Welcome to HC Link's blog! Our blog will provide you with useful information on healthy community topics, news, and resources, as well as information on HC Link’s events, activities, and resources. Our bloggers include HC Link staff and consultants, as well as our partnering organizations, clients, and experts in the health promotion field.

Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

We look forward to engaging in thought-provoking conversation with you!

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Clients reflect on having worked with HC Link

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

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

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

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


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

Heidi Schaeffer
Association of Ontario Health Centres


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

Kate Walker
Board Member, Canada Bikes


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



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

Pat Howell-Blackmore
Spark Consulting


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



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

Tonya Millsap
Early Learning and Child Care


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

Valérie Assoi
South-East Ottawa CHC


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

Jan Edwards
Veterans Home Corporation


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

Lynn Gates
Retired Public Health Manager


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Building Healthy Communities Starts with the People: A Staff Reflection

hc link staff

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

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

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


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

Lisa Tolentino
Consultant, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition


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

Andrea Zeelie-Varga
Communications Coordinator, Parent Action on Drugs


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

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

Stephanie Massot
Consultant, Health Nexus


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

Lorna McCue
Consultant & Executive Director, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition


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

Gillian Kranias
Consultant, Health Nexus


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

Dianne Coppola
Program Coordinator & Roster Consultant


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Facilitation Technique: Fishes and Weeds

I’m a big fan of using activities to draw out information in groups I work with. It seems much more effective that just asking questions of a big group. Lately I’ve been using “Fishes & Weeds” as one of my go-to facilitation techniques.

One of the interesting things about many facilitation techniques that I use is that I tend to “borrow” them from other facilitators. This means I’m not always aware of the history of the specific technique: where it came from, how it evolved, and how to attribute it. I borrowed “Fishes and Weeds” from my colleague Gillian Kranias, who tells me she developed it by adapting a common popular education technique of using cut-outs to focus collective dialogue, reflection and learning. You can find Gillian’s key questions for “Fishes and Weeds”, alongside a picture of its use (copied below), on page 4 of The Power of Reflection: an introduction to participator evaluation techniques.


Fishes & Weeds is a great activity that you can use to collect two sets of information (often opposing) with a group. I frequently use it with groups or networks that have been working together for quite a while and are having issues with participation or attendance, some kind of communication difficulty, or simply want to refresh or revitalize their work. I’ve used the information gathered with this activity to draft mission/vision statements, to update terms of reference or to guide group processes. One of the (many) things I like about this activity is that it uses an asset-based approach: while you are trying to identify something challenging, limiting or difficult, you also identify things that are working well -- strengths that the network can build on.

How the activity works

Design your questions: Determine what it is that you need to know, and then select two questions to gather the data that will give you that information. For example, if the group has had a drop-off in attendance or people are not fully participating in the group, you need to identify what the issues are that are keeping people from attending/participating. You might ask questions like:

  • What do you VALUE about participating in the network? WHY do you participate in the network? WHAT keeps you coming back to this group? What do you LOVE about this work?
  • What challenges are facing the network right now? What keeps you from participating/engaging in the network? What is preventing the group from moving forward?

Choose your shapes: Just because the activity is called “Fishes & Weeds” does not mean you have to use fish shapes and weed shapes. You can choose a shape that goes along with the mandate of your group, or your questions. For example:

  • Lightbulbs (what is your one bright idea for moving the group forward?)
  • Stop signs (what is stopping us from moving forward?)
  • A “kapow” symbol (what one impact are we trying to achieve)
  • A cloud (what is your dream for the network?)

Of course it’s not strictly necessary to use paper shapes and colours, but I do find that it’s a bit more fun than using sticky notes.


Step One: participants write on their shapes. Give participants a few minutes to write on their paper shapes (one idea/concept per shape). One of the benefits to this activity is that it gives everyone a chance to participate and share their ideas whether they are comfortable speaking up in a group or not.

Step Two: sharing shapes. There are a few options for how you can do this. You can simply collect the fishes and weeds and sort them, or you can have participants exchange shapes and read them out. I have two techniques to do this:

  • Incorporate movement by putting on some music and have people dance around the room, handing out their fish/weed as they dance and collecting someone else’s in return. Stop the music at random times and ask participants to read the shapes they currently have to their partner. Repeat several times.
  • If you are more limited on space or have a group that needs/wants to stay seated, have participants pass one shape (e.g. fish) two people to the right and the other shape (e.g. weed) two people to the left. Then each participant reads out the shapes that they have to the group. This is best in groups of under 15 participants as otherwise it can take a very long time.

