was a theme that I think many people did not consider before. When working with youth, YATI presenters Garett and Leila explained that youth should be included in decisions, and not in a tokenism kind of way. For example, you want to include a young person on your board but don’t want to give them a vote? Unfair. What’s even more unfair is when you assume that that 1 young person can represent an entire community of young people. Integrating youth into more of your planning will make for better outreach. That doesn’t mean having to give them carte blanche, though. The role of the adult is still one of authority and security, but by giving them more time and guidance to develop their own process to problem solve ways to uphold community efforts, you may just be surprised by the outcome. 

To young people, they should feel like the sky’s the limit in their ability to grow their potential and excel in this world. So maybe you can provide them with a creative outlet to express themselves. Setting goals of achievement are important and adults can be consulted for direction on how to achieve goals, but youth should be able to come to the conclusion on what those achievements are by themselves. If in your diverse community, you want to instill a sense of ownership and responsibility among your teens, ask them to take charge in planning an activity or event that children will partake in and that the teens will have to plan from beginning to end. By offering leadership and guidance, but by also providing a safe space for creativity and ideas to flow freely, young people will become less apprehensive to breach more important subjects such as substance abuse or family issues with you later on. 

We explored Roger Hart’s ladder of participation (see below):

roger harts ladder of participation

We took a look at how adult influence in youth activities can range from manipulation to equality. Our goals should not and cannot always be to have to achieve youth engagement at the rung 8 level, but implementing the uses of a mixture of the top 5 rungs, young people should begin to feel a sense of confidence in their work and be able to take on more responsibility and autonomy. 

By allowing them this autonomy, they will begin to take charge and excel in new ways that you may not have thought up in your initial planning. Although certain barriers may seem to exist currently, such as the need to have set plans and timelines, a more effective strategy of engaging youth even in the planning process will reap better rewards. This may mean having to rework your planning and scheduling to accomodate more inclusive conversation around upcoming programs. It is sometimes hard to ask for several people's input on program development simply because of the "too many cooks in the kitchen" idealogy. But, the reality is that if programs are being developed for youth, they should be developed with youth in mind right from the planning stages -- and that means having to ask them. Once a new timeline and scheduling system is in place and youth are feeling more confident that they are being heard, programming for youth should come more naturally and you may find that having more hands on deck might actually be a great thing! 


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Tackling Substance Use Problems in Ontario

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by Jewel Bailey - CAMH 

It’s National Addictions Awareness Week, a perfect time to take a closer look at how to tackle alcohol and other substance-related harms. In Ontario, we’ve been grappling with challenges such as the opioid overdose crisis, alcohol-related harms, and the uncertainties surrounding the legalization and regulation of cannabis. These are complex public health problems that demand comprehensive solutions.

As a knowledge broker in EENet’s Health Promotion Resource Centre (part of the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), I’ve been working on various provincial mental health promotion policy initiatives. One consistent theme? We can’t keep focusing on treatment. We have to address risk and protective factors and create environments that support health and well-being.

Interestingly, when it comes to mental illness and addictions, research shows that people are more sympathetic and less stigmatizing to those with mental illness than those with addictions, who are often seen as having made an individual choice.  But let’s talk a bit about the role of the environment pertaining to the opioid overdose crisis.

Opioid medications are a type of painkiller. Some can be purchased over the counter, while others are prescribed by a dentist or doctor. In Ontario, there has been an overprescribing of opioids, the doses are high, and the period of use set by physicians is longer than needed. Some have argued that these factors have contributed to the opioid epidemic. According to Public Health Ontario, opioid-related deaths have soared to 136 percent since the early 2000s. In 2016, 865 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes. This is an example of how the practice and regulatory environment can contribute to poor health outcomes. However, the provincial government has created Ontario’s Strategy to Prevent Opioid Addiction and Overdose and has increased access to naloxone kits which are used to prevent opioid overdose.

Environment can also have an impact on harmful alcohol use. It is well established that increased physical availability of alcohol contributes to increased consumption and alcohol-related harms. Close to 1.5 million Ontarians (15%) reported consuming alcohol in harmful/hazardous ways within the past year, based on the 2015 CAMH Monitor report. The 2015 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey showed that hazardous/harmful drinking increases with grade. Harmful alcohol use is associated with a range of social, health, and financial costs and is the leading cause of death and disability in the province. 

Tackling harmful alcohol use requires a multi-pronged approach that focuses on building the skills of individuals, working with communities to address issues such as social norms around alcohol use, intervening in different settings, and influencing the policy environment.

Another substance of public health interest is cannabis. Some find the legalization and regulation of cannabis to be concerning, while for others, this is a welcome move by the federal government. After all, banning people from possessing, producing, and trafficking in cannabis, and criminalizing those who use it, have not stopped cannabis consumption. On the other hand, legalization with little regulation can contribute to increased use with significant social and health harms. The federal government has proposed a model which includes both legalization and regulation. Ontario is already thinking ahead, and created the Safe and Sensible Framework to Manage Federal Legalization of Cannabis. This plan outlines what the provincial government will do to manage the use and sale of cannabis.

