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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.

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Changing our Destiny: A Regional Gathering in Timiskaming

Every two years (alternating with our provincial conference), HC Link partners with local communities to design and deliver Regional Gatherings. This year, my colleague Stephanie Massot and I were lucky to work with a dynamic team in Timiskaming to hold a regional gathering there on January 11. The event was a partnership between HC Link, the District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board and the City of Temiskaming Shores.

We formed a planning committee in the spring/summer of 2016, and over several months our event took shape. Planning Committee members included Dani Grenier-Ducharme, Tiffany Stowe and Melissa Boivin (District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board) Dan Lavigne (Timiskaming First Nation), Tina Sartoretto (Town of Cobalt), Sylvain Guilbeault (Timiskaming Child Care), Stephanie Masson and I (HC Link). We selected the title “Changing our Destiny: Building a vision for all our communities” to represent the desire to make decisions that affect Timiskaming in Timiskaming. It is a vibrant region, with industry, tourism, a great deal of natural beauty, and--in January--a great deal of snow!

The focus of the event was to create a space for conversation about working together collaboratively to form community hubs in Timiskaming. Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to dissuade attendance with a snowstorm, 78 people (including planning committee members) attended the gathering! Unfortunately due to cancellation of school buses, the youth that committee members had worked so hard to engage were not able to attend. We had representation from a wide variety of sectors, with a total of 15 different sectors represented. It would be impossible for me to pick just one highlight of the day, as each part of the day was a highlight for me! Instead, I’ll summarize the day for those of you who weren’t able to be there.

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High school art work from the Indigenous art class, graciously lent to us for the day

We began the day with a traditional smudge and pipe ceremony, drumming and song. Elder Philip Snr Gliddy  told us that these ceremonies show respect and help us start our gathering in a Good Way. Mayors Tina Sarteretto (one of our planning committee members) and Carman Kidd gave opening remarks and Dani Grenier-Ducharme, Children's Services Manager with the District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board, was our fearless Master of Ceremonies for the day.

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Charles Cirtwell from the Northern Policy Institute gave a keynote address and spoke about how the North already does community hubs: people in the North have worked together in this way for hundreds of years.  Dr. Cirtwell advised us to have:

  • Flexible thinking: to not constrain the who, how and where of community hubs

  • Flexible funding: funding should promote collaboration, be used for transportation and technology, and as an incentive

  • Flexible doing: blend organizational objectives, knowledge and assets. The goal is for everyone to see that their mandate is being achieved, even if someone else is doing some or even all of the service delivery

Following Dr Cirtwell’s presentation, Stephanie Massot gave a short presentation on partnership and working collaboratively. Melissa Boivin, one of our planning committee members, then led the group in a “Merry-Go Round” exercise to give participants the chance to talk with each other about the ways they currently work together, the challenges and benefits they receive from their work.

I then led a panel discussion to find out how the community hub model is working in four different communities.

Carol McBride is the Director of Health and Social Services at Notre Dame du Nord, Temiskaming First Nation Health Centre. The centre has experienced significant growth from its beginnings in the 90s with 4 employees to its current staff complement of 35. Previously, the centre worked in silos, where people who accessed services did get help but not as much as they needed. When Carol learned about the community hub model, the centre transformed using the Medicine Wheel as its model, with the individual in the middle of the wheel and the Centre providing emotional, physical, mental and spiritual support.

Scirish Panipak is the Vice-President of the Friendship Centre in Parry Sound. That organization will be opening a “bricks and mortar” community hub, focused on community housing, in June. The organization was able to purchase a school to use for non-profit housing, and a priority for them was to keep the gymnasium to use for the community as well as clients and residents. They began to look for community partners to move into the space, and currently have more than they can hold!

Laura Urso from the Best Start Network in Sudbury shared her experiences in this long-standing network of service providers. The network began with agencies that provide like-services, and now they are programming and delivering services together. One of the keys to the success the network has experienced is the designation of a staff-person who is responsible for bringing--and keeping--stakeholders together.

