Healthy Living in the North

Creating a smoke-free community

This article was co-written by Nancy Viney (tobacco reduction, Northern Health), Rhya Hartley (City of Quesnel), and the Quesnel Healthier Community Committee. It was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of Healthier You magazine.


Poster with information about bylaw 1767

The new smoke-free bylaw was promoted through the City’s Bylaw of the Month campaign.

The City of Quesnel promotes a healthy environment for all to enjoy. In November 2015, Quesnel City Council adopted Bylaw No. 1767 “A Bylaw to Regulate Smoking in City of Quesnel Public Spaces,” which prohibits smoking in some specific community spaces as well as designated playgrounds and playing fields where children may be at play.

Quesnel joined 59 other municipalities in B.C. who have a bylaw limiting where you can use tobacco in outdoor spaces. Although many municipalities have implemented smoking regulations, Quesnel and Dawson Creek are leaders in the north.

Why a bylaw to regulate smoking?

Quesnel supports healthy community initiatives for its residents! Through integrated processes like parks planning, active transportation planning, the recently adopted Living Wage Policy, and our active rebranding project, the City of Quesnel is positioning itself as a balanced, healthy community in which to live, work, and play. The new smoke-free bylaw and the work supported by the Partnering for Healthier Communities grant fits into this approach.

Exposure to second-hand smoke from burning tobacco products causes disease and premature death among non-smokers. Children are particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke as they breathe faster and are exposed to even more smoke. The new bylaw reduces the harmful effects of tobacco smoke for the residents and visitors of Quesnel.

Supportive smoke-free environments help people who have quit using tobacco to remain steadfast and also encourage tobacco users to quit. Education today on the harmful effects of smoking and second-hand smoke is key to ensuring our children don’t start smoking and helps to make everyone aware of our environment.

The bylaw also helps reduce the amount of litter from butts and discarded cigarette packaging. Cigarette filters litter the ground and do not biodegrade. During the hot, dry summer months, smoke-free bylaws can also reduce the risk of fire from discarded matches and tobacco products.

Sign reading: "Healthy lungs at play"As with any new initiative, there has been some push back and enforcement issues. To date, bylaw staff in Quesnel have addressed this with education and they will be transitioning to ticketing.

The City of Quesnel partnered with Northern Health and many other community stakeholders to form the Quesnel Healthier Community Committee in 2012. In 2016, this committee received a Partnering for Healthier Communities grant from Northern Health for their “Creating a Tobacco-Free Community” initiative. The committee resolved to use the grant funding for education and to purchase and install signage in strategic public areas. The committee decided that a sign that portrayed those most at risk from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke would move the focus to social conscience.

Have questions about smoke- and vape-free outdoor public places? Learn more from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Does your local government have a Healthier Community Committee? How can your local government work with partners towards your community’s healthy living goals?

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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New issue of Healthier You: Community grants in action!

Magazine cover

The winter issue of Healthier You magazine is all about community grants in action.

What does it mean to support “healthy people in healthy communities”? That’s one of the questions that the latest issue of Healthier You magazine sets out to answer!

I really enjoyed reading through this issue and learning about the different ways that communities are taking actions that promote health and prevent disease.

Curious about what that means?

Take a look through the issue and you’ll find:

  • A local approach to preventing injury and promoting active transportation (Village of Queen Charlotte’s Bike Repair and Safety Program).
  • The Food Secure Kids program in the northeast challenging you to learn about food security through the experiences of students who are enjoying the taste of a carrot that they planted and grew themselves.
  • Local ideas that support healthier early years through Children First funded programs in Mackenzie & area, Prince George, Quesnel, and the Robson & Canoe Valleys.

Once these projects and others get you inspired to connect into healthy community projects where you live, don’t miss the issue’s handy information on:

Take a look through these stories online or look for a hard copy of the magazine in local doctors’ offices, clinics, and Northern Health facilities near you! All past issues of Healthier You are also available online.

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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Partnering to make nature more accessible

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


People on nature trail

Access North Days encouraged seniors, residents, tourists, and the general public – particularly those with mobility issues – to come out and experience universally accessible outdoor recreation opportunities such as parks, trails, and regional attractions.