The advantage to this is that participants get to hear the perspectives of others in the group, without having to read their own out loud.

Step Three: theming. Begin to sort the fishes and weeds into themes. Make sure the whole group hears the themes and have the group validate these themes (is there anything missing? Anything surprising? Etc.)

Day one Reflection

Step Four: using the data. Now is the fun part. With the themes, you’ve clearly identified what the group feels is important (positive/negative, benefits/challenges, strengths/weaknesses). You can now explore these themes with the group in conversation or using another facilitation technique.

For more ideas of facilitation techniques and participatory approaches, check out Facilitation for Healthy Communities Toolkit, The Power of Reflection: an introduction to participator evaluation techniques and Participatory Evaluation Toolkit.  

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


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


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


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


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


Here are my take aways for Canadians cities and towns: 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  hazardous/harmful drinking.

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

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

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

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

  • To challenge prejudices and discrimination.

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

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


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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018 01 15 at 11.40.26 AM

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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Theories, models and frameworks used in capacity building: an excellent article from our colleagues at PHO

HC Link has been helping build the capacity of people, groups and communities working to build healthy communities for eight years. The three organizations that now make up HC Link – Health Nexus, Parent Actions on Drugs, and Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition- have been involved in capacity building for decades. The term “capacity building” is often seen as jargon — as nebulous as the terms “health promotion” or “healthy communities”.  What does it really mean to build capacity? How important is capacity building in health promotion and healthy communities work? Does it really make a difference? These are questions we often get— and that we often ask ourselves. Answering them has not always been easy.

My long-time colleague, Kim Bergeron, and her colleagues at Public Health Ontario (PHO) have recently published an excellent article on this very topic. The article summarizes a systematic review that PHO conducted to identify the underlying theories, models and frameworks that inform capacity building interventions in the published literature.

What does it really mean to build capacity?

The WHO defines capacity building as the development of knowledge, skills, commitment, structures, systems, and leadership to enable effective health promotion. In other words, we are building all of the components necessary for health promotion to affect the health of our communities. To do this effectively, we need to work at three levels: individual, organizational and community. Importantly, like with many things, there is no “silver bullet” in capacity building; no one thing that will build capacity on its own. A range of approaches is needed across a number of dimensions. Typically, services that build capacity include consultations, webinars, training workshops, and knowledge products and resources (precisely the services that HC Link provides). 

Theories, Models and Frameworks for Capacity Building

The purpose of the systematic review conducted by PHO was to identify underlying theories, models and frameworks used to support capacity building interventions relevant to public health practice. Twenty-eight different theories, models and frameworks were identified. Of this number, five were most frequently cited:

  • Two were theories: Diffusion of Innovations and Transformational Learning;
  • Two were models: Ecological and Interactive Systems Framework for Dissemination and Implementation; and
  • One was a framework: Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.

How important is capacity building in health promotion and healthy communities work?

Well, that’s a good question. Clearly, HC Link believes this is critical work! We are not the only ones, however: the Bangkok Charter for Health Promotion, Canada’s past Chief Public Health Officer Dr David Butler Jones, and Ontario’s strategic plan “Make No Little Plans” all refer to the importance of capacity building. In the late 1990s, the Ontario Government established a system of capacity building resource centers. That system, the Ontario Health Promotion Resource System (OHPRS), developed a framework to show the relationship between the services that its 22 members provided and the health of Ontarians. By building the capacity of health promoters, the framework proposes, the quality of health promotion programs will be enhanced, which will ultimately improve health outcomes at the individual and community level.

Does it really make a difference?

It has often been a struggle to show tangible outcomes from capacity building interventions, beyond satisfaction and short-term change. In 2004, the OHPRS conducted a literature review to establish the link between health promotion capacity building and positive health outcomes at the population level. While a causal pathway (below) was inferred from the literature review and research conducted, direct evidence to support the link between capacity building amongst health promoters and positive health outcomes is difficult.

CB causal pathway















Tina Sahay, 2004. A Review of the Literature on the Links between Health Promotion Capacity Building and Health Outcomes

Conclusions and Implications for Practice

That is why the work that Public Health Ontario has undertaken is so important. The article concludes that there is a need for the use of theories, models and frameworks to be intentionally used to develop capacity building interventions, and importantly, to be explicitly referenced.

