Healthy Living in the North

Community Health Stars: Peter Nielsen

One of the neatest things about the Community Health Stars program has been the range of amazing activities that residents of northern B.C. take on to make their communities healthier places to live, work, and play. From promoting healthy eating in Terrace schools to walking around the world in Valemount, Community Health Stars represent a wide range of passions, communities, and activities.

As a resident of Quesnel deeply committed to helping seniors, Northern Health’s Community Health Star for the month of March adds to this outstanding variety! In addition, the issues that this month’s Community Health Star works on have a lot in common with the key findings of Northern Health’s 2013 community consultation, Let’s talk about Healthy Aging and Seniors’ Wellness. Northern Health is pleased to name Peter Nielsen as this month’s Community Health Star!

Peter is a retiree who has always had a passion for helping seniors. He has created and supported several groups to address a wide range of issues impacting seniors and I had the pleasure of chatting with Peter during a rare break in between his many community engagements!

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Group of five individuals stand in front of a sign announcing the future location of the Quesnel Seniors Housing Project.

Northern Health’s Community Health Star for the month of March is Peter Nielsen. Peter is active in seniors issues in Quesnel and has played a key role in work on a local seniors housing project.

After working in home care on Vancouver Island for several years, I returned to Quesnel (where I first moved in 1971) to be with family nearly 10 years ago.

My passion for helping seniors started at a young age. When I was 13, my family took in an older friend who needed ongoing care and I took on a lot of those caregiving tasks. I related well to this individual and have found that I relate well to all seniors. I especially enjoy hearing their amazing stories!

To pursue this passion, since moving back to Quesnel, I’ve gotten involved with the Lions Club, the Lions Housing Society, and the Fraser Village Home Society. I also started the Voice for North Cariboo Seniors.

What does a healthy community look like to you?

For me, a healthy community meets the needs of everyone. For seniors in particular, meeting their needs includes a few different considerations, and I have tried to be involved in all of these issues in Quesnel:

  • Affordable housing for seniors
  • Food security
  • The ability to make ends meet
  • Affordable medical supplies and pharmaceuticals
  • Accessible spaces
  • Social support

I think that housing and the safety and security that brings is so important for seniors’ well-being. To support that goal, I became president of the Lions Housing Society, a group working to build an independent living housing complex in Quesnel. We just purchased the land for the project and I’m excited to see construction starting soon! I also sit on the board of the Fraser Village Home Society.

Through the Lions Club, we also build ramps for seniors and others in wheelchairs. We buy the material and then have a work bee to build, paint, and secure the ramps.

Social support for seniors is crucial, too! Through a group that we formed a few years ago, we visit a residential care facility in Quesnel during the holidays to give gifts, decorate, and spend time with the residents – I was even Santa one year!

Looking ahead, I’d like to look at ways to support widowers who are struggling with loneliness and isolation. I think that a gathering place would go a long way towards making them healthier and more connected.

When it comes to seniors’ ability to meet their needs, one thing that a lot of people don’t know is that not all seniors collect a full Old Age Security pension or draw from the Canada Pension Plan. Many farmers and ranchers grew up pinching pennies and would have been living day-to-day so often didn’t contribute to government programs during their working years. Now, these individuals are struggling to make ends meet. Seniors are very proud people, too, so even in situations like this, they hesitate to ask for help. The onus is on us all to step up, check in with our older neighbours, and make sure that they are OK.

Although seniors issues take up most of my time and a special place in my heart, through the Lions, I am also able to support the Two Rivers Boxing Club in Quesnel. This local boxing club provides young people with a place to gather, be active, and develop their self-esteem. The local coach pays for a lot of expenses out-of-pocket so the Lions and I do what we can to offset the costs of tournaments, travel, and other club activities.

How did you get involved in seniors issues?

Man lifting a grocery bag out of a truck.

