Healthy Living in the North

“The village helped to raise our child”: A Smithers family reflects

Young man sitting in a restaurant wearing a Sport Chek uniform

With the support of a microboard and various community members, Jesse recently joined the workforce in Smithers.

When you walk into Sport Chek in Smithers and see Jesse Clegg unpacking garments and hanging gear, you may not realize the significance of that moment.

You may not realize the number of people, programs, time, and advocacy that created that moment. You may not realize that moment wouldn’t have been possible just ten years ago, or that it shines a light on some ongoing challenges facing families. You may not realize that what you’re seeing is a powerful example of a healthy family supported by a healthy community.

And this is exactly why Jesse’s story is so important to share.

“When you have a child with a disability,” said Anita Clegg, Jesse’s mother, “there are no days off.” Jesse, now 21 years old, was born and raised in Smithers. Jesse has Down syndrome and, throughout his life, the Clegg family was committed to breaking ground in the community. “We put ourselves and Jesse out there,” shared Anita, “because it was important for us to show that everyone has abilities. As people learn more and connect with Jesse, we’ve seen shifts in thinking.”

When Anita says that “the village helped to raise our child,” this is not a cliché. While Jesse’s parents continue to assume a strong advocacy role, the impact of community members, organizations, and businesses on Jesse’s life is profound.

Consider the local bowling alley …

“Anything round that moved, Jesse was on it!” said Anita. “So bowling was a good fit. Jesse couldn’t start with Special Olympics until he was a teenager so, when he was 10, we asked about joining the town league. The bowling alley was very supportive and Jesse joined a team with typical kids. One year, he was the high scorer for the teen youth league! Jesse still loves to bowl and the bowling alley is a safe, welcoming, and familiar place for him.”

… and the pediatrician …

“Our pediatrician truly went to bat for Jesse. He understood Jesse’s needs, made connections that others wouldn’t have made, and helped to advocate for Jesse from birth right until he turned 18.”

Young man holding a wrench

In addition to being an artist and photographer, Jesse has taken up industrial iron furniture making.

… and the family friend …

“Safe and reliable respite is so important for families,” shared Anita. “We were very fortunate to have a family friend offer to take Jesse one day each week, starting in his last year of high school. They started out by just playing cards with me around but now they spend the afternoon together. Jesse has dinner with her family.”

… and the local business owner …

“Jesse is now in the workforce,” said Anita, “and that involved a lot of people coming together. It was a lengthy process but well worth it! When we told Jesse that the employment plan was going to be possible, his exact words were: ‘Everything is perfect!’ This process started with Jesse’s microboard (nine family members and community members) working with Jesse to create a picture of his skills, interests, and strengths. Jesse shared that he’d love to work at Sport Chek – which came out of the blue to us since he’d never been there! Our local WorkBC office asked the manager if they’d be interested in a supportive employment opportunity. The manager instantly said yes and went even further, integrating Jesse as a full team member, without a support person. His colleagues trained him and have been fantastic – many of them knew Jesse from school.”

Young man sanding stool top.

Jesse puts the finishing touches on a bar stool he built.

These supportive community experiences, however, also point to some of the challenges that Jesse’s story illuminates:

  • Access to health and social services is an important determinant of health. Unfortunately, Jesse’s pediatrician – whose role cannot be understated – recently retired. Anita identified this, along with some other changes to local social service delivery, as a challenge.
  • Respite for families is crucial. The Cleggs benefited from the generosity and support of their friend. Unfortunately, Anita shares that funding for organized respite and semi-independent housing for young adults with disabilities is being spread thinner and thinner.
  • Jesse’s new work life is a fine example of how integration has made a huge difference for him. This hasn’t always been the case. As Jesse made his way through the school system, the Cleggs experienced both integration and segregation, often changing based on policy and funding. They chose to home-school Jesse for a period of time when the school system was unable to meet his needs.

What does this boil down to for Anita Clegg?

“Smithers is a wonderful place and an amazingly generous community. My son knows way more people than I do,” she laughed, “and people watch out for him. There are just a few missing pieces, especially for some of the day-to-day, nitty-gritty challenges of raising a child with a disability.”

