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.

The "Crushed Challenge"

by Suzanne Schwenger
On October 29 Gillian bravely volunteered to demonstrate an activity used by the Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU) to attract media attention and raise awareness about low-risk drinking guidelines.
Gillian - mocktail challenge
This activity was called the "Crushed Challenge", and was like a reality TV show where three contestants took a mystery ingredient (in this case ginger) and had to create a mocktail (non-alcoholic cocktail) which was then tasted by three judges!The mocktails were judged on appearance, originality, taste and best use of mystery ingredients.
Gillian's mocktail, called Spiky Cheer, came in a close second place.  We were all treated to a mocktail of our own in a special shot glass to measure alcohol portions.
Mocktail Measure
The presentation also demonstrated the 'Pour Challenge' and talked about a Pairings Event which paired mocktails with local fresh food at a restaurant. All three activities generated a lot of news media coverage--which was all part of the strategy.
Congrats to Gillian and way to go SDHU for innovative ways to raise awareness!
Health Nexus' Best Start Resource Centre also has a Mocktail resource: Mocktails for Mom, available in English and French. See Best Start’s Alcohol and Drugs page to download or to order.

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Wise Crowds Recap

Guest post by Shannon Hitchman

On Friday, November 13th, 2015, 12 people attending the Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change conference were given a unique opportunity called Wise Crowds: Finding innovative solutions for community change. The basic idea is that these people were to share a problem that exists for them with groups of around eight to ten people. These people were to ask clarification questions first, then the presenter was to turn around and the people around the table were to provide their solutions.

I was one of the people who volunteered to share my problem. I felt as though this activity was beneficial and eye opening in a number of ways. The presenter gained access to solutions that may not have occurred to someone who was looking at the problem through the lens of a professional or one who possessed prior knowledge of it. It allowed the participants a look into a field that may not be their own, and to unleash their creativity for this field within a time frame. For both parties, it broke down barriers of stereotypes, considering the presenter could not see who was providing each solution.

Thank you for this opportunity!

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Conference Recap - A Northern Perspective

Guest post by Michèle Lajeunesse, Community Health Promotion Coordinator, Marathon Family Health Team
As I have only been working in the field of health promotion for about six month, the HC Link Conference was a great learning experience for me. I especially enjoyed learning about community engagement and collective ownership, community hubs and the Circle of Health tool. I also appreciated the storytelling and presentations that included tips on developing health promotion programs in rural communities. We have many barriers to face in rural Northern Ontario; therefore I enjoyed learning from the experiences of other health professionals who face similar barriers. By working together, I truly believe that we can make a difference in our communities!

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Reflections on the HC Link Conference

Guest post by Leanne Prendergast,  Founder & President of the Love Our Lives Organization

When I first received the good news that I had been awarded the HC Link conference bursary, I was excited yet nervous. You see I had never been to a HC Link Conference and I had no idea what to expect. But as soon as I walked in, the first thing that put a smile on my face and made me feel at home was the beautifully set out food on the breakfast table. From that moment, I knew that I would really enjoy the conference. Dave Meslin gave an amazing and humorous speech that woke me up out of my tiredness because after all it was morning time. But his humour and personality did not feel as if I was in a lectured but rather I felt he was having a conversation with me on a one on one personal level.

The workshops were absolutely well structured and gave room for interactive conversation and a space to give advice and get advice from others who were attending the workshops. There was a great variety of workshops to attend that were all unique and diverse which gave those who attended the option of getting very different perspectives on how to engage people and not just in a nice, politically correct way, but rather in an exciting innovative and effective way! The food throughout the 2 day session was amazing, because every time I thought I had eaten enough, there was more to have. The food was very accommodating and healthy (especially to those of us who do not eat meat) and allowed us to still think actively and feel energized even after being served a ‘5 course meal’.

There are many things that I would love to share about the conference; however, this would not be a blog, but rather an academic essay. So I will mention one last point that resonated in my mind throughout the 2 day conference. Dave Meslin said that we often times want to be diverse and make sure we have everyone represented at our tables (not talking about food table), however we need to start thinking about being a part of the tables that other people have created that mean as much to them as our table means to us, and through this we can bring about true change within our community, it’s all about collaboration! And so in summary, the HC Link conference was an amazing experience which has taught me the importance of engagement and community!

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Leveraging Social Media to Promote Real-Time Knowledge Exchange

HC Link’s 2015 Conference Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change was a great success overall, it was well organized, featured engaging speakers, and provided ample opportunities for networking. We ramped up our social media campaign both in the weeks leading up to the event and at the conference and we were excited to have our biggest social media presence yet!

