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Community health and wellbeing

Healthier Community Builders work in partnership and cooperation with others to create the conditions for everyone to achieve their best possible health and wellbeing. We put the spotlight on these local heroes to bring their work into wider discussions of what it means to build healthier communities. This week, the spotlight is on community gardening at North Hamilton CHC.

Over nearly a decade working as a health promoter at Bridges Community Health Centre in the south of Niagara Region, Lori Kleinsmith has driven herself and others to find ways to impact public policy to support health and wellbeing. 

These Quest Community Builders helped prepare lunch!

Healthier Community Builders are people who work in partnership and cooperation with others to create the conditions for everyone to achieve their best possible health and wellbeing. They could be staff or volunteers at an Alliance member centre, or even a board member from the community. Or perhaps they are a partner who works more widely, but whose work intersects with health and wellbeing, such as a coach, community organizer, or local leader. 

On May 9, Country Roads Community Health Centre celebrated 30 years of exceptional primary health care in rural Southeastern Ontario. The occasion was marked with live music (with Executive Director Marty Crapper throwing down some mean bass alongside local musician Melanie Weber), a shared meal, and some poignant reflections by community members and leaders. People shared stories of helping to steward the CHC from humble roots – half a day a week in a single room – into the hub of community-governed comprehensive primary health care that it is today.

What makes a community, a community? Our shared spaces, shared values, common histories – those are often mentioned. Support for others, a respect for diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, and shared ownership of and participation in civic institutions – those are no less important. What’s common among communities? Crises will often bring us together to act collectively, knowing that we are more than the sum of our parts when we act as one. Other things – a factory or school closing, or instances of racism – might drive us further apart while also revealing fault lines in our bonds.

The latest Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) national report is a scathing indictment of our collective inability to address one of the greatest issues of our time – namely, the widening gap between the growth of the Gross Domestic Product and the wellbeing of everyday Canadians. In the span of just six years, this ‘health divide’ increased from 21 per cent in 2008 to more than 28 per cent in 2014.

Guys Can Cook participants roll pizza dough with a chef student from George Brown College, at the Four Villages CHC in 2015.

Give a kid a nutrition lesson in a classroom, and he might forget it later that day. Teach a kid to cook nutritious meals he likes to eat and share with friends, and those lessons might just last a lifetime. Involve a kid in how those lessons are taught? That helps to create a lifelong sense of purpose and wellbeing. And that’s the principle that drives health promotion in the seven Toronto Community Health Centres that run a program called Guys Can Cook! (GCC).

West Nipissing Community Health Centre (CHC) is celebrating a major milestone – the grand opening of its new building in a former school. This bilingual centre is one of more than 20 AOHC members that provide French-language services to Franco-Ontarians across the province. West Nipissing CHC has been serving people and communities in Sturgeon Falls since 2010, but up until recently it was located in the community’s former hospital.

To put people and communities first, AOHC members actively engage the people they serve, every step of the way planning, developing and evaluating health and wellbeing services and programs. In order to ensure a people- and community-centred approach, AOHC members are also governed by community representatives, which makes them distinct from other parts of Ontario’s primary care system.

In the speech from the throne on September 12, Premier Wynne reiterated her government’s commitment to community hubs, affirming they make it “easier to access health, social, education, cultural and recreational programs and services that nurture community life.” But creating hubs, and making sure they serve the community in the most effective way, is no easy matter. How can more Ontario communities get there?


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