Peter’s message for others in northern B.C. is simple: “check on your neighbours. If you know a senior, keep an eye on them.” After checking on some of his neighbours, Peter identified food security as an important issue facing seniors and began to make regular deliveries of healthy food to seniors in need.

It’s been a soft spot in my life, all my life! I enjoy talking to seniors; I always have. I find them very interesting and appreciate their stories. They can often be a forgotten group but I love them and I gravitate towards them.

When we moved back to Quesnel – having worked with seniors for some time – I noticed a few things in our community that were missing for seniors. My wife became my sounding board and eventually she got tired and just said “do something about it!” And I did! I created Voice for North Cariboo Seniors three years ago. This group holds monthly meetings where seniors can come together to learn about different issues. We had someone talk about taxes last month, we share information from the RCMP about scams targeting seniors, and we’ve brought in Northern Health to discuss health issues. We’ve got 150 seniors on our call list to invite to each meeting!

I’m also involved in delivering food to seniors in need. As a group, we drop off healthy food options to 50-60 seniors every month. The Lions Club and other community members support us with food donations. The focus on food started with a visit to a senior’s home where I saw only cat food in the fridge but no cat. This was so sad to witness and sparked a passion for me to look at food issues that seniors face.

One of the reasons that I got involved and have stayed involved is that seniors don’t like people knowing their plight. I have found seniors to be very proud – they’re scared of being recognized in a donation line – and often they go without instead of asking for help.

What does “healthy aging” mean to you?

For me, healthy aging means respect for seniors in all aspects. It means seniors being able to live in safe, low-cost, and healthy places. It means being aware of seniors issues since they are so often a blind spot for so many of us.

What would you like to say to other residents of northern B.C.?

It’s simple: check on your neighbours. If you know a senior, keep an eye on them. Drop off some baking and say hello! Winter can be especially difficult for seniors because of slips and falls.

And remember that often, seniors won’t come to you for help. So look out for them, keep your eyes open.

It only takes a couple of people to get something amazing started!


The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across northern B.C. who, like Peter, are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health website.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.

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Community Health Stars: Hollie Blanchette

Northern Health believes that health happens in the community and launched the Community Health Stars program to shine a light on amazing individuals who are promoting health where they live. The Community Health Stars program grew out of a desire to keep the spirit of the Canada Winter Games burning bright long after the closing ceremonies. This spirit has seen communities come together, volunteers contribute thousands of hours, celebration events taking place across our region, and residents living healthier, more active lives. When it comes to this legacy, this month’s nominee has it all: community spirit, volunteerism, active living, and more!

Our Community Health Star for the month of February has an infectious belief in the power of community connections to create healthy change. Whether she’s meeting a group to continue their “Walk Around the World”, connecting with others on one of 17 committees that she contributes to, or simply smiling and laughing with friends at the library, everything that Hollie Blanchette does seems to make Valemount a little happier and a little healthier.

Northern Health is pleased to name Hollie Blanchette as our Community Health Star for the month of February! I was very fortunate to be able to chat with Hollie about her contributions in Valemount.

Woman on a hiking trail with a mountain in the background.

“I don’t know about you but I want to live somewhere exciting, vibrant, and fun filled with happy and healthy people.” Northern Health is pleased to recognize Hollie Blanchette from Valemount as our Community Health Star for the month of February. Hollie’s commitment to community and to creating healthy change are inspiring!

Why is a healthy community important to you?

For me, it boils down to the fact that this is where we live! I don’t know about you but I want to live somewhere exciting, vibrant, and fun filled with happy and healthy people!

Another important consideration for me is that we are all aging. I think that we need to be asking ourselves how we want to age, both mentally and physically. I’m a very happy person – I think that mental wellness is such an important component of overall health – and I want to stay happy and age happily. I would like for my mind and body to stay as healthy as possible as I age and living in a healthy community is key to that.

What does a healthy Valemount look like to you?