With the help of our Social Media SWAT team we were trending on Twitter just an hour into the conference. The first morning we scored the #3 spot in Toronto and the #6 spot in Canada. Our conference hashtag was #Link4HC – there were 613 Original Tweets, 823 Retweets and 43 @mentions using the hashtag.
















How we did it – Tips for leveraging social media at an event

In order to create a great social media presence we enlisted the help of a Social Media SWAT Team. This is an idea we stole from the Association of Ontario Health Care Centres conference. Our SWAT Team was made up of social media savvy staff and communications staff from our partner organizations. We asked the team to tweet in the weeks leading up to the conference, contribute blog posts, and live tweet throughout the event.

The SWAT Team

Just asking people to tweet may not have been successful – we also gave the team all the tools they needed to be able to tweet while still enjoying the conference.

  • Each member got a Social Media Package with sample tweets, the handles of all of the presenters, and media that they could include in their tweets or share with their networks.
  • We held a 30 minute conference call a week before the conference to get everyone up to speed. 
  • We ask each member what sessions they would like to attend and assigned each participant to workshops so that our SWAT team was represented at each workshop.

Participant & speakers engagement 

In addition to the SWAT Team we also used some other strategies to make social media at the conference a success.

  • Included the French and English hashtag on all conference promotion
  • Sent sample tweets out whenever we released new conference information
  • Sent sample tweets and other info to our presenters and asked them to contribute to the conversation 
  • Held a Twitter chat with our keynote speakers as guests the month before the conference 
  •  Put tent cards with the hashtag on all of the conference tables
  • Retweeted participant’s tweets and thanked them for being involved 

We also used free online tools like Storify and Hashtracking to collect data on our impact.

Social media as a tool for knowledge exchange 


We produced six live blog posts, written by myself and HC Link Coordinator Andrea Bodkin during plenary sessions and workshops. The live tweets and blog posts created an online platform for those interested in social action and health promotion to discuss issues relevant issues with each other. For example the use of the popular term “Social Determinants of Health” came up the first morning and by using the popular hashtag #SDoH we were able to bring this question to the broader public health community.



Live tweeting also let health promoters and community members not at the conference follow the conversation and share in the key takeaways. We were able to share insightful strategies and facts with a large audience.



Want to see all the conference tweets? We have archived them using Storify 

Want to see all the conference tweets? We have archived them using Storify

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Recapping the HC Link Conference - A Grad Student Perspective

Guest post by Karen Nelson, PhD Student – School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph

Last week I was able to attend the HC Link Conference thanks to a generous bursary from HC Link. As a PhD student it is not often that I get the opportunity to interact with professionals working on implementing programs in my area of interest outside of an academic environment so I was excited to do so. My goal for this conference was to learn more about current initiatives that have been, or are currently taking place, in Ontario communities, specifically in relation to my dissertation topic of childhood obesity and the built environment in rural communities. The conference not only helped me to achieve this goal, but also provided me with new ideas to explore as I further my research.

Aside from my main goal of gathering information related to my research, I was also able to attend several amazing presentations and participating in engaging discussions. Highlights from the conference for me included:

Active Outdoor Play Position Statement: Nature, Risk and Well-being

Led by Shawna Babcock of KidActive and Marlene Power of Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, this workshop highlighted evidence supporting the position statement on active outdoor play. In this workshop we discussed some of our personal memories of play (which most of us recall as being outside and in nature) and some common barriers to outdoor active play for children. The presenters discussed the idea of ‘nature as a prescription for health’ as well as the importance of recognizing healthy built environments and access to nature as determinants of health – both of which fuel my own research interests.


The second morning had us participate in an interactive session that helped to provide innovative solutions to challenges addressed by other conference participants. One of the questions posed to our group was on how to engage the unusual suspects – a key concern for many who see the same ‘suspects’ on an ongoing basis. The responses at my table were great and many of them I plan to apply to my own research going forward.

Healthy Community Design: Active Community Toolkit for Reviewing Development Plans

This presentation, delivered by Kim Bergeron and Bernie McCall, provided a background and overview as to how public health practitioners can make recommendations on land use planning decisions to ensure they promote healthy active communities. As a student looking at the built environment and health, this was definitely a highlight for me – especially being able to meet Kim – whose work I have been following for a while!

Overall I enjoyed each keynote, workshop and interactive session I attended. I look forward to attending again next year!

I would like to thank HC Link for providing me a bursary to attend this conference.


