Every two years (alternating with our provincial conference), HC Link partners with local communities to design and deliver Regional Gatherings. This year, my colleague Stephanie Massot and I were lucky to work with a dynamic team in Timiskaming to hold a regional gathering there on January 11. The event was a partnership between HC Link, the District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board and the City of Temiskaming Shores.
We formed a planning committee in the spring/summer of 2016, and over several months our event took shape. Planning Committee members included Dani Grenier-Ducharme, Tiffany Stowe and Melissa Boivin (District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board) Dan Lavigne (Timiskaming First Nation), Tina Sartoretto (Town of Cobalt), Sylvain Guilbeault (Timiskaming Child Care), Stephanie Masson and I (HC Link). We selected the title “Changing our Destiny: Building a vision for all our communities” to represent the desire to make decisions that affect Timiskaming in Timiskaming. It is a vibrant region, with industry, tourism, a great deal of natural beauty, and--in January--a great deal of snow!
The focus of the event was to create a space for conversation about working together collaboratively to form community hubs in Timiskaming. Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to dissuade attendance with a snowstorm, 78 people (including planning committee members) attended the gathering! Unfortunately due to cancellation of school buses, the youth that committee members had worked so hard to engage were not able to attend. We had representation from a wide variety of sectors, with a total of 15 different sectors represented. It would be impossible for me to pick just one highlight of the day, as each part of the day was a highlight for me! Instead, I’ll summarize the day for those of you who weren’t able to be there.
High school art work from the Indigenous art class, graciously lent to us for the day
We began the day with a traditional smudge and pipe ceremony, drumming and song. Elder Philip Snr Gliddy told us that these ceremonies show respect and help us start our gathering in a Good Way. Mayors Tina Sarteretto (one of our planning committee members) and Carman Kidd gave opening remarks and Dani Grenier-Ducharme, Children's Services Manager with the District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board, was our fearless Master of Ceremonies for the day.
Charles Cirtwell from the Northern Policy Institute gave a keynote address and spoke about how the North already does community hubs: people in the North have worked together in this way for hundreds of years. Dr. Cirtwell advised us to have:
Flexible thinking: to not constrain the who, how and where of community hubs
Flexible funding: funding should promote collaboration, be used for transportation and technology, and as an incentive
Flexible doing: blend organizational objectives, knowledge and assets. The goal is for everyone to see that their mandate is being achieved, even if someone else is doing some or even all of the service delivery
Following Dr Cirtwell’s presentation, Stephanie Massot gave a short presentation on partnership and working collaboratively. Melissa Boivin, one of our planning committee members, then led the group in a “Merry-Go Round” exercise to give participants the chance to talk with each other about the ways they currently work together, the challenges and benefits they receive from their work.
I then led a panel discussion to find out how the community hub model is working in four different communities.
Carol McBride is the Director of Health and Social Services at Notre Dame du Nord, Temiskaming First Nation Health Centre. The centre has experienced significant growth from its beginnings in the 90s with 4 employees to its current staff complement of 35. Previously, the centre worked in silos, where people who accessed services did get help but not as much as they needed. When Carol learned about the community hub model, the centre transformed using the Medicine Wheel as its model, with the individual in the middle of the wheel and the Centre providing emotional, physical, mental and spiritual support.
Scirish Panipak is the Vice-President of the Friendship Centre in Parry Sound. That organization will be opening a “bricks and mortar” community hub, focused on community housing, in June. The organization was able to purchase a school to use for non-profit housing, and a priority for them was to keep the gymnasium to use for the community as well as clients and residents. They began to look for community partners to move into the space, and currently have more than they can hold!
Laura Urso from the Best Start Network in Sudbury shared her experiences in this long-standing network of service providers. The network began with agencies that provide like-services, and now they are programming and delivering services together. One of the keys to the success the network has experienced is the designation of a staff-person who is responsible for bringing--and keeping--stakeholders together.
Brent Cicchini is an officer with the Ontario Provincial Police (incidentally, the first time I’ve had a panelist who wore a bullet-proof vest) who has been working with a variety of community partners to address the needs of high-risk youth, with the aim of supporting them before they come into contact with the justice system. There is a good network of services and stakeholders, though meeting can be viewed as being redundant. Brent spoke about the idea of connecting with existing networks/tables, rather than constantly inventing new groups of the same people to talk about different things.
After lunch, Karen Pitre, Special Advisory to the Premier on Community Hubs, joined us via remote technology. Community hubs, explained Karen, are a service delivery model that brings together service providers to offer a range of services that respond to demonstrated community needs and priorities. As our four panelists demonstrated, there is no one formula for a community hub: they can be a bricks and mortar building, a “virtual” hub or a group of service providers working together. There could be as many variations of what a community hub as there are communities in Ontario. One of the key components of a community hub is that they are cross-sectoral, bringing together education and training, health care, children and youth, sport and recreation, social services and a variety of other community partners together.
Following Karen’s presentation, participants formed small groups in a Conversation Café designed to help the group discuss how they can work together, in partnership, to support community wellbeing in Timiskaming. The group had a robust discussion, with a group who discussed Indigenous health committing to meet monthly after the gathering to continue their conversation!
It would take me at least another two pages to talk fully about the incredible experience that Stephanie and I had in Timiskaming and the wonderful things about the Regional Gathering itself. We had such a rich experience in working with our planning committee members, our event partners, and our event sponsors Northern College and Presidents Suites. Aside from the experience of being in the north and being at the event itself, another highlight was the excursion to Dani’s farm, where Stephanie rode a horse and I collected eggs. The beauty of the scenery, the warmth of the people, and their dedication to working together will be in my memory for a long time.
You can access the slide decks, videos from the presentations and panel, and more at http://www.hclinkontario.ca/events/regional-gatherings.html/#Timiskaming