The findings presented in the article can be used to better design capacity building interventions (e.g., consultation, technical assistance, training, coaching, web-based and/or facilitated learning opportunities, knowledge products and resources). They can also help to guide implementation practice by encouraging practitioners to consider, explicitly identify, and clearly define which theories, models and frameworks were used during various stages of the capacity building process.

I’d highly encourage you to read this article- and wait impatiently for Kim and her colleague’s next published work on this topic. 
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A conference attendee reflection : What you missed.



By Tracy Kwissa, Community Navigator for Lanark County

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

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

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

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

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

Visibility for some, does not mean safety for all.

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

Start where you are, do what you can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Karen Scottie of OHCC


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


participants at the workshop


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

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Conference Workshop : Engaging Young People from Diverse Backgrounds

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by Aly Tropea 

Working with Young People means actually having to listen.

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

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

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

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

roger harts ladder of participation

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

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


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Linking for Healthy Communities: Day Two Reflections

It’s the day after our Linking For Healthy Communities: With everyone, for everyone conference. Aside from feeling exhausted, I’m thrilled that conference participants were engaged and excited throughout the conference.

Day Two began with two sessions of four workshops. I heard many people say that it was difficult to choose which workshop to attend as they all sounded wonderful!

day two sessions

Following the workshops and (yet another) magnificent meal (featuring the BMO Institute’s famous and unbelievably delicious) bread pudding, it was time for something a little different. When we first started planning this conference, and selected the theme of diversity, inclusion and working across difference, we wanted to provide an opportunity for small group conversations for conference participants to cultivate empathy, think from other people’s perspectives and co-learn. We came up with the idea to merge together a Living Library format with a World Café, where we would have table facilitators from a variety of life and lived experience work with small groups to deepen conversation and reflection. HC Link was very fortunate to work with consultant Sara Mohammed, who created an incredible “collection” of “Living Books” to help conference participants explore successes and barriers in this work. Throughout the Living Library Café, conference participants were engaged, open, and reflective.

living library

We closed our conference with something even more unique. Branch Out Theatre joined us to interpret our conference experiences through participatory theatre, music and movement. It was a wonderful way to digest the past two days and close the conference.



This was our third- and last- Linking for Healthy Communities conference. We have been thrilled to have hundreds of people join us over the years, to work with you, learn with you and celebrate. 

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Conference Workshop: Working with the Priorities of People Living in Poverty

There are a lot of workshops at this year’s Linking for Healthy Communities conference that I was excited about. But I think the one I was looking forward to most was Jason Hartwick and Gillian Kranias’ workshop Working with the Priorities of People Living in Poverty. The workshop provided a lot of open space for us to reflect on our own work and experiences, for us to discuss the values and principles of community development work, and for us to hear about Jason’s work and experiences (which frankly, I could have listened to all day). What I loved the most about the workshop was the opportunity to reflect on my own experiences and what I've personally learned. 

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One of the key messages from the workshop was about the assumptions and biases made about people who live in poverty. Societal reaction to those living in poverty is that “they” are handed everything that they need (eg social assistance), that they are responsible for their own conditions, and that they should “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”. But, as Josephine Gray says, “they” do not have boots. The reality is much more complex.

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People who live in poverty are often treated as if they have no value: the only thing expected of them is to live on social assistance and accomplish nothing. One workshop participant recommends using as asset-based approach: to recognize that communities have something inherently good and precious about them. Jason talked about the importance of pride, that communities who live in poverty rarely feel like they have something to be proud of.

Another take-away for me is how those of us who work in agencies come to the work with the agendas of our agencies: our mandates, our visions, our programs, our timelines. It’s important to keep those agendas slightly behind us (rather than pushing them in front of us) and use an open approach with communities. Rather than walking in and talking about he wonderful program that we have, we need to take the time to ask: what do you need? What do you want? Jason says communities do not have to own the problem, but they can be a part of creating the solutions.

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Built to Last: Sustainability Does Wonders!

(Or, "You’re taking away our hotdogs? This is supposed to be a democracy!”)

In the afternoon on the first day of our HC Link conference, the Local Project Managers for the Healthy Kids Community Challenge communities had a private session to chat and learn about sustainability. Between online and in-person participants, we had LPMs from about 2/3 of the projects present, which was a terrific turn-out!