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Evaluation Day: A New Approach to the Annual HC Link Staff Survey

Written by Lorna McCue, Chair of the HC Link Evaluation Committee
October 19, 2015

Every year the HC Link Evaluation Committee asks all HC Link staff to participate in a survey about HC Link. This involves approximately 20 individuals from three collaborating organizations; Health Nexus Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition and Parent Action on Drugs. The survey serves a number of purposes; e.g. assessing the level of staff satisfaction with HC Link’s operations, sharing perspectives on community needs and interests, gaining information and insight about emerging trends and receiving valuable suggestions for new program directions and professional development activities. While in past years the survey has had good response rates with generally positive results, this year we decided to try something new.

During our June 1, 2015 evaluation committee meeting, we discussed a number of goals we wanted to achieve through the staff survey, in addition to those listed above; i, e.

  • Identify ways to the increase the effectiveness of HC Link services;
  • Improve our ability to prepare for and respond to anticipated changes/trends;
  • Build on the results of the last staff survey to promote continual improvement in the staff’s work experience; and
  • Engage staff in a meaningful way in the process.

After some brainstorming, we developed a mixed format that we hoped would make completing the staff survey an interesting and enjoyable experience, as well as produce meaningful results. Several components were involved:

1. Evaluation Day: We set September 15, 2015 as Evaluation Day and sent a communiqué to all HC Link staff explaining our plan. We asked staff to schedule time on September 15th for two activities: i) engage in a discussion with another HC Link staff member from a different organization and ii) complete an online survey individually. We liked the idea of presenting the survey as an “event”, and hoped it would thus receive more attention and maybe even pique some interest.

2. Follow up from 2014 Survey: We sent a number of documents to the staff prior to September 15th, including the results of last year’s staff survey, a summary of the suggestions and concerns that staff had raised and a report on actions that had been taken to address them. The review of the last survey provided an opportunity to continue some of the conversations that were started through the 2014 survey, and also demonstrated that participating in the staff survey can stimulate

3. Paired Discussions: Four open-ended questions from the online survey were included in the package that was sent to staff prior to Evaluation Day, along with an assigned list of staff pairs. We tried to pair up staff from different organizations, and those with more experience with those that were newer to HC Link. The staff were asked to arrange a mutually agreeable time for a 30 minute discussion of the questions before they completed the survey. We hypothesized that the individuals’ responses to the survey would be fuller and richer if they first discussed them with a colleague. It also created an opportunity for them just to get acquainted, as many HC Link staff have little contact with each other. We thought that this might lead to staff learning more about other areas of work within HC Link and creating a stronger sense of cohesion.

4. Online Survey: Following the conversation with their colleague, staff completed an online survey on their own. We invited them to be creative and reflective in their responses, and advised them that their responses would be anonymous.

5. Report: Another commitment the Evaluation Committee made was to report the results to the staff in a “creative and informative” way. At their October 2015 meeting, the Evaluation Committee reviewed the results of the survey. The response rate was 95%; compared with 60% from the previous staff survey. 15 of the 19 respondents (78%) had discussed the questions with a colleague prior to completing the online survey. The results indicated a high level of satisfaction with the operation of HC Link and generated many ideas, suggestions and insights. The Evaluation Committee is currently developing a report that will provide recommendations for consideration by various HC Link committees and managers, and are working on an infographic that will highlight the main themes.

The Evaluation Committee was very pleased with the results of this process, and are looking forward to continuing discussions about how to continuously improve HC Link for the benefit of both clients and staff. We would love to hear from other staff about their experience as participants in this survey, as well as from anyone else who would like to comment or ask a question.

Please log in to post your comments on this page.


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A cool tool for reviewing development plans

Reporting live from HC Link’s biannual conference Linking for Healthy Communities!

There is strong evidence that community design encourages- or discourages- physical activity. We need to plan and design our communities in ways that increase physical activity opportunities. Public and community health can play a role by assessing development plans to ensure that they do meet the physical activity needs of your community.

In 2013, the Middlesex-London Health Unit developed a toolkit as an outcome of an active communities project. In today’s workshop, Bernie McCall from MLHU and Kim Bergeron, the writer of the toolkit, provided an overview of the toolkit and provided an opportunity for participants to apply some of its steps. The toolkit provides a standardized approach to assessing the 3 main types of development plans: area plans (for neighbourhoods or districts), subdivision plans (for subdivisions!) and site plans (for a single parcel of land).

Excitingly, many of the folks in the workshop had already read and/or applied the toolkit in their community work. Future plans for the toolkit include case studies and validating it to determine its effectiveness. I hope that we hear more about this excellent resource and how it’s being used! Check out #Link4HC to read more about this workshop.