Brent Cicchini is an officer with the Ontario Provincial Police (incidentally, the first time I’ve had a panelist who wore a bullet-proof vest) who has been working with a variety of community partners to address the needs of high-risk youth, with the aim of supporting them before they come into contact with the justice system. There is a good network of services and stakeholders, though meeting can be viewed as being redundant. Brent spoke about the idea of connecting with existing networks/tables, rather than constantly inventing new groups of the same people to talk about different things.

After lunch, Karen Pitre, Special Advisory to the Premier on Community Hubs, joined us via remote technology. Community hubs, explained Karen, are a service delivery model that brings together service providers to offer a range of services that respond to demonstrated community needs and priorities. As our four panelists demonstrated, there is no one formula for a community hub: they can be a bricks and mortar building, a “virtual” hub or a group of service providers working together. There could be as many variations of what a community hub as there are communities in Ontario. One of the key components of a community hub is that they are cross-sectoral, bringing together education and training, health care, children and youth, sport and recreation, social services and a variety of other community partners together.

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Following Karen’s presentation, participants formed small groups in a Conversation Café designed to help the group discuss how they can work together, in partnership, to support community wellbeing in Timiskaming. The group had a robust discussion, with a group who discussed Indigenous health committing to meet monthly after the gathering to continue their conversation!

It would take me at least another two pages to talk fully about the incredible experience that Stephanie and I had in Timiskaming and the wonderful things about the Regional Gathering itself. We had such a rich experience in working with our planning committee members, our event partners, and our event sponsors Northern College and Presidents Suites. Aside from the experience of being in the north and being at the event itself, another highlight was the excursion to Dani’s farm, where Stephanie rode a horse and I collected eggs. The beauty of the scenery, the warmth of the people, and their dedication to working together will be in my memory for a long time.

You can access the slide decks, videos from the presentations and panel, and more at http://www.hclinkontario.ca/events/regional-gatherings.html/#Timiskaming

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HC Link's 2016 Top Resource Round-up

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Happy New Year! We are looking forward to another exciting year of working together to create healthy communities across Ontario. In case you missed them the first time around, here is a collection of a few of our most popular resources, webinar recordings and blog posts from 2016.

 
popularresources2016
 

Here are a few of our most popular resources of 2016:

 
popularwebinars2016


Here are a few of our most popular webinars of 2016:

 
popularblogs2016
 

Here are a few of our most popular blogs of 2016:

AND our most popular guest blog was by the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health (OSNPPH):

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We look forward to another great year of working together and continuing to offer our customized consulting services, resources, webinars, workshops, and other learning events! Please contact us to learn more about how we can work with you and your community to meet your specific needs for building healthy communities!

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What does the Task Force’s recommended minimum age of purchasing cannabis at 18 mean for health promoters?

By Kyley Alderson, HC Link

cannabis2imageLast week, HC Link co-hosted a webinar with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) and Parent Action on Drugs (PAD) – Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis: Implications for practice and policy. This webinar was part of a two-part webinar series that covered the methods, findings and implications of CCSA’s recent qualitative research study, Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis. In this second webinar, presenters discussed implications of the research on prevention practice and policy, and featured a panel discussion of youth prevention practitioners – Patricia Scott-Jeoffroy, an Education Consultant with PAD and Cathy Maser, a Nurse Practitioner in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Sick Kids.

frameworkimageHours before our webinar, the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation released their highly anticipated report – A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada.

One participant asked the presenters what their thoughts were on the Task Force’s recommendation to set a national minimum age of purchase of cannabis at 18. With limited time to have even read the report, Cathy Maser provided an explanation from the report and opinion that many participants found very helpful. So, for those who have not had a chance to go into the detail of the report, but are curious about this recommendation that has gained a lot of attention – I thought I would share.

Here is a brief summary of what Cathy shared with our participants, and what is stated in the report:

While many health professionals and those in public health are concerned about how the brain is still developing until around age 25, most of those consulted felt that this age was too high to set as the minimum, as many of the issues that legalization is trying to address – such as the illicit market and criminalization, would still persist. Youth who are in the 18-24 age range are in fact the highest users of cannabis, so setting the minimum age at 25 might further criminalize youth. While age 21 was suggested by many, age 18 was decided on because it is the age of majority and provinces and territories can raise the minimum age to align it with the minimum age to purchase alcohol – which from a societal context, seems to make sense. As stressed by Cathy, a key point in this recommendation is the need to align this policy with education, prevention and treatment – with emphasis on robust preventative measures to discourage and delay cannabis use to mitigate the harms between the ages of 18-25, a critical period of brain development.