Cannabis-related harms increase with use, and when a person starts at an early age. Frequent use is associated with dependence, mental health problems, and impaired driving. Adolescents who use cannabis often are also vulnerable to health harms. The CAMH Cannabis Policy Framework recommends a public health approach for preventing cannabis-related harms. This entails addressing the underlying determinants of health, and focusing on health promotion and prevention. I am really convinced as a knowledge broker in mental health promotion that these are some of the major strategies for tackling substance use problems.

As we discuss solutions to problematic substance during this week, let’s not focus only on individual-level actions, but let’s consider the multiple environments people are surrounded by (family, community, policy) and use these as intervention points. By positively influencing the environment we will certainly have an impact at the individual level.

PS: Here is a list of resources you can use when working with clients or program users, or for planning or policy development:



Interactive Opioid Tool


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Playing Back Your Conference Stories

Playback for new parents




By Naomi Tessler, Artistic Director, Branch Out Theatre


Once Upon a time, there was a conference. A conference that aimed to explore issues of inclusion, equity and working across difference. A conference that created space for participants to critically reflect upon their role in co-creating community transformation: with everyone, for everyone. At this conference there were many moments of inspiration, mixed with conflicting points of view. The result: Two days of deep unpacking, radical learning and the etchings of a new road map to community change.


Let’s Watch! …


These are the magic words you’ll hear at the closing playback theatre performance by Branch Out Theatre for the upcoming HC Link conference. You and your fellow conference attendees will be invited to share your conference reflections, stories and experiences (like the summary painted above) and Branch Out Theatre’s playback theatre troupe will play those moments back to you- on the spot- through improvisation. Branch Out Theatre will co-create a space with you to harvest your learnings, deepen your understanding and strengthen your connections.

With each reflection shared and each story told, our actors will use different playback theatre forms to animate the experiences being recounted. Each form will vary in length and depth and serve to capture the heart of what each conference attendee shares. We’ll use sound and movement to play out a montage of feelings you’ve had throughout the conference. We’ll perform impromptu rants to help make sense of any conflicts or challenges. We’ll re-enact your full stories about the seeds of wisdom and the roots of support you’re taking back to your community practice.

Whether or not you’re up for being a teller: one who shares an experience or story, the whole audience grows more connected as each story is played back. A personal experience gracefully transforms into a universal experience as the audience witnesses the story unfold onstage. Watching your fellow conference attendee’s story played back, you will undoubtedly see speckles of your own experience within it. The chance to have your story played back is like a gift, and our Branch Out Theatre playback ensemble: Alicia Payne, David Jan Jurasek, Victoria Haist and Will Kwan, conducted by Naomi Tessler, looks so forward to helping you unwrap it! To see pictures of past playback theatre performances, click here.

Playback theatre is one of the applied theatre practices that Branch Out Theatre works with to facilitate community engagement, creative play and critical reflection. We also specialize in Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, which centralizes pertinent issues of injustice in order to empower individuals and communities to be agents of change.

Check out videos from our various applied theatre project’s and performances here. Through our participatory workshops, trainings, community arts projects and interactive productions, we aim to inspire personal and collective transformation, and set the stage to rehearse towards social change across Canada.

We look so forward to Branching Out through Theatre with you and playing back your stories on November 21st at 3pm. Let’s Watch!

To learn more about Branch Out Theatre, please visit:

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How can we work “with” people in poverty?

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On November 21st, join Gillian Kranias and Jason Hartwick as they re-examine the way we work with people who live in poverty. They will host an interactive workshop at our conference about strategies for working with people living in poverty in ways that respect their priorities.

How is this important? When working with people who are different from ourselves, our charity-based culture often sets us up to work “for” community members. Following this habit, we can end up in a mess. We carry and create biases around people who live in poverty. We feel rushed to produce results that reflect organizational priorities, not community priorities. We assume things and overlook local knowledge and particularities. Often, for example, we see a “problem” and propose a simple “evidenced solution”, when the local reality is a complex of interrelated issues and options which need to be discussed, sorted through and prioritized with community leadership and ownership.


So, how do we shift into working “with” people? To begin: make sure community members feel on their own ground and comfortable. To begin: allow community members to co-lead the process. To begin: resource their leadership, and talk openly and ongoing about how to shift resources towards a more fair sharing of power and leadership.

There is a story of a low-income community which started organizing Friday night dinners at the local recreation centre, providing a safe space where community members could include their children (including teens), share food and dialogue about different community issues and priorities – all facilitated by partnership members.

In this workshop, on November 21st, participants will build awareness and skills through stories and a case study, community development values and principles, collaborative learning and reflection activities. Participants will leave with direction and hope for engaging better “with” people who live in poverty.

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Getting Under the Skin: What is the Role of Cities in Mental Health and Illness?

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By Jewel Bailey - CAMH 

Here’s a compelling fact: half of the workforce in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area is suffering from a mental health issue – that’s more than 1.5 million people! This begs the question: how does the place where we live, play, and work impact our mental health?

It’s well established by researchers that people who live in cities have higher levels of mental illness than their rural counterparts. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Currently 85 percent of Ontarians live in cities. As more people move to urban areas, the need for experts from different fields to focus on how city living impacts mental well-being will become increasingly important.