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Live Blog - Using the CIW in Community Health Centres

Live Blog from the workshop - Community Vitality & Belonging: Measuring what matters with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing

Today I participated in an informative workshop co-presented by Heidi Schaeffer from the Association of Ontario Health Centres and Jenilee Cook from the Woodstock and Area Community Health Centre. The workshop provided an overview of the CIW and it’s application within the Community Health Centres (CHCs).

Community Health Centers across Ontario collected stories from clients on what was important to them. Community Vitality and Belonging were strong themes that emerged. They decided to use the CIW to measure what matters.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) came of work done by foundations in the 1990 is now housed at the University of Waterloo. The University continues to research, knowledge share and continually develop the tool. They defined wellbeing based on 8 domains - democratic engagement, community vitality, education, environment, healthy populations, leisure and culture, living standard and use of time.

Be Well survey

The AOHD created the Be Well Provincial Survey to measure all CIW domains with a focus on Community Vitality plus some socio-demographic questions. The results will inform community healthy and wellbeing indicators at the provincial level.


Interesting facts

• As the GDP has risen since 94 the CIW has also risen but not at the same rate.
• Currently there is no equity lens for the CIW but AOHC is working on developing one.
• Bridging the Gap Report found that there is a growing inequality in Ottawa. It made allowed them to make some policy asks on affordable housing, food security, public transit and equity and employment.

An On the Ground Example – Oxford County

“It’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do it.” - Jenilee Cook

Jenilee spoke about the Harwood Model which emphases the importance of outward thinking rather that inward thinking –

  • Activity vs. Action
  • Programs vs. People
  • My Organization vs. My Community
  • Charity vs. Change
  • Feeling Good vs. Doing Good

She also spoke to Oxford County Community Members about what was important to them and they said belonging! That started created creating opportunities for people to belong in the community including the “Smile and Say Hello Movement” and “Agents of Community Change”.

Some tactics they used to propel the iniiative included - 

  •  Included Secret Change Agent Hotline
  • Poster Round
  • Community Facebook Page
  • World Smile Day 
  • Candy Gram Pot Luck
  • Share a Chair on Your Front Lawn 

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Powerful Statistics + Emotional Stories: My One Thing

Reporting live from HC Link’s biannual conference Linking for Healthy Communities!

This morning’s keynote speaker was David Courtemanche from Leading Minds Inc. David is the perfect person to talk to us about policy change as he not only has a background in community work and the not-for-profit word, he is also a former politician. In that way he bridges both worlds, or in his words, he knows the dark side.

David encouraged us to try to come away from his presentation with ONE Thing that we can take back to our organizations. I think our Twitter hashtag from the conference #Link4HC captures the many points that David touched on, so I’m going to blog about my ONE Thing and that is this:


Powerful Statistics + Emotional Stories

As Dave Meslin talked about in his keynote presentation yesterday, we often are reliant on our charts and reports and graphs to make our arguments for us. David Courtemanche often finds that health advocates feel that just brigning forward information will lead to change. He told us the story of a group of local Sudbury activists who were working to make public spaces in Sudbury smoke free, including the local hockey arena. The group had research, studies, made deputations and presentations. What turned the argument into a successful council decision however was a 10 year old boy who spoke after all of the deputees had finished their presentations. He told the council that he loved hockey and that he really wanted to see the Sudbury Wolves play at the local arena, but as an asthma sufferer, he couldn’t enter the arena as the second hand smoke made him sick.

The next day, it was the story of the 10 year old with asthma that made the local papers. Not the stacks of reports and the pie charts.

The following week council passed a smoke-free bylaw, making public spaces in Sudbury- restaurants, buildings, and yes the arena- smoke free.

Yesterday Dave Meslin gave us several examples of campaigns that turned numbers into stories that captured the attention of the media.

This is the ONE Thing that I’ll be taking forward with me as I return to my desk on Monday: how can I pair my stats and numbers with stories to bring emotion, attention and change?


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Recapping Dave Meslin's Keynote Address - Breaking Down Barriers to Community Action

Today we kicked off Day One of Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change with an engaging and exciting keynote address from Community Choreographer Dave Meslin. Dave spent 15 years on the ground as a community organizer and is now teaching Canadians how to build a culture of community engagement and avoid public apathy.Dave shared great personal stories, which illustrated his aptitude for change, from demanding to hold roses in his high school grad photo to initiatives he has been involved with like his Downtown De-Fence Project.