Concepts like healthy and inclusive communities can be hard to define, but in Jesse’s case, they are clear and their impact is profound. It’s the friend offering respite, the welcoming bowling team, and the local business eager to offer him work.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

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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Overcoming challenges for physical activity

Crystal, outside physical activity.

Crystal, showing dedication and braving the Dawson Creek winter elements to fit some physical activity into her work day.

Fourteen years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that drastically turned my world upside down. Being active was something that was always important to me and now, at the age of only 20 years old, I was faced with learning how to live with a disease that affected my ability to perform even the simplest of everyday activities.

Working at Northern Health has been a good fit for me, but especially in managing my health. I have enough flexibility in the job that on good days I could be out in the field working and on bad days I could stay in the office. As time went on, I noticed that I started to spend more time in the office. As a result, I walked less and sat much more. Something needed to change.

In 2009 I made a life change. I stepped outside of my personal comfort zone and signed up for a 12 week boot camp at the local gym. I still remember that first day. I was so self-conscious about being weak and poorly conditioned. But, instead of giving up, I kept with it. I also hired a personal trainer. It was a learning experience for both of us as we figured out how I could modify the movements.

At Northern Health we are beginning to walk the walk and be the face of health within our communities and, as we have learned the last few weeks, workplaces are great locations to promote healthy living and integrate physical activity into daily life. I decided that I wanted to use what I had learned over the years and share it with my co-workers, so I created a contest.

In the winter of 2013, the Dawson Creek and Fort St. John health units challenged the Smithers and Terrace health units in the first ever internal Workplace Wellness “Healthier You Challenge.” This challenge was a fun, in-house 12-week pilot project designed around the Northern Health position papers. The focus of the challenge was to educate and engage staff on incorporating healthy lifestyle behaviours into their everyday routines.

Between the four health units, over 100 staff committed to the challenge. Each week I sent out a new worksheet that explained the week’s challenge. The “weekly” challenges were designed to get you moving and start thinking about healthy food choices.

The physical activity component was based on the key message that every move counts. This theme was carried over from week to week. Anytime an employee participated in any form of physical activity for 10 minutes or more, they logged that into their worksheet and gained points for their team. Participants also gained points for every kilometre travelled and/or steps that they took for the day. I got lots of motivation from B.C.’s Physical Activity Line.

The food challenges were based on Canada’s Food Guide and provincial initiatives. These changed week to week. Examples included eating vegetables and fruit, and reducing the amount of trans fat and high sodium foods that were consumed.

One of the big successes of the challenge was the creation of the “Break Challenge.” During the challenge, employees were encouraged to participate in some sort of physical activity for 15 minutes while at work. Each day a group of staff from the Dawson Creek Health Unit could be found outside walking around on their coffee breaks. It was common on the really cold days to find staff lunging, frog jumping, or walking in the hallways. At the end of Week 1, employees had participated in 342 physical activity breaks, 306 hours of physical activity, and had walked 2097 kms.

At the end of the challenge I surveyed participants, asking them what they liked best about the challenge and what changes they had made in their workplace as a result of the challenge. Some of the comments were:

  • Breaking down the challenge week by week made it feel more manageable and seem less daunting. I also liked the fact there was a different challenge each week.
  • For me the best part of the challenge was the joining of the individuals in our health unit to challenge each other in a supportive environment.
  • Able to critically look at the everyday and identify small opportunities for positive change vs. drastic and likely short lived changes.

This is the challenge that I developed for my fellow co-workers. It was fun and really got people engaged. For more information on some of the weekly challenges, or to find out which health unit won bragging rights, make sure to keep an eye for my future updates on the Northern Health blog. Alternatively, if you are looking for a workplace wellness program that your workplace can join, we encourage you to look at the Canadian Cancer Society’s Wellness Fits program.

Crystal Brown

About Crystal Brown

Accepting a position as an Environmental Health Officer with Northern Health, Crystal Brown moved from Nova Scotia to Dawson Creek in 2004. Since then, Crystal has developed an interest in health promotion and how our built environments impact our health. As the B.C. Branch President-Elect since 2011, Crystal works provincially and nationally with the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors to promote the mission statement and maintain the integrity of public health. In this, she also participates in initiatives that will help to strengthen and advance the profession. To stay active, Crystal attends a morning outdoor boot camp, runs and walks her dogs. In August, Crystal participated and completed her first ever Emperor's Challenge in Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

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