For me, a healthy Valemount is full of diverse, unique people! Health isn’t about being a size zero and having tight skin. It is about eating healthy foods, being active, and managing stress to the best of our abilities. Each one of us is unique and there is no “perfect” – only the best you that you can be! The first step to a healthy community is ensuring that it is filled with people who are happy with themselves.

The second component of a healthy Valemount is that people are connected with one another. Our connections make our town healthier. They help us to know what is going on, who can help with what, and how each one of us can make a difference.

How are you involved in creating a healthy Valemount?

My involvement started with simply observing. When you live in a place that you love and when you want that place to be as healthy as possible, you start to notice things and then decide that you have to do something about it. For me, “doing something about it” meant connecting with projects and people in the community so I joined a few committees. I then wanted to make an even bigger impact so I ran for Council and was elected in 2011. There, I discovered the Northern Health liaison position, expressed an interest, met with local medical staff, and then took on that role. I’ve been able to learn so much from community members and partners in this role and I really enjoy it!

I currently serve on 17 different committees in town so I really see my role as knowing what’s going on, knowing who is doing what, and connecting those people in order to see projects take off. Some of the projects that I’ve contributed to and am currently working on include Valemount Walks Around the World, the building of the Bigfoot community trail system, working towards a dementia-friendly community designation, looking into projects to keep seniors happy and healthy at home, coordinating a visiting hearing clinic, installing indoor/outdoor chess, and more!

This involvement comes from a love for my town and I must say that living in Valemount is fantastic! I had moved 13 times in 18 years so when I first moved to Valemount, I didn’t hang up pictures. Now, I can assure you that there are pictures on the wall! I feel rooted here and it is that feeling that led me to get involved. This is one of the first places where I’ve really involved myself in local activities, which I believe says a lot about the wonderful place that I call home! I’ve got a great job and a great way to serve community members.

What is the Valemount Walks Around the World initiative?

Valemount Walks Around the World is a five year project that aims to get residents of Valemount moving! The project asks participants to input the time that they spend being physically active into a computer program which then converts that time to steps and tracks both individual steps and community steps on a walk around the world. Whether you swim, bike, in-line skate, walk, or run, your total helps move Valemount across the world!

The project has been a huge success in all sorts of ways! We just started year three and we’ve got about 10 per cent of our population signed up to the program. We just recently made it across the Atlantic Ocean together! We’ve also connected with local doctors who have noticed some patients walking as part of this project who are showing lower risks of chronic diseases and experiencing reduced morbidity.

What is your message for other northern B.C. residents?

For me, healthy communities start with the citizens. It is the citizens who see gaps and opportunities and it is the citizens who need to take these ideas for healthy change to the community.

If you have a project that you want to take on, look around for the liaisons, groups, and partners who might be able to help with this idea. And get involved with local non-profit organizations. These are the groups that can make it all happen and they keep you involved and busy! This is how communities can become healthier – citizens see a need, they ask for change, and then they connect with one another to create that healthy change.

Lastly, I think that a lot of health comes from being a happy person. Everything else fills itself in from there!


 

The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across northern B.C. who, like Hollie, are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health website.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.

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Community Health Stars: Wayne Mould

Man curling.

Northern Health is pleased to announce our Community Health Star for the month of February: Wayne Mould! Wayne is a founding member of the running club in Dawson Creek (a “running club for everyone”) and is committed to supporting people to make walking and running part of their lifestyle!

Northern Health’s first two Community Health Stars – Myles Mattila of Prince George and Seamus Damstrom of Terrace – exemplified the power of youth to promote health and wellness in their community. Not to be outdone, our Community Health Star for the month of January reminds us all that it is never too late to create healthy changes in your community and to incorporate new physical activities into your life. A retired teacher with a career that spanned 40 years, Wayne Mould has worked to keep the Dawson Creek running club going and growing for the last ten years. Not even a cancer diagnosis and surgery could keep Wayne down for long – just one year after a major cancer surgery, he was racing again and even winning his age category!