Public Spaces

Dave talked about the importance of community spaces. Dundas Square and the Gardener are covered with advertisements that don’t represent the diversity of Toronto well; we shouldn't let advertisers decorate public spaces. We need to take ownership over these spaces & make them our own. If people were more engaged in policymaking we wouldn’t see public spaces that look like Yonge and Dundas! Public spaces can also have a significant impact on mental health, body image and distracted driving.

Getting People Involved in Policy Change

Dave says we won’t engage the public in policy change if it is boring and dry! By making politics fun and engaging we can reach more community members. Another strategy is getting people to take ownership of their community by getting them involved in initiatives like community gardens. People take care of things they own– their homes, their bodies, and their cars. If we can get community members to take ownership over they communities they will be more engaged in policy change.

Here are some great tips Dave gave for engaging communities in change 

  • Fun engagement and collective ownership are key
  • Break the fourth wall! Get involved in politics! 
  • When politician does something good, recognize them! We always complain when things go bad, recognize the good too. 
  • We need to teach politics and democracy early on to allow people to be engaged 
  • Have faith that you can make change!

What do read more about Dave? Check out Andrea Bodkin’s 2013 blog post The World Is Your Co-Op

Continue to follow the conversation on Twitter throughout the conference - #Link4HC and be sure to follow Dave Meslin @meslin 

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Actively Offering Services in French

Reporting live from HC Link’s biannual conference Linking for Healthy Communities!

I’m really passionate about French Language Services (FLS). The interesting thing about my passion for FLS is that I’m not a Francophone. Rather I’m an Anglophone that has been working for the past few years to improve my French. And that’s actually why I’m so passionate about supporting organizations to deliver services in French: I know firsthand how challenging and frustrating it is to know what you want to say, but to not have the words to express yourself. When it comes to health services, it’s not only frustrating but can actually affect patient outcomes. When it comes to health advice, treatment or medications it is critical that the patient understands fully. And for Ontario’s Francophones, that means being able to access services in French.

In this afternoon’s workshop, Lynn Brouilette from Consortium National de Formation en Santé introduced the concept of Active Offer and shared some of the work that CNFS is doing to support health organizations and professionals to actively offer FLS. Then Patrick Delorme shared a new English toolkit, developed by Health Nexus and the Toronto Central LHIN, which provides a simple methodology for organizations to develop Active Offer.

There is a fine line between offering FLS and the Active Offer of FLS. Active Offer goes beyond simply making services available in French and ensures that all clients know- before they even have to ask- that high quality and reliable services are available to them in French. In this workshop, we heard about two organizations working in Active Offer.

When it comes to FLS, we often wonder if we should take a chicken or egg approach to FLS services: should we offer them first, or should we wait for demand? Research shows us that Francophones often don’t ask for services in French. We need to make it clear that services are available – whether asked for or not.

Anglophones can also be involved in Active Offer! By offering just a couple of words in French (even “Bonjour” or “Bienvenue”) communicates that clients have a choice of English or French. If they choose French, the appropriate French speaking staff can then be brought into the conversation.

Now, on to Health Nexus’ French reception to celebrate Francophones and French Services! We look forward to seeing you there!


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What do I do now? Communicating evaluation results for action

Reporting live from HC Link’s biannual conference Linking for Healthy Communities!

This afternoon I attended an excellent session on communicating evaluation results, delivered by Laura Bellissimo and Allison Meserve from Public Health Ontario. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm one of those health promoters that struggles to find evaluation interesting. I know it's important, and I always want it incorporated into everything that I do, but preferably by other people. However this workshop kept my attention the whole time, which is impressive given that it was right after lunch and the bread pudding at the BMO Institute for Learning is exceptional!

What I loved about this session is that it really made us all think about the communications aspect of evaluating, something that may not always be considered. We evaluate because we must, or because we want to ensure that our program works and is effective. We also want to be accountable to our stakeholders and funders. No one, wisely said Allison, conducts an evaluation for the purpose of writing a report.

It is interesting then, given the efforts that we put into not only designing and delivering the program/initiative but also the evaluation itself, that we don't always communicate results. Or if we do, it's in a way that resonates only to academics and government.

Allison and Laura gave us four key things to think about when designing our evaluation strategy:

Communicate results throughout the evaluation: This ensures that your stakeholders will find the results credible and increases the chances that they will use the results. Your final evaluation should not contain any surprises!

Consider various audience characteristics: Clearly identify who your stakeholders are and what methods of communication work best for them. Think about their familiarity with the program, their reading level, their attitude towards the program and their role in decision making.

Clearly define your communication objectives to successfully communicate your evaluation results: Determine why you want to communicate, to whom you want to direct your messages, and what you want to communicate.