LPMs arranged the content for the session – Cyndi (from KFLA), Fenicia (from Toronto) and Luke (from Sault Ste Marie) led the presentation. Naomi Giuliano shared a story about the Healthy Kids charter in the Superior North Greenstone HKCC region. HC Link provided space in the conference agenda, as well as the online connection.

LPM session photo

Key questions in the open discussion were:

  1. How has your HKCC operational structure supported the Program to be sustainable? What are some of the advantages or disadvantages?
  2. Are your key stakeholders committed to continuing the Program? If not, what's required for them to do so?
  3. What opportunities do you see? Are there any challenges?

Discussion flowed both online and in the room – sharing stories and challenges; making connections; and just enjoying the chance to be in the same space. LPMs can find the slides and continue the discussion in their private space on The Source.

Thanks for a great session, LPMs!


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Linking for Healthy Communities: Day One Reflections

We had a marvellous first day at Linking for Healthy Communities: With Everyone, For Everyone (in my slightly biased opinion!). Our conference began with Elder Whabagoon offering us the Strong Woman song and traditional water ceremony. Elder Whabagoon invited us to speak to water every day: love the water, thank the water, and respect the water. We then welcomed our incredible keynote speaker, Kim Katrin Milan, to the stage. Kim’s talk was called “Centering the Margins” and she spoke of the importance of reflecting and engaging people in conversations.




 Following the keynote, conference participants had small group reflection time to talk about the themes in Kim’s talk that resonated for them, and to identify questions to ask Kim. I was then lucky enough to join Kim on stage to moderate the Q&A session.

Day one Reflection


Throughout the rest of the day, everyone I spoke with talked about how Kim’s talk had impressed them, motivated them, and encouraged them to think differently. You can view Kim’s prezzie online.

Following an excellent lunch, conference participants chose from 4 workshops: a networking session for Local Project Managers involved in the Healthy Kids Community Challenge; a FrancoPavillion; what Successful Partnerships Do: an equity and inclusion lens; and Reflection and Action on the Impact of Power and Privilege in Health Equity Practice. If our twitter feed is any indication, the workshops were enthusiastically received!

This is a bittersweet conference for those involved (past and present) with HC Link. After nine years of working together, this is our last conference. We wanted to celebrate not only our work, but your work, and the work we’ve done together. We hosted a celebratory reception and heard brief remarks from each of the Executive Directors of HC Link’s three member organizations: Lorna McCue from the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, Joanne Brown from Parent Action on Drugs, and Barb Willet from Health Nexus. Around fifty people joined us to celebrate and share memories of what we’ve accomplished together.


It’s now just before starting time on Day Two and we’ve got a lot to look forward to today: 8 concurrent session workshops, a Living Library Café and theatre event. We hope you enjoy the day!

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Tackling Substance Use Problems in Ontario

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by Jewel Bailey - CAMH 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Interactive Opioid Tool


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Conference Workshop Profile: Reflection and Action on the Impact of Power & Privilege in Health Equity Practice

Our 2017 conference is just 11 days away (I can’t quite believe it!) and the excitement among HC Link staff, volunteers and presenters is growing! On the afternoon of day one, Monday November 20, conference attendees will have a difficult choice to make between four excellent workshops. One of them, Reflection and Action on the Impact of Power & Privilege in Health Equity Practice, is being delivered by our colleagues Kim Bergeron and Samiya Abdi from Public Health Ontario. Learn more about this workshop- and why you should attend- by watching this short video that Samiya and I filmed.


Hope to see you at the conference! The registration deadline is November 13th and there will be a draw for a $100 Indigo gift card for registrants! Registere here

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10 reasons to attend Linking for Healthy Communities: with everyone, for everyone

HC Link’s bi-annual conference, Linking for Healthy Communities, is now less than a month away! Our theme for this conference is with everyone, for everyone. At the conference, we’ll link, learn and share about topics like equity, diversity, cultural humility, inclusion and allyship, with a focus on youth, ethnoracial, Francophone, and Indigenous communities.