I had the pleasure of talking with Wayne about the running club, his impressive running resumé, and why supporting an active community is so important to him.

How did you get into running?

I started running in my late 50s after a bit of an off-the-cuff remark to my daughter, who runs regularly. She had just returned home after a six kilometre run, and I mentioned – as an inexperienced non-runner at the time – that she seemed quite tired after “just” six kilometres. Her response was that I should try running six kilometres. So, just to prove that I could, I started running with a few others and haven’t stopped!

Since that time, I’ve run about 15 half marathons, one full marathon, and 15 ten kilometre races. The highlights for me were races in Kelowna just after my 60th and 70th birthdays when I won my age groups. I’ve also raced the famous Emperor’s Challenge in Tumbler Ridge seven times. That race is pretty special because you get a “permanent number” after five races so I’m proud to be part of that group.

How are you involved in the Dawson Creek running club?

I have been involved in the Dawson Creek running club for the last ten years. Together with some others, we’ve kept the club going and our members running through snow, rain, or shine! We organize four runs each week and the club members say that “Wayne will always be there.” I guess that I am the familiar face during all of the runs! I try to invite as many new members as possible and encourage everyone to join us on our runs.

Man running outside.

Whether snow, rain, or shine, Wayne is always out with new and existing running club members for their morning runs. Wayne is a familiar and friendly face eager to welcome new members and get more people active!

How is the Dawson Creek running club organized?

The group has a loose structure, which I believe encourages participation. We meet at the Tim Hortons in Dawson Creek four times each week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:00 a.m. for a five kilometre run and Saturdays at 8:00 a.m. for a longer run.

We call it the “running club for everyone” and even had some T-shirts made up with that slogan. We welcome all runners from first-timers to ultra-marathon runners. There is a lot of turnover – which is neat as we get to meet new people – and there are approximately 25 people who are loosely associated with the running club at any one point. Of these members, 3-15 runners will participate in any one run that we do.

I take our slogan – that we are a running club for everyone – very seriously! The social part of the club is very strong. Members have become very good friends because of the way that we run. We run for 10 minutes and walk for one minute, all at a pace that allows us to talk to each other.

The running club also organizes an annual run in Dawson Creek – the Windmill Run/Walk. The event is a 10 kilometre run or walk event (we don’t specify which!) and participants can turn around whenever they feel like it if 10 kilometres is too daunting. Our goal with this event is to generate interest in running and walking in Dawson Creek and to make it a part of people’s lifestyles. The event is becoming quite popular! First-time participants get medals, local doctors have been promoting it, and we had over 50 runners last year.

How did your cancer diagnosis impact your running?

Shortly after my 70th birthday, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I received excellent care – I really can’t say enough about how I was treated by the health system and health care professionals both in Dawson Creek and when I had to travel away from home for specialized care – and have recovered fully from an operation that removed the cancer and a kidney.

After about six weeks, I was walking with the running club again and after one year, I was running regularly and felt close to 90% of where I was before the diagnosis. After turning 71, I was racing again and even won my age group during a race that year.

What are your plans for 2015?

I will keep running! You’ll find me at the Tim Hortons in Dawson Creek four mornings each week!

I may not do any more full marathons but I’d like to finish at least four races this year – in Grande Prairie, Chetwynd, Kelowna, and the Emperor’s Challenge in Tumbler Ridge.


 

The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across northern B.C. who are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health website.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.

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Community Health Stars: Seamus Damstrom

Young man sitting on shore with a fishing rod.

Seamus Damstrom, a Grade 12 student at Caledonia Secondary in Terrace, B.C., is Northern Health’s Community Health Star for December!

Our Community Health Star for the month of December is an outstanding young man from Terrace who exemplifies what it means to have a passion for health and wellness and to turn that passion into action! Seamus Damstrom is a Grade 12 student at Caledonia Secondary in Terrace, B.C. He was the only northerner in the 2013-2014 cohort of the provincial Healthy Living Youth Council. As a member of that group, Seamus had the chance to lead a health-promoting project in his school.