This past July, I had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of the expanded Great-West Life Mobility Trail, located at the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society (TMRS) Dougherty Creek Trail, just south of Prince George. The event was hosted by the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society and Spinal Cord Injury BC to coincide with Spinal Cord Injury BC’s Access North Day. The IMAGINE grants program has partnered with both of these groups doing great things to support universal access to outdoor recreation in our region.

During the grand opening event, there were a number of people in wheelchairs or with walking supports who were able to enjoy the trail with their family and friends. They could access all parts of the trail without any obstacles. It was great to see everyone enjoying nature on such a beautiful trail!

Who’s involved?

  • TMRS is a not-for-profit organization made up of volunteers who are dedicated to the maintenance and growth of Tabor Mountain as a recreational facility for everyone to enjoy. Eight local and provincial recreational clubs are also society members. They are users of the trails and have a vested interest in the protection and maintenance of the area. TMRS received an IMAGINE Legacy grant in 2015 to support the purchase of marketing and promotion supplies to promote the amazing outdoor trail network and opportunities that this group of volunteers have been working on.

“The Great-West Life Mobility Nature Trail was created for seniors and mobility challenged individuals to experience the great outdoors in a safe and friendly environment … The exposure to the community and visitors to the community through our strategy of using your grant (IMAGINE) for marketing has created results beyond our expectations.” -Randy Ellenchuk, President, Tabor Mountain Recreation Society.

  • Spinal Cord Injury BC (SCI BC) helps people with spinal cord injury and related physical disabilities adjust, adapt, and thrive as they deal with a new injury or struggle with the ongoing challenges of living and aging with a disability. SCI BC received an IMAGINE grant this past spring to support Access North Day celebrations taking place throughout the north. The purpose of the events was to encourage seniors, residents, tourists, and the general public – particularly those with mobility issues – to come out and experience universally accessible outdoor recreation opportunities such as parks, trails, and regional attractions. Another focus of the project was to build capacity through networking and sharing knowledge about universal design and accessibility, which is why the partnership with Tabor Mountain Recreation Society proved to be an excellent match!

A trail accessible for everyone

Fast forward to our recent Thanksgiving long weekend and I took the opportunity to visit the Dougherty Creek Trail again.

This time, I brought my mom and our dogs for the walk and it was just as great as the first time I had visited! For my mom, who has a chronic disease and cannot walk trails that have even minor elevation changes, this one is perfect for her. The walking paths are very smooth and flat, and there are a number of benches, picnic tables, and gazebos along the way. It really is accessible for everyone and it’s a bonus that it can accommodate our furry friends.

I should also mention that a fun feature to the trail is the many little figures and gnomes that are hidden along the trail paths to find. We actually went around twice and noticed different items each time!

As Northern Health’s lead for community granting, being invited to attend community events or visit project locations is one of the best parts of my role. Seeing the impact of the IMAGINE funds at the community level and watching project ideas grow into these great initiatives really makes me happy to be part of this work. I feel like this story is especially wonderful to share because it shows what can be done through the power of community partnerships and when groups are committed to work together to achieve common goals that will improve the health of the community.

Keep your eye on both of these organizations – I bet they have more ideas planned for our region!

What can you do to improve the health of your community and who can you partner with to make it happen?


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is October 31, 2016.

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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“A gateway to many opportunities for Elders”: The Nadleh Whut’en First Nation Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder program

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


The number of people aged 65 or older is growing faster in northern B.C. than it is elsewhere in the province. As you may have noticed on the blog recently, this has made healthy aging a very important focus for all of us!

A key part of Northern Health’s Healthy Aging in the North: Action Plan is to support healthy aging in the community. Older adults enjoy living independently in the community and want to stay there! To make this happen, they need a variety of opportunities to stay active and involved in community life.

Staff supporting elder on a bicycle

The Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event series has gotten Elders moving, eating healthy, connected, and socializing.

Near Fort Fraser, the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation provides a model to do just that!

With the support of an IMAGINE grant, the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event series has gotten Elders moving, eating healthy, connected, and socializing. With some donated space, local expertise, and equipment purchased with an IMAGINE grant, Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder is a great example of how one idea – getting Elders moving at a monthly gathering – can blossom and create so many additional benefits!

What became clear early in the program is that Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder was about more than just getting Elders moving, its original goal. According to Lisa Ketlo with the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation,

This event has accomplished many things: healthy eating, socializing, physical activities, [assessing] health concerns or issues, [and] monitoring wellness of Elders and community members.