One of the international experts who has studied mental health and the metropolis is Professor Nikolas Rose from King’s College, London. He examined years of research on how mental health is shaped by city living. Rose says scientists have made the connection between mental illness and factors such as social exclusion, racism, and poverty, but what they have not determined is the process through which the “city gets under the skin”. He believes that as scientists from various disciplines work together they might be able to explain the process through which urban living affects the brain.

Other findings from Rose’s work include the following:

  • Cities should be viewed from an ecological perspective, with humans co-existing in a complex, ever-evolving environment. There is constant social stress produced by “noise, sprawling transport networks, the cacophony of diggers and concrete mixers, scaffolds and cranes”. Humans are not passive in these environments, but are always negotiating these spaces.

  • Researchers identified stress as one of the reasons for elevated levels of mental illness among urban dwellers. One group of researchers found that people who are born in cities, and continue to live in urban environments, process stress differently, which might be linked to why there are higher levels of stress in urban areas.

  • Stress is a subjective experience based on people’s perception of what is occurring around them. How a person interprets an element in their environment (e.g. crowding) determines whether it’s stressful or not; what one person considers stressful might not be stressful for another.

What is one of Rose’s more interesting points? He states that in the aftermath of a traumatic event, most people do well just speaking with family and friends. Only a few will require ongoing intervention by a mental health provider. This highlights the resiliency of humans.

While researchers such as Rose continue their work, policymakers are asking the question: what can cities do to improve the mental health residents? New York provides a good example of what can be done. The city has created a comprehensive mental health plan called Thrive NYC which is built on 6 principles. Dr. Gary Belkin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of Mental Hygiene in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and one of the leaders of the plan, notes that NYC had to rethink and restructure how mental health services were delivered, and also engage citizens in the process. One of the six principles is partnering with communities to improve mental health.

Thrive NYC’s work began by assessing where people go and how they access services. According to Belkin residents may not always access services in traditional mental health facilities so the system must reach people in their natural settings. For example, in this video, Thrive NYC worked with a Black faith-based organization to reach members of that community. The plan recognizes community stakeholders as “innovators in their own health” and builds the capacity of community-based organizations to increase access to programs and services. The success of Thrive NYC has sparked other international cities, such as London, to launch similar strategies.

Both Rose and Belkin were in Toronto recently, delivering talks on mental health and city, as part of a series hosted by the Provincial System Support Program at CAMH and the Wellesley Institute. You can find links to their presentations below.

As we turn the spotlight on the reality of mental illness during mental illness awareness week, let’s consider how we can build healthy, vibrant communities in rural and urban areas. Because more people are migrating to cities, where there are higher rates of mental illness, cities require unique attention. Cities touch the lives of residents in multiple and intimate ways. The urban environment can be a source of stress and happiness, but working to create supportive environments, and strengthening communities for action, as Thrive NYC has done, can impact the mental well-being of all residents.

Here are links to some resources:

  1. For more information on Thrive NYC and the principles click here

  2. To watch Rose’s presentation click here

  3. To watch Belkin’s presentation click here

  4. About mental health and mental illness

  5. Mental health first aid

  6. The friendship bench

Share your views - what do you think cities in Ontario can do to promote the mental health of residents and support those living with a mental illness?

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Safe BBQing techniques to enjoy a healthy Labour Day weekend

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With labour day just around the corner, I wanted to share with you some basic rules for food safety in meal preparation that was shared on on the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website.

According to Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins and Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, reminding Ontarians of proper food preparations is key to avoiding food born illnesses.

In the summertime, food poisoning increases due to more people preparing food on the grill, defrosting raw meats like burgers, and making more salads on flat surfaces. To avoiding cross contamination and food poisoning, follow these simple rules.

Clean you hands often when preparing meals, clean surfaces and utensils with soapy warm water. Bacteria loves getting onto hands and in cutting boards, kitchen ware, cloths, knives, etc.

Keep raw meat separated from ready to eat foods like veggies, fruits, breads, and salads. Keep the separate both when you’re preparing them and as you store them.

Thoroughly cook all your food, especially meats and poultry but also veggies if you’re cooking them on the safe grill.

Keep food and leftovers in the fridge and get groceries into the fridge within 2 hours of purchasing them - especially for meat, poultry and dairy products.

To ensure you’re following the guidelines above, you can take some extra precautions such as:

Using a food thermometer to test the temperature of your food as it cooks.

Never keeping food at room temperature for more than 2 hours

Don’t defrost your meat on countertops, rather keep it in a container and let it defrost slowly in the refrigerator or under cold water in the sink.

Keep packaging of your meat firm and tight, even double bag it to be sure no juice will leak onto your ready to eat foods.

Follow cooking instructions accordingly to make sure you’re preparing your food correctly and safely.

Following these tips can help you avoid the unfortunately symptoms of food poisoning that can range from mild to severe. If you do become ill and suspect food poisoning, consult a physician or go to your nearest hospital for urgent care if symptoms appear severe. By following these rules above, however, you should significantly decrease your chances of becoming ill due to food poisoning.

Enjoy your Labour Day weekend !

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