Lots of options beyond a report: Think about social media, mass media, info graphics, poetry, theatre, and professional channels.

One thing that often arises when communicating evaluation results is what to do when the results are negative (or perceived as negative). The impulse might be to not share results that are negative. However, cautioned Allison, if we do not communicate these results, you do your stakeholders a disservice. Others can’t learn from your work if you don’t share it!

So, regardless of the results of your evaluation, communicating those results is critical for accountability, learning and transferability. Be sure to consider not only what and how you will evaluate, but how you will tell people about the results.

Now, go forth and evaluate. And brag about it!

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Toronto Drug Strategy Prevention Working Group

Guest post by Chidinma Nwakalor, an undergraduate placement student at PAD

On November 5th 2015, a Toronto Drug Strategy Prevention Working Group meeting was held at Metro Hall. The monthly meeting brings together representatives from community stakeholders around Toronto such as the YMCA, CAMH, Loft Community services, Toronto School District Board, Parent Action on Drugs, and Toronto Public Health.

The highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Erika Kandar, an epidemiologist with Toronto Public Health (TPH). She presented findings on a Toronto Public Health Survey of students from grade 7 – 12.

The survey showed that most students had a positive view of their self-esteem (80%) and school connectedness (85%). Unsurprisingly, there was a strong, consistent link between mental health and substance use.

The good news for Toronto, is that compared to students in Ontario, Toronto students are less likely to binge drink and use drugs like marijuana, cough medication and pain pills (without prescription). However, 26% of secondary school students still reported risky behaviors like binge drinking and mixing alcohol with energy drinks. Sub-groups of youth at risk for alcohol and drug use included: females, older students, students from low socio-economic backgrounds and LGB+ students. Canadian-born students were more likely to use alcohol compared to new immigrants.

Alcohol and drug use is concerning because these behaviours can affect the development of teenagers and may also lead to substance misuse. The responses on suicidal attempts and incidents of self-harm were even more worrisome. 11% of students reported engaging in self-harming behaviours like cutting or burning themselves on purpose within the past year. Around the same percentage (12%) also reported that they had seriously considered suicide within the past year.

At the meeting, the representatives from the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Public Health (who interact with high school students frequently) agreed that the numbers around suicidal attempts and self-harm from this survey might even be an underestimation.

Self-harm and suicidal attempts are signs of poor mental health and inadequate social support. These two factors need to be addressed to ensure that the incidents of self-harm, suicidal attempts, substance misuse and other risky behaviours are reduced among Toronto students.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward: The 10th Anniversary of the Toronto Drug Strategy


On November 9th, 2015, the City of Toronto hosted an event honouring the 10th anniversary of the Toronto Drug Strategy (TDS). The event brought together community workers, activists, policy makers and members of the public to discuss the work of the TDS over the past 10 years, and the future of drug policy in the City of Toronto.


Toronto City Councillor Joe Cressy opened the event stating that preventing harms associated with substance use has been the main goal of the TDS.

The introductory remarks noted the TDS’ work on reducing the lives taken through drug overdose. Former City Councillor Kyle Rae mentioned that in 2010, the City of Toronto became the first municipality to endorse the Vienna Declaration, which seeks to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into drug policy.

Kyle went back in time to when the area surrounding St. Stephen’s House in Toronto was “disruptive” due to drug activity in the area. Kyle went to Europe to see how similar situations were dealt with in different cities, and found that safe injection sites were particularly helpful in decreasing the number of break-ins, decreasing property violence, and improving health. After bringing these learnings back to Toronto, this issue moved forward on Toronto’s City Council and has played a significant role in Toronto’s drug policy work since then. City Councillor Gord Perks also added the importance of working with the “different hands that make our society” to end the stigma surrounding drug use.

Susan Shephard, Manager of the Toronto Drug Secretariat spoke next about the detailed work of the TDS. When discussing prevention initiatives, Susan noted Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth program, which is an initiative of Parent Action on Drugs. Other work of the Implementation Panel includes workshops for service providers on building youth resilience, workshops on teen brain development, a prescription drug drop-off day, the promotion of safer nightlife/partying, and other harm reduction services. The overall theme of the presentation was the reduction of stigma and discrimination towards drug users.

Next to speak was Zoe Todd, a Harm Reduction and Drug User Advocate from the South Riverdale Community Health Centre. Zoe’s presentation was by far the most moving, as she discussed her personal experiences losing people to drug overdose. Zoe delved deep into the policy context that she feels contributes to the stigma and eventual deaths of drug users, noting the criminalization of drugs as a main barrier to safer drug use. Zoe also emphasized that cuts to health care, gentrification, homophobia, inadequate housing, and racism all contribute to a loss of community, which eventually leads to drug overdose deaths.