For the physical activity component of the project, Nadleh Whut’en “had Elders and community members out walking, using a 3-wheel bike, or using the chair gym. [We] made members realize no matter how old we are, if we don’t use it, we lose it!” According to Ketlo, the program encouraged connections across generations, too, as it “opens the doors for many younger generations to get physically active and take care of their bodies inside and out.” The 3-wheel bike, for example, helped youth test their balance and made some local office workers realize they didn’t do enough physical activity! The Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event now regularly sees up to 16 participants ranging in age from 19-81.

Three people walking

Social connections have been a key feature of the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder project.

In addition to the physical activity benefits, Ketlo reflected on the impact related to social connectedness – a key piece of healthy aging.

I was shocked with some members who attended Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder. Some of these Elders never leave their home and now look forward to attending the event. I also see them at more community events and socializing with others […] Elders get to be involved with community events and not isolated at home. We had one Elder [who had been] isolated and depressed at home. Since she began attending Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder, she has been going out to more community events and going out to shop for herself!

Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder is not just about connecting Elders with one another and with youth in the community. The program also let Elders connect directly with health care professionals in a non-medical setting, which was huge!

This event has opened many doors for the community members, frontline workers, and nurses […] The members involved with the event are able to socialize with community members and frontline workers – to have someone to talk to and not be judged. When trust comes into play, then Elders will open and share any health, financial, or abuse issues – or just to admit they are unable to do tasks they once were able to achieve and ask for help […] We are able to visit with Elders and members with health issues, the nurse is able to monitor members with any health concerns or catch any signs of health issues arising […] To have community nurse on site really helps her to build trust with Elders. They are more willing to do blood pressure, sugar testing, [and discuss] any issues they have developed and what medication they are taking and how important it is to take medication […] We achieved goals [we weren’t] able to achieve before, like getting blood pressure, blood sugar, and pulse [measurements] on a regular basis.

Ketlo believes that Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder can be re-created by others. For Nadleh Whut’en, the IMAGINE grant provided funds for various pieces of equipment to support safe and healthy physical activity: runners, umbrellas (for shade in the summer), 3-wheel bikes, chair gym equipment, weights, snowshoes, ice grippers, high-visibility vests, and more!

Elder on a tricycle

“This grant is a gateway to many opportunities for Elders and community members through physical activities.” What kind of gateway to health can you create in your community?

Ketlo has a few suggestions for other communities looking to initiate a similar program:

  • Feed guests and visitors! By providing healthy snacks and drinks, more community members were encouraged to take part and the event was able to teach Elders and all participants about the importance of healthy eating and drinking.
  • Never hold an event for Elders on Old Age Pension day! The very first Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event took place on pension day and only one participant attended.
  • Involve local experts. Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder benefited from the expertise of a physical therapist able to suggest appropriate exercises and resources for Elders.
  • Meet people where they’re at. Many Elders at the community event were much more open to getting a checkup from the local nurse than they would be at the Health Centre.

Ketlo sums up the impact of the IMAGINE grant, the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder program, and healthy aging work in this way:

This grant is a gateway to many opportunities for Elders and community members through physical activities.

What kind of gateway to healthy living can you create in your community?


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

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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In Prince Rupert, it’s not about creating a fancy new program, it’s about tearing down barriers

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Youth group with paddles.

Some youth participants in the Friendship House’s programs. When coordinators looked at their running, hiking, and swimming programs, they identified some barriers that were keeping youth away. With the help of an IMAGINE grant, those barriers have come down.

Northern Health’s recent community consultations and report on child health have centred around one question: What do children and youth need to be healthy in the north?

What has stood out for me following the consultations is how many of us agree that more physical activity and access to low-cost or free recreational opportunities for children and youth support health and an overall sense of wellness.

But what if access (or, rather, lack of access) to supplies, equipment, or basic needs like running shoes or swimwear prevents access to recreational opportunities for children and youth? What can a community do?

The Friendship House Association of Prince Rupert’s Basic Needs for Healthy Choices Project took on this challenge.