This is where many of us as health promoters can focus our attention. Given the results from CCSA’s report, and this recommendation from the Task Force, some considerations for minimizing harms to youth include:

• Providing youth with factual, accessible, and non-bias information – talking about potential benefits and real risks/harms (possibly even low-risk cannabis use guidelines)

• Focussing on tangible harms (and those they would experience in the short term versus long term) so that these harms resonate with youth

• Providing health professionals, peer mentors, parents, and others who youth believe are credible sources of information, with the right information/tools/resources to provide the information to youth

• Developing youth critical thinking/decision-making skills, so they are better equipped to make their own decisions

• Building youth resiliency through programs, support, and positive relationships so that they are more capable of avoiding/minimizing harms of cannabis use

• Clear, and consistent messaging across the board – including messaging and information around medical marijuana – as this causes youth to perceive cannabis as less harmful and also leads youth to self-diagnose and self-medicate.

While many of the ways that health promoters can help to minimize the harms to youth listed above are focused around education and skill building, we must not forget about the many other factors at play – the social determinants of health – that cause some youth to disproportionately experience more harms associated with drug use. Factors like poverty, education, social exclusion, etc., all come into play, as they do with almost any other health issue, and cannot be left out of the picture.

 

Link to the Task Force report: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/task-force-marijuana-groupe-etude/index-eng.php

Link to the webinar recording and slides: http://www.hclinkontario.ca/events/webinars1.html/#YouthPerceptionsonCannabis2 

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Peer sharing session about online community engagement

By Robyn Kalda, HC Link

On November 23, I facilitated an HC Link peer-sharing webinar on online community engagement. I had the misfortune to lose my internet connection half a dozen times during the session, which is always exciting when one is facilitating -- a huge thank-you to the participants for your patience! And to Andrea Bodkin, HC Link's Coordinator, who stepped in as technical backup.

We left the definition of "online community engagement" open. Whether it's a community that wants to engage online, or an online community that wants to increase engagement, a community is the people involved and not the technology, so it's quite possible to talk about both at once.

We discussed creating a Terms of Reference for an online community -- the difficulty of drafting such a thing before discussing it with potential community members, yet the need for management accountability. The need for flexibility in the document was raised, so that the group can grow and change over time and feel ownership of the community.

Next, people suggested ways to pique people's interest in the community. Relevance was key here: connect people to content and expertise, help them with their work and goals. One participant was running a community that had recently added a feature that allowed users to tag others in discussions if their opinions or expertise would be helpful -- at which point they are emailed a notification, and their response (or lack thereof) is, of course, visible, providing some mild peer pressure to participate.

Participants felt regular updates helped a community both feel and stay active. A monthly newsletter via email, with links back to the community highlighting what's new / hot topics / upcoming events was one great idea, as were occasional face-to-face meetings (if possible).

Thinking about the technology itself, people generally suggested thinking first about what functions the community truly needs and where people are already. Can you start with a plain old email list? Or Facebook? Often, you can. It's easier for people to engage if it doesn't involve learning an entirely new tool.

The issue of moderation was raised. Moderation can be fantastically time-consuming and a source of contention, in my experience, so I suggested avoiding it if at all possible. Others pointed out that group culture, if developed carefully over time, often works well to counter or discourage inappropriate posts. Sometimes supporting people behind the scenes to post and model a desired behaviour -- social support of a good post, or respectful criticism -- can work well to get things going.

We finished by encouraging people to join HC Link's discussion list, Community-Links (http://lists.hclinkontario.ca/listinfo.cgi/community-links-hclinkontario.ca), and to get in touch if they had questions that weren't answered in the peer-sharing session.


Thanks to all the participants!

Here are some of the resources that were shared in the session:

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Taking part in the holiday spirit of giving – Does food charity alleviate hunger?

This is a guest blog post by the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health (OSNPPH).

With the holiday season upon us, charitable food drives are in full swing. It’s easy to throw a can of baked beans, a jar of peanut butter or a box of macaroni & cheese in the food bank bin. But does this really help to reduce hunger in our communities?