I was personally shocked to learn that between 2003-2014, the City of Toronto saw a 41% increase in reported overdose deaths in Toronto. What causes this? Well, one reason is that when drug use is heavily criminalized, drug users are scared to call 911 when overdosing. Zoe advocated for Good Samaritan Legislation, which would allow drug users to call 911 without fear of being arrested for drug use or possession. Zoe brought the audience to tears when she powerfully closed her presentation with a moment of silence for those that have died due to drug overdose.

Senator Larry Campbell was the final speaker of the event, and also emphasized the need for a Good Samaritan Legislation, as well as drug policy that is based on science. He stated that in his ten minute walk to City Hall, he saw 10 homeless people, many of which were probably mentally ill, experiencing addictions and experiencing abuse. “This is unacceptable”, Larry exclaimed.

After the event, there was an information fair in the members’ lounge, where the audience was able to learn about the wide range of Toronto Drug Strategy community initiatives. It was a great opportunity for those in the drug policy and prevention community to learn about each other’s work and further reflect on the presentations made earlier.

Congratulations to the Toronto Drug Strategy for an impactful 10 years, and we look forward to seeing what the next 10 years will hold!



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Promoting active communities


Want to promote active communities? Plan on attending this hands-on, interactive workshop with Bernie & Kim on Healthy Community Design: Active community toolkit for reviewing development plans, Fri, Nov 13 at 1:30pm. Here are two references you may want to explore before the session …

Active Community Toolkit for Reviewing Development Plans 
























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Wise Crowds: What have we got to learn?

Guest blog post written by Sarah Christie, Bilingual Projects Leader, PARC 
If there’s one thing we at the Physical Activity Resource Centre (you can call us PARC) have learned over the years, it’s that those at the community level often know much more than we do about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to health and physical activity promotion across Ontario. With your ear to the ground you are an invaluable resource in shaping programs, resources and policies at the provincial level. Which is why we are very excited to be partnering with HC Link to present Wise Crowds: Finding innovative solutions for community change November 12, 2015 at the 2015 HC Link Conference Linking for Health Communities: Action for Change at the BMO Institute for Learning in Toronto.

What makes this session special is that you are the experts. We know that workshops are great, but this time, you have the chance to get involved and share your expertise. Participants will have multiple opportunities to ask questions, connect with colleagues, and share their ideas and solutions. A hands-on wrap-up activity will close the session, capturing key challenges and solutions discussed by participants. These will be presented as a banner for the remainder of the conference so that you don’t miss out on any of the great conversations that were had during the session.

PARC is one of Ontario’s 14 health promotion resource centres, and the Centre of Excellence for physical activity promotion in Ontario. Our goal is to support knowledge transfer and to enhance opportunities for healthy, active living in Ontario. To this end, we have collaborated with HC Link for several years, providing training and consultation supports and connecting with communities across the province. It has been an exciting and rewarding partnership and we are looking forward to sharing this next activity with you.

So bring both your challenges and solutions! PARC, HC Link and your partners in the field, want to hear from you! You are the experts and it’s time to the share your knowledge.

For more information about Wise Crowds: Finding innovative solutions for community change, please visit the HC Link website.

To learn more about us visit the PARC website. And don’t forget to connect with us on Twitter @PARCOntario during the conference (#Link4HC) to let us know what you think of the session and to continue the conversation!

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Webinar recap: Civic engagement

Written by Annie Morrison, Communications Lead, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition 

HC Link hosted a webinar last week called Civic Engagement: Current challenges and approaches. The turnout for the webinar was great, in light of an exciting Blue Jays game and federal election the night before. Though it may be tempting to think of voting as the prototypical act of civic engagement — and happily, this federal election had the highest voter turnout since 1993 — this is just a small piece of what civic engagement is and its overall purpose. Kim Hodgson, an HC Link consultant, led the webinar participants through principles of civic engagement. Her examples showed how expansive civic engagement is beyond the traditional ideas of attending meetings in a church basement or casting a ballot on election day.

Effective civic engagement means getting input for priority setting, decision-making, program development, and service delivery, all of which are elements of good governance. Kim stressed that civic engagement is not meant to achieve consensus or to delegate responsibility to the community. Rather, it helps ensure that decisions that are being made suit communities’ interests, assets, and needs. It also strengthens the relationships between key players — ultimately improving government decision-making. 

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A core value of effective civic engagement is that outcomes are actually stronger as a result. The process itself, understandably, can get pretty messy (and fun!).