The goal of the project was to provide supplies and equipment to youth to encourage increased physical activity and more opportunities for the youth who took part in programming at the Friendship House. What I especially like about this project is how it looks at addressing a healthy living challenge (low physical activity rates) by looking upstream. It’s not about creating a fancy new program, it’s about tearing down the barriers that prevent people from accessing existing programs. I think that this is an important way to think about healthy communities!

Staff at the Friendship House looked for opportunities to remove barriers to participation in youth activities.

Staff at the Friendship House looked for opportunities to remove barriers to participation in youth activities.

Staff found that youth did not have the funds to purchase shoes or clothes for both organized and drop-in activities at the centre. Through funds provided by an IMAGINE grant, the Friendship House bought supplies to support youth to join in the hiking and running club as well as swimming outings. Funds also supported the purchase of a variety of equipment for gym and fitness opportunities for youth during the drop-in times and scheduled fitness sessions.

Through the efforts of this project, staff at the Friendship House has seen youth participation numbers increase significantly each month (more than double previous numbers) and have even had parents join in on some of the activities.

According to coordinator Vince Sampare:

The youth that benefited from this grant were so excited for the equipment and runners that we provided to them to take part in the activities we provide in the Youth Hub.

How can you reduce barriers to participation in your community?


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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“Local solutions to local problems”: The Open Gate Garden Project in McBride

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Garden entrance gate

For project organizers, the Open Gate Garden in McBride demonstrates “local solutions to local problems.”

The Robson Valley Community Learning Project in McBride received an IMAGINE grant for their Open Gate Garden Project.

We recently checked in with the project and asked how their story might inspire others. Here’s what they shared:

One of the interesting aspects of our story is that the Open Gate Garden has become established during a major economic downturn. Our project seems to be demonstrating local solutions to local problems.

The principles of inclusion, diversity and consensus structure the work of the Community Literacy Task Group. For this reason, most of the gardeners take ownership for the project and there is a high level of unity and commitment. The Open Gate Garden is an example of what is possible when we work together, using our gifts and combining our skills. Growing food is what most of the old timers in the community know how to do. For the newcomers, like the retired urban teachers, it’s what they want to learn. There is a transmission of knowledge in an easy and relaxed manner.

Potatoes dug up and laying above ground.

Potatoes grown and sold as part of the community garden project help to sustain the Open Gate Garden.

The metaphor of ‘community as a garden’ and/or ‘garden as a community’ could be used to tell this story. Our garden design is an asset to the McBride community because of its beauty. The beds are as unique as the gardeners who tend them.

Others would be inspired by the possibility that a healthy community can come from the wide range of folks that reside there. We believe that building the capacity, the optimum human resources of the tiny population in our valley, is what it will take to restore a stable economy. So often, we hear about ‘attracting outside investments’ to solve our economic problems. Yet, we all eat. There is a market for locally grown, whole foods. Most are aware of threats to food security, climate change, and environmental devastation. Surely developing independent food systems could be a start to establishing a local economy! Our story shows that community gardening is a start. From this start, engaged citizens are emerging, other related projects are blossoming, folks are becoming connected, and we are beginning to generate revenues from growing potatoes to sustain the Open Gate Garden.

Woman bagging potatoes

“We walk, bend, stretch, dig, rake, shovel and eat fresh, local food. We co-operate, collaborate and communicate in meaningful ways. Gardening together in the Open Gate Garden is a real joy.”

We also asked Nancy Taylor, Community Literacy Outreach Coordinator (pictured during harvest time in the garden), about the impact of the Open Gate Garden and the IMAGINE Community Grant they received:

Our IMAGINE grant funding has helped to pay for the infrastructure of the Open Gate Garden where lots of good stuff happens. Folks from all walks of life are included in the project. We share information, skills, and knowledge. We walk, bend, stretch, dig, rake, shovel, and eat fresh, local food. We co-operate, collaborate, and communicate in meaningful ways. Gardening together in the Open Gate Garden is a real joy. We are grateful for the support we have received from Northern Health. Our community is healthier because of the Open Gate Garden.

What project might serve as a start in your community? You can start planning now because the next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants is coming soon!


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

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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Planting seeds, fighting stigma, and growing community: Healthy Minds Community Garden

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Fox in a community garden

How can a community garden reduce stigma around mental health concerns? The Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James accomplished just that – promoting social connections and healthy lifestyles along the way!