The full conference program was released last week, which contains many reasons why you’d want to attend the conference. If you need even more reasons however, here’s what HC Link staff love about the conference, and why we think you should attend (in our slightly biased opinions):

Lisa Tolentino, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition

I love that the conference is a place to meet dynamic people doing dynamic things - and also making new connections/developing new contacts. The ability to see things through a different lens and being better able to understand other peoples’ perspectives on issues is a huge benefit for me. I come away from the conference energized with optimism and ideas for creating change on both personal and professional levels. At least that was how I felt after the last conference, and I suspect that this one will be the same :)

Patrick Delorme, Health Nexus

To design this conference’s French offerings, I assembled an advisory committee of Francophone organizations and stakeholders to provide advice and guidance. The result is what we’re calling “Pavilion Franco”. It will be an open space to connect with Francophones and those who provide French Language Services (FLS). The Pavilion Franco will feature:

  • Mini-sessions on the priorities of Francophone communities

  • Marketplace of FLS service providers to share their resources and services

  • A wall mural for people to share what they have to offer and what they need, in terms of FLS services, resources, and expertise

We’ll also have two breakout workshops in French: one that I’ll co-present with Gillian, on working in partnership, and the other on systems of governance.

Gillian Kranias, Health Nexus

I’m really looking forward to this year’s conference. I couldn’t think of just one reason to attend, so I’m including the four things I’m looking forward to the most:

  • Expanding my networks of people who care about doing partnership work in new and more equitable ways.

  • Having space and time to talk about some of the difficult moments.

  • Reflecting on and improving my skills and approach in a supportive environment – both at workshops and over breaks/meals

  • Experiencing the speakers and facilitators – such a rich lineup in a mere two days!

Rebecca Byers, Parent Action on Drugs

This year’s conference, more than ever, provides time and space to explore important topics and have meaningful discussion with people from varied experiences/perspectives. The program includes individual reflection, interactive workshops, large group and table discussions, small group activities, as well as time for networking and informal conversation.

Robyn Kalda, Health Nexus

The BMO Institute for Learning is such a lovely venue! With so many conferences, you feel like you’ve been cooped up in a hotel basement all day (because you have) and you come blinking into the light at the end of the day like an animal emerging from hibernation. This place isn’t like that – it’s very welcoming, comfortable, full of light and a sense of space and pleasantness, and yet there are quieter spots too where introverts like me can sit and recharge our batteries (and drink excellent coffee).

Andrea Bodkin, Health Nexus

I’m excited about pretty much everything to do with this conference. Like Robyn, I adore the BMO Institute and their magic latte machines. I’m really looking forward to our keynote speaker and plenary sessions (after 8 years of HC Link we finally have interpretive dance on the program). I think I’m looking forward the plenary discussion opportunities, especially the Living Library Café, the most. After two days of talking about and thinking about diversity and inclusion and working across difference, how will people be reacting? How will people be impacted? What impact will the conference make when we all head back to work? That’s what I’m looking forward to hearing about!

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Looking at hospitals with a health promotion lens

This week I’ve had a slightly difference experience to the ones I usually blog about for HC Link. A close family member of mine has had surgery and is in the ICU. While I certainly have lots on my mind at this time, I also can’t help looking around me and noticing the ways that hospitals promote the health of their patients and their families.

My first experience of this hospital was when my family member and I met with the surgeon several weeks ago. A hospital fundraiser was underway. Understandable that fundraisers are necessary, but selling Krispy Kreme Donuts?

selling Krispy Kreme

Yesterday in the ICU waiting room, I noticed a series of wall displays of patient information. Good idea, as many people in that waiting room are there for hours at a time (as most of the time you can only visit your loved one for 10 minutes at a time). However this one gave me pause:

Empty isolation info rack

Social isolation is one of the factors that influences health -- social inclusion is one of the social determinants of health recognized in Canada -- and I can only imagine how feeling isolated and alone makes patients feel and affects their healing. The impacts of social isolation and the benefits of social inclusion aren’t always recognized. I think this empty display speaks to the lack of resources available not just in this display, but overall.

Now to the good news.The hospital does address isolation by allowing visiting at any time.


This hospital -- like many -- has a program to allow vulnerable-feeling pedestrians to walk to parking lots, bus stops and residences safely. A quick call to hospital security gets you a burly escort to your destination of choice.


And here’s one from a BC hospital that HC Link’s Robyn Kalda took: humour and hand washing!


I could go on, but I need to get back to the hospital. Healthy healing everyone!

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Playing Back Your Conference Stories

Playback for new parents




By Naomi Tessler, Artistic Director, Branch Out Theatre


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


Let’s Watch! …


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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about Branch Out Theatre, please visit:

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How can we work “with” people in poverty?

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

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


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

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

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

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