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

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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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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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