The Healthy Minds Peer Support group in Fort St. James offers a safe and confidential venue for those impacted by mental and emotional health issues. The group aims to break isolation, promote healthy lifestyles, support integration into the community, and reduce stigma around mental health concerns. Healthy Minds Peer Support also organizes public awareness campaigns with speakers from the RCMP and local mental health practitioners. They meet every Monday at 7:00 p.m. at the Stuart Lake Hospital and welcome everyone to join them.

At first glance, one might ask how a community garden fits into this vision. For facilitators and Mental Health & Addictions Advisory Committee members Greg Kovacs and Sandi Taylor, there are so many worthwhile connections between a community garden and mental wellness. They highlighted these when they first proposed this project to the IMAGINE Community Grant program:

A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and mental health problems. We also know working with the soil, planting, and harvesting is therapeutic and conducive to those on their road to recovery and healthy living principles. Community gardens have proven successful in numerous communities worldwide in providing valuable educational tools and skills acquisition for those most in need.

For Kovacs and Taylor, there was a crucial social piece to this project, too:

Isolated mental health clients gain socialization skills, confidence, and practical life-affirming experience. [The garden] is a great way to keep fit, socialize, and an excellent form of therapeutic exercise for participants.

After a successful IMAGINE Community Grant application in 2015, Kovacs, Taylor, and the rest of the Healthy Minds Peer Support group got to work.

Empty lot

A look at the garden space before the Healthy Minds Community Garden took shape. Construction involved over 50 volunteers and over 1,500 volunteer hours.

How did the project go? Kovacs and Taylor provided an inspiring update:

This project exceeded expectations on many levels. The construction of the garden space involved over 50 volunteers, from children to seniors across all socioeconomic and racial divides. Together, we logged over 1,500 volunteer hours. This garden has provided socialization opportunities [and] improved the mental and physical health of many community members. Through these interactions, awareness of mental health, physical health, and environmental health has been raised.

Two classes from David Hoy Elementary School helped in the construction and planting of garden beds. The grade 9 woodworking class from the high school built two flower garden beds for us. We also had involvement from adult mental health service users. Friendships were made, and a sense of community bonding was achieved. We were able to produce many pounds of fresh, organic vegetables – from lettuce to corn and peppers. Also, with seven local newspaper articles on the garden project, mental health and community gardening has been highlighted, and these topics have become common conversations around all community events. Raising awareness of mental health is the first step in reducing, and eventually eliminating stigma around it.

Community garden

A look at the completed garden space reveals the transformation that took place. For the project coordinators, a similar transformation occurred in the lives of those involved in the garden as the “unifying space” helped them to develop social connections.

One of the most important goals of sharing projects supported by IMAGINE Community Grants is the opportunity to share the lessons learned from different projects. Everyone who has been involved in a big project – whether it’s a personal home renovation, organizing a local sporting event, or getting a project off of the ground in a community – knows that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine! With the benefit of hindsight, Kovacs and Taylor shared what they learned:

All in all, it has been a very positive experience. There were, however, some challenges. It was difficult to get people involved in the actual construction. A lot of skilled labour was required, and in short supply … Being the project lead, it was difficult at times to gauge the skill level of volunteers … Volunteers often require close supervision. It is important to allow people some freedom, while discerning what projects they can succeed at. We could have used some more help with the administrative duties … If we undertook this type of project in the future, we would not make funding applications, or commitments, until we had people committed to certain duties.

The takeaway for Kovacs and Taylor, though?

The successes greatly exceeded the challenges. We have been approached by many strangers complimenting the work our group is doing. The word is out, and most of our beds are already reserved for the 2016 planting season. This garden is poised to become a new standard in community gardening. With a focus on aesthetics, as opposed to just food production, our garden has become a popular lunch, and socialization place for local workers and all community members. There is a lot of pride in this community garden. It is known as a very tranquil and serene sanctuary, overlooking the beautiful Stuart Lake. Seeing the faces of people who see the garden for the first time—priceless! … Be prepared to get projects off the ground with a few dedicated and imaginative people, and once things begin to take shape, others will join.

Two people paint a sign.

Volunteers put the finishing touches on the sign welcoming gardeners, guests, and visitors to the Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James.