Kim shared several examples of Ontario communities that are already using more participatory methods for civic engagement online, including West Nipissing’s online streaming of Council meetings, Toronto’s pilot of participatory budgeting, and Lambton County’s online platform for public comment. Even elements like website design and attractiveness make a difference in making civic engagement more interesting and enjoyable. 

Heather Keam and Sylvia Cheuy from Tamarack walked participants through a few offline programs that they have used to engage communities in decision-making. These in-person approaches can also be modified to reach target populations or groups who are not being engaged by more traditional means.

To watch a recording of the webinar, see the slides, or check out some of the civic engagement resources and tools discussed, visit the webinar page. HC Link will host two more webinars in the civic engagement series in the new year. Stay tuned for more information!

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David Courtemanche - Breathing Life into Policy Change

Keynote Address

On Day Two of our conference we will begin with a Keynote address from David Courtemanche, a consultant with many years of experience in public service and policy development. His keynote address – Breathing Life into Policy Change will energize the policy advocacy experience by exploring the political dynamics, decision-makers, leverage points and strategies for being an effective health advocate. He will discuss how to shift the health culture of your community totransform the social, economic and environmental landscape and affect sustainable change.


david courtemancheCourtemanche in Politics  

  • David Courtemanche served in public office for almost a decade and, in 2003 at 39 years old, became the youngest elected Mayor in the history of Sudbury.  
  • He was elected to City Council in 1997 and again in 2000.  
  • As Mayor, he served on provincial and national bodies including the Board of Health, the Economic Development Board, the Regional Planning Board, the Canadian Big City Mayors' Task Force on Immigration, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.  
  • Courtemanche has led multiple community initiatives such as the: Healthy Communities Strategy, Community Leadership Cabinet, Community Action Network, and theTask Force on Volunteerism & Citizen Involvement.

Management Consulting  

  • Courtemanche is the Founder of Leading Minds Inc., a management consultant firm specializing in leadership development for individuals, organizations and communities.
  • He has held senior management positions at several organizations and is currently the Executive Director of the City of Lakes Family Health Team.  


Work in Building Healthy Communities

Interested in hearing David Courtemanche speak about policy change? There is still time to register for Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change. Visit the conference page for more information on registration, programming and presenters.

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YouthREX: When Asset-Mapping for Communities, Focus on Opportunities…not Problems!

On October 21st, YouthREX hosted a webinar titled “Reframing Need: Asset-Driven Youth Program and Community Development”. It’s not often a webinar is jam-packed with new, practical information, but YouthREX never fails to impress me. This webinar was no different.

The webinar kicked off with a presentation by Alexander Lovell, Director of Research and Education at YouthREX. His presentation included a literature review on approaches to community development and youth engagement, starting from the 1970s until today. The main takeaway of this literature review was that youth engagement today focuses more on assets than it used to, and that the concept of “positive youth development” is quickly gaining popularity.

Alexander also highlighted six main principles to remember when asset mapping:

  • Everyone has gifts/strengths/assets
  • Relationships build community
  • People are actors
  • Leaders involve others
  • People care about their community 
  • Research matters and involves listening/asking/learning 

He also highlighted key steps in the asset-mapping process, such as defining boundaries, finding partners, determining what assets to include (both for groups and individuals), organizing the assets through visual means, and determining steps for action. He noted the importance of recognizing different levels of analysis when asset mapping, such as the system, community and individuals.

To demonstrate some of the concepts in his presentation, Alexander used the example of youth unemployment. Focusing on the negative aspects of this problem would be a normal part of a needs assessment. However, an asset-based approach would consider the local resources available in an area with youth unemployment, such as opportunities available for youth and the broader community.

Next up was Katie Elliot of the NORDIK Institute. Katie works in the area of youth social entrepreneurship with Social Entrepreneurship Evolution (SEE). SEE is rooted in a holistic community approach, and aims to promote social entrepreneurship to support young change-makers in promoting resilient communities.

For this project, SEE used a strengths-based approach to identify assets that can support young social entrepreneurs in northern Ontario. Instead of looking at problems negatively, SEE identified gaps as opportunities to help youth realize how they can make positive change. In doing so, Katie and SEE learned why it is important for the community to lead the discussion of their own asset-map, and that this should be done in a safe environment conducive to knowledge sharing. Katie also noted something that many of us in the non-profit world are aware of: lots of community work happens in silos, and it is important to be aware of all the initiatives happening in your community so we can collaborate.

As usual, the YouthREX webinar had tons of practical information for non-profits seeking to improve their community and youth engagement practices!


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