To start, let’s clarify some terms. ‘Hunger’ is a feeling of discomfort from not eating enough food.  ‘Food insecurity’ is inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints.  Poverty is the root cause of food insecurity. People experiencing food insecurity:

  • worry about having enough food
  • do not have suitable quality or variety of food, or
  • have reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns due to lack of food. (This extreme is how we commonly use the term ‘hunger’ when we mean severe food insecurity).

Food insecurity is a significant social and public health problem in Ontario.  In 2013, 1.6 million Ontarians or one in eight households did not have enough money to buy food. Click here for more information on how food insecurity is defined and measured in Canada.

How have communities responded to the problem of food insecurity?

With the gradual erosion of social programs, a variety of community-based charitable food programs have emerged. There are now food banks in every province and territory, with a network of almost 5,000 emergency food programs including food banks, soup kitchens and various meal and snack programs.

Food charity is very much a part of the problem of food insecurity in rich societies. While charitable food programs may provide short-term relief of hunger, they do not reduce food insecurity at all. Food charity is ineffective due to the following reasons:

  • undermines people’s dignity
  • has limited reach – 3 out of 4 food insecure households do not go to food banks
  • has limited operating hours and restricts the number of visits and the amount of food provided
  • does not meet people’s daily need for nutritious food

Food insecurity is a symptom of an income problem; it is not a problem that can be solved by redistribution of food by charities no matter how much we try to build better food banks. In fact, food banks are counterproductive because their existence creates the illusion that food insecurity is being taken care of in the community.  We’ve become so conditioned to raising more money and getting more food on to food bank shelves that we lose sight of poverty being the root cause of food insecurity. The prevalence of food charity allows governments to neglect their obligations to ensure income security for Canadians, leaving community-based charities attempting to fill the gap.

The media perpetuates this problem by drawing attention to food drives. By packaging a food drive as an integral part of the festive season, food insecurity is framed as an issue for charity, not politics, strengthening the public perception that food charity is acceptable, necessary and adequate to address the problem of food insecurity. High profile, public food drives use messaging that reinforces the notion that food charity makes a difference in the lives of those living with food insecurity. Calling on the public to participate in food drives in an effort to ‘give back to the community’, ‘join the fight against hunger’ and ‘participate in the spirit of holiday cheer’ feeds into the age-old philosophical ideal of feeding the hungry. High profile community members, such as politicians or celebrities, are often used to reinforce these messages and create a bigger media story.

If food charity is not the solution to food insecurity, then what is?

All sectors have a role to play in promoting income security as an effective response to food insecurity.

The media could focus on supporting campaigns and covering news stories raising awareness about the root cause of food insecurity, which is poverty, such as on implementing a basic income guarantee, a living wage, and affordable housing and child care policies.      

Individuals, community groups, and organizations can support ‘up-stream’ efforts, such as:

  • Becoming a member of, donating to, or volunteering with Basic Income Canada Network
  • Donating or volunteering with national, provincial or local poverty reduction advocacy groups, such as Make Poverty History or Canada Without Poverty  
  • Donating to or becoming a member of food advocacy groups, such as Food Secure Canada
  • Contacting or meeting with local politicians at all levels about their concerns with the food charity response to food insecurity and the potential benefits of a basic income guarantee
  • Supporting campaigns and signing petitions for adequate income security, affordable social housing and child care, enhanced mental health services, and development of national and provincial food policies

Federal and provincial governments must consider policy options that will enhance income security and reduce poverty levels to alleviate food insecurity.

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The Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health (OSNPPH) is the independent and official voice of Registered Dietitians working in Ontario’s public health system. OSNPPH provides leadership in public health nutrition by promoting and supporting member collaboration to improve the health of Ontario residents through the implementation of the Ontario Public Health Standards.

The OSNPPH Food Security Workgroup has developed a position statement (and French translation) and an accompanying infographic (and French translation) to increase awareness about the growing problem of household food insecurity in Ontario and the urgent need to advocate for effective responses. Since its release, the Position Statement has received official endorsements from these organizations and individuals. If you would like to endorse the Position Statement, please complete the form available here.

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