The impact of the Healthy Minds Community Garden and the Healthy Minds Peer Support group really comes to light when you ask Kovacs and Taylor for one thing that they want to share about the project:

It is extremely difficult to list only one, as there are so many! … The greatest benefit, among many, is that of community bonding, or socialization. People that would not normally mix are working, laughing, and talking with each other. With so many phenomena dividing people in society today, the garden is a unifying space. One participant in particular, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been suffering from a life-threatening illness and has been isolating for over a year. We managed to get her out to the garden one day, and that resulted in her riding a bicycle to the garden every weekend to help and mostly just to socialize. She has reserved a garden bed for 2016. Largely as a result of stigma, many people experiencing mental health issues suffer in silence. Our objective is to reach as many of these people as possible, and the Healthy Minds Community Garden is accomplishing this. We also have to mention that the health benefits of growing and eating whole foods has not been lost on those participating in the garden.

Clearly unable to contain their excitement, pride, and desire to share more about the community garden, Kovacs and Taylor’s “one thing” continues to a list of community partners:

The involvement of the school kids, and the excitement in their eyes when they see what they have grown, is priceless. We believe that many of those kids will continue to garden and eat healthy throughout their lives. We also have to mention that the school this year is going to plant three beds as a result of the success of the program.

We have also reserved a bed for the Key Resource Centre in Fort St. James, and two beds are reserved for a local women’s wellness group. So far, we have two beds reserved for seniors as well. We have built two extra height beds for people with mobility issues. The entire garden is wheelchair accessible. We strongly believe that this garden will continue to grow and be of great benefit to all in this small community.

This project is, beyond any reasonable doubt, a resounding success.

Garden bed

Growing so much more than just healthy, local food, the community garden has become first and foremost a health-promoting gathering space where people can connect.

Do you have ideas to promote social connections, reduce stigma, boost healthy eating, and make your community healthier? Start gathering your team and brainstorming your project – the next round of IMAGINE Community Grants will start September 19, 2016.


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

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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Exploring the outdoors! Geocaching in Hudson’s Hope

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Family geocaching

Get outdoors and give geocaching a try this summer! The Playground of the Peace is a great spot to try this activity!

What’s geocaching? Community members in Hudson’s Hope know!

The District of Hudson’s Hope received an IMAGINE Community Grant in 2015 and were able to start a community geocaching program for residents and visitors to the area. It’s a great way to be active, connect with friends and strangers, and enjoy the outdoors!

So, what is it?

The District describes geocaching as

a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates [using a GPS receiver or a mobile device] and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.

The District of Hudson’s Hope Geo-Adventure is a series of hidden geocaches in the Hudson’s Hope region. Residents and visitors alike can search for all the caches and complete the Geo-Adventure Passport to receive prizes.

In 2015, the District of Hudson’s Hope applied for an IMAGINE Community Grant and they used the funds from their successful application to purchase caches, GPS units, and trackable coins to get their program started. The goal for the project was to increase awareness of geocaching and to get people outdoors exploring nature, all while promoting healthy living. Another goal was to develop a recreational program that could increase tourism to the area.

Looking back, Becky Mercereau with the District of Hudson’s Hope reflects on the program:

The greatest impact was getting community members outdoors and enjoying active living. There are now 29 geocaches within our boundary, which is an increase from the 9 that were already created here at the beginning of the year. People who joined us in the treasure hunting really enjoyed all the locations; they found them while enjoying the wonderful outdoors of our Playground of the Peace.

Geocaching coins

The District of Hudson’s Hope used their IMAGINE Community Grant funding to purchase trackable coins and build their Geo-Adventure!

Want to try something new this summer? Head to Hudson’s Hope and complete their Geo-Adventure! For more information on geocaching in Hudson’s Hope, visit the District’s geocaching website. For more information about geocaching, join the world’s largest treasure hunt!

If the success of geocaching in the District of Hudson’s Hope has you thinking about active living projects for your community, get your project ready for the next round of IMAGINE Community Grants! The next call for applications will be September 19, 2016.


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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IMAGINE grant: CHAAPS Summer Camps

Two horses with riders in riding arena.

The Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activity Program Society (CHAAPS) gives people living with mental and physical disabilities the chance to interact with horses, providing participants with all sorts of health benefits!

