Blog

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.

Alexandra Tropea has not set their biography yet

A conference attendee reflection : What you missed.

connectedness

 

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.

17 Hits
0 Comments

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.

164 Hits
0 Comments

Conference Workshop : Engaging Young People from Diverse Backgrounds

IMG 2627

 

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 younth 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! 

 

218 Hits
0 Comments

Tackling Substance Use Problems in Ontario

Screen Shot 2017 11 13 at 8.15.26 AM

 

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:

Alcohol

Opioids

Interactive Opioid Tool

Cannabis

161 Hits
0 Comments

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: www.branchouttheatre.com

234 Hits
0 Comments

How can we work “with” people in poverty?

providence doucet 87304

 

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.

357 Hits
0 Comments

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

Screen Shot 2017 10 02 at 10.11.33 AM

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?

498 Hits
0 Comments

Safe BBQing techniques to enjoy a healthy Labour Day weekend

Screen Shot 2017 08 31 at 5.28.20 PM

 

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 !

358 Hits
0 Comments