I was fortunate to be able to connect with Seamus to talk about his project, his passion for healthy eating, and his approach to creating healthy change.

What is the Healthy Living Youth Council?

The Healthy Living Youth Council is a one-year program organized by DASH BC. Every year, students from across B.C. can apply to join the Healthy Living Youth Council. I had 13 students in my cohort and each one of us initiated a project to promote health and wellness in our school.

What type of project did you initiate at your school?

To figure out what I wanted to do, I asked myself, what are my passions? The answer: food and helping people achieve optimal health through food. At school, people know that I’m a big food guy so it made sense to start there.

At that point, I looked at our canteen and noticed that while there were a few healthy options, most of the food being purchased was items like nachos and pizza. I then decided that I would try to use our school canteen to start a food revolution – introducing healthy food options and trying to change students’ eating habits.

Young man wearing a helmet and goggles on a ski hill

Seamus initiated a project at his school to bring healthy food options to the canteen. How are you being a health star in your community?

How did you accomplish this?

It was a long process but I wanted to make sure to do it right – I knew that change wouldn’t happen if I acted like a dictator so I started with the canteen teacher. We had a great dialogue and found recipes that were healthy and feasible for the canteen to sell.

The next step was to see what my fellow students wanted – if they would actually buy these new food items. I spent four months developing and testing a survey that would let students at Caledonia rank different food items, rate their price, and tell us how often they would buy each item. During this time, I met with Northern Health dietitians, shared the survey with other Healthy Living Youth Council members, piloted the survey with 10 students, and re-designed the survey to make sure that it was ready to go. In March, 461 of 700 Caledonia students completed surveys and then I started the long process of entering and analyzing results. By April, I had my results ready to go and met with the canteen teacher again to put them into action.

To start the food revolution, we put three healthy items — hummus & pita (by far the most popular option in the survey!), homemade soup, and homemade chili — on the menu once a week. We also provided samples of these items before selling them to increase interest.

It was really important to me to do this project in a thoughtful and sustainable way. For example, instead of going in and removing the very popular nachos, which surely would have caused a riot, I worked with the canteen teacher and Northern Health dietitians to add some veggies to the nacho plate and kept the price higher than the new, healthier items. Now, for the 2014-2015 school year, nachos have been taken off of the menu and no one seems to have noticed!

How is the project going now?

I learned a ton during a reflection period after the new items had made their way onto the menu. I thought carefully about the project and applied these lessons to new food projects for this year. Although my time on the Healthy Living Youth Council is done (I’m a mentor to new participants now), a friend and I started a Healthy Living Club at my school. In addition to carrying on with the canteen food project, which is working on a follow-up survey, we have a food and nutrition bulletin board with tips and recipes at school and are working on a mental wellness board, too. The hummus and pita dish is still available in the canteen and we are working with the new canteen teacher on some new recipes. And the nachos are gone!

Young man in a park in running clothes

The Northern Health Community Health Stars program highlights exceptional individuals like Seamus who are improving health in their communities. Nominate a Community Health Star in your community!

Where did your passion for food come from?

My Grade 8 foods teacher got me into cooking. By grade 10, I wanted to become a chef and looked into the educational options for that. My parents told me to take a year to think about my different options before committing to a program and in that year, I realized that I’m more interested in using food to help people, so now I’m hoping to become a dietitian.

Food is everything for me and I strongly believe that everything you eat impacts you. Eating healthy can improve your life and I feel like there is so much to learn from food.

What is your message to people wanting to promote health in their community?

You’re never too small to make a change. I’m just a country bumpkin but I feel like I did pretty well on this project! It was a little change in a big world, but that’s where you start. Even the smallest voice can push the snowball down the hill and create a big change!


 

The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across northern B.C. who are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health website.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.

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