If the bond between rider and horse is understood anywhere in northern B.C., Quesnel is certainly a top candidate. Host of the Quesnel Rodeo – one of the largest annual rodeos in Western Canada – the town is also home to events by the Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activity Program Society (CHAAPS), a group that highlights the same relationship you’d see at the rodeo, but with slightly less fanfare and a very different purpose. CHAAPS gives people living with mental and physical disabilities the chance to interact with horses, providing participants with:

  • Physical and mental exercise and stimulation in a safe and secure environment
  • Education and hands-on experience handling an animal
  • Emotional well-being

It also offers the bond mentioned above. “The companionship of animals decreases loneliness and stimulates conversation,” said Angela Mezzatesta, program director with CHAAPS, “By encouraging touch and giving program participants a responsive animal to work with, interaction with them motivates physical reactions that are very necessary and important in humans. Many times, animals give attention to a person who otherwise might not receive as much. They stimulate exercise, encourage laughter, and facilitate social contact. These benefits add up to an improved sense of well-being.”

Two girls grooming a horse with support from adult.

CHAAPS is making a difference in the community! What types of initiatives support healthy communities where you live?

A recipient of a 2014 IMAGINE grant, CHAAPS operates on a shoestring budget, providing a series of summer camps as well as daily riding sessions to its participants. Regardless of budget, the program is clearly making a difference in the community, one person at a time. “The program helped an 8 year old girl develop patience, build empathy and awareness, and care for others,” said Angela, “Her mother says she’s seen her daughter grow from coming to CHAAPS, telling us:

She sits – this is hard for her – on this horse and is in control of this big thing. It’s living so she can feel it breathing. She has to concentrate her attention – which is very short – and she does this when she is riding. We haven’t been able to get her to do this in other settings. This improves her focusing ability, which is one of our goals. By coming here, she’s learned to be gentle and take care of animals, not scare them. Attending the program has helped her to settle down and be more mindful of living creatures and this is now transferring to others who are around her.

Woman in wheelchair petting a horse.

CHAAPS has been making a difference through therapeutic riding programs in Quesnel since 2008.

Helping people in Quesnel since 2008, CHAAPS is a certified member of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA), a registered charity that promotes challenge, achievement, and empowerment for children and adults with disabilities through the use of horses. CanTRA also provides education and instructor certification and offers accreditation to therapeutic riding centres. Additionally, CHAAPS is a member of the BC Therapeutic Riding Association (BCTRA) and the Horse Council of BC (HCBC).


About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to introduce an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Project Assistant in Health Promotions. He started at Northern Health in October of 2013. Mike grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007, when he moved here to pursue a career in radio. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching sports, reading, and ice fishing. His favourite thing about the north is the slower pace of life and the fact that he no longer has to worry about traffic every morning.

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IMAGINE: Legacy Grants – Deadline Extended to July 11

IMAGINE grantsLast month, we told you about the great opportunity to apply for an IMAGINE: Legacy Grant (see previous post). You have one more week to send us your applications – the deadline has been extended to Friday, July 11!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for northern B.C. communities, schools, organizations and individuals of all ages to be inspired by the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and apply for funding towards a health promotion or disease/injury-prevention project that will help improve health through physical activity. Apply now! As a reminder, here are the details:

What are IMAGINE: Legacy Grants?
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northern communities and their residents, which will last beyond the two-week event in Prince George and Northern B.C. – where they live, work, learn and play.

Types of IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available:
In the spirit of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, we are asking for health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects with a focus on physical activity that may also include other key health promotion goals including: injury prevention, tobacco-free communities, healthy eating (HE), active living (AL), HEAL for Your Heart, prevention of problematic substance use, HIV prevention, harm reduction and chronic disease prevention.  For more information, please visit our IMAGINE Grants site.

The grants fund health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects that:

  • Focus on physical activity and at least one other key health promotion goal – considering the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and how the Games can be leveraged to inspire community health
  • Last – your project has a good chance of living on after the funding ends
  • Make a difference – your project will broadly impact community in a positive way
  • Reduce health inequities – your project will help support those who are disadvantaged or marginalized
  • Build relationships – your project will help people connect to each other and their community and share successes
  • Support collaboration & partnerships – your project will encourage diverse groups to work together toward a common goal
  • Improve health – your project will reduce the risks and impacts of chronic illnesses and injuries

Deadline for applications has been extended to July 11, 2014. Apply now!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.

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