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In Barrie, a community board reflects the community’s needs with programs that deliver

Community board member Mary Helen Garvin, far right, attends a volunteer appreciation event at the Barrie Community Health Centre.

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.

Mary Helen Garvin, a board member from Barrie Community Health Centre (BCHC) has served on the centre’s board for two years of a three-year term. She’s a retired psychotherapist who actively participates in programs and accesses services at BCHC. Below, we speak with Garvin about her role as a member of BCHC’s community board.

Q. What do you think makes a community board different from a mainly professional or corporate board?

A. We take pride of ownership rather than in just the job itself; this board is part of my community. The organization that our board supports serves people I care about as well as me personally. So my vested interest in the centre being run well is both selfish and altruistic. While it is responsible for ensuring finances are managed well, a community board is focused more on service than profit.

Q. In what ways do you think having a community-governed board enhances the programs at BCHC?

A. Two-thirds of our board members are people who use the centre, so we know how the place functions. This also means we are always thinking about what is working, and what else might be needed, or what programs particularly need our support within the organization itself, as well as in the wider community. The remaining third of the board members are people who actively work in the community and know what needs are out there. An example of that would be the connection that BCHC has developed with the Innisdale Secondary School. That program, which is now called Youth Health Connect (YHC) and is in its third year, involves weekly visits to the school by a community health promotion team. Over the two student lunch periods, they do outreach on a range of issues in an informal, youth-positive setting. Based on the social determinants of health, this preventive health model offers resources and access to professionals related to housing, healthy food, mental health and youth volunteering, and other areas of concern identified by youth themselves. It’s a program that grew out of our board through a board member who was linked to the school system, and we hope to expand to other schools in the future.

Q. What are some of the ways in which your experiences at the centre as a patient and as a program participant have helped guide you at the boardroom table?

A. By connecting with other volunteers and staff members, or participating in some of the programs offered, I’m able to increase my knowledge of the work of the centre. That knowledge contributes to my ability to evaluate, in a more informed way, what is happening in the centre, or where there might be gaps or unfilled needs.

Q. Why do you think CHCs are well positioned to promote participation in wellbeing programs?

A. I feel so enthusiastic about the way CHCs work! I think we’re better at promoting wellbeing because of the holistic approach to health care. Staff and volunteers provide a variety of services under one roof: physiotherapists, nutrition guidance, social workers, a visiting psychiatrist, exercise programs, diabetes management as well as physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and more. So that means people have the opportunity to experience disease prevention and wellness programs, as well as treatment. Staff members consult between departments, so that clients do not have to run all over town and wait for long periods of time for consultations and reports. For instance, programs like our “Walking Group,” which offers no-cost physiotherapist supervised exercise, bring prevention knowledge and care directly to people in the community, lift barriers to care while also helping to address social isolation. That’s all part of the Barrie CHC difference, and why I am proud to be a volunteer board member at the Barrie Community Health Centre.

During Community Health and Wellbeing Week, Barrie CHC invites everyone to a Waterfront Walk and Fitness Demonstration at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, September 26. The group will meet at the Spirit Catcher. For more information on other events throughout the week at BCHC, visit