May 4, 2021 | Mental Health, Research and Innovation, Community and Partnerships
Hello and welcome to another month and a busy one at that. This month we celebrate our Doctor’s on May 1, our nurses the week of the 10th and our ongoing Mental Health this week during National Mental Health Week.
The theme of this year’s mental health week is #GetReal with how we feel; recognizing the importance that naming our emotions has on our mental health. It’s a hard thing for most of us to do. In my many discussions with our teams, my friends and my family and loved ones, I often notice that we adults don’t always have the vocabulary or the right words to attach to our emotions. Think about it? When asked “how are you” how quick are we to respond “good” or “ok”?
Good isn’t an emotion, folks.
Part of our work as a hospital specializing in mental health and addictions is in promoting good mental health and talking about it honestly. Further more thriving in an uncertain world means that we have to start putting the appropriate words to our feelings and understanding what they mean. That’s what this week is all about; encouraging us to do this and that is what I am hoping you all will do.
So, you may ask how do I feel? Well, I read a really good article a few week’s back that sums up pretty accurately how I’ve been feeling off and on over the past few months and perhaps will introduce a name to an emotion that is a bit unfamiliar to you as it was to me.
The word is languishing. Languishing is feeling somewhat joyless and aimless – feeling blah. I encourage you to give the article a read, you may even discover something in it that resonates for you. Key in the article is the suggestions on how to beat those languishing blahs – some of which I have already introduced into my life. An important quote from the article is this, “Even if you’re not languishing, you probably know people who are. Understanding it better can help you help them.” Isn’t helping each other what we’re about here at HDGH? So being real with how we’re feeling is the first step to us all helping each other to be healthier, happier and more productive team members. A goal we can all get behind.
With that, I am happy to introduce a very special guest blogger this month who gives us a real inside view into the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with being a caregiver to a loved one with mental illness. Clementa is a member of our Mental Health and Addiction Patient and Family Advisory Council, a stand-up member of this community and also a very talented writer (as you will see :)
Thank you Clementa for your honesty is this month’s blog and for all you do for our hospital and for our clients/patients.
When was the last time you experienced a strong emotion? I bet that intense feeling was tied to a person. You might agree that those closest to us – parents, partners, siblings, children – have the deepest impact on our emotions. That person for me is my sister. We will call her Simi in this blog. Simi was unlucky (could have easily been me) to inherit a mental illness from our late mother. She was diagnosed in her teens and I have been her sole caregiver since I was a 2nd year undergrad student. I’ll be 35 this August (at least on paper – I’m still 20 in my mind). So it’s been a long journey!
The best way I can describe what it means to be a caregiver is by using a roller-coaster analogy. Imagine you’re on a roller-coaster ride even though you’re terrified of heights. The ride is fast and turbulent. You’re in constant panic, your stomach is in knots, you feel nauseous, anxious, and worried all the time. Sometimes, the ride slows down, and you feel better but also uneasy as you know it won’t last and you’re in constant anticipation for another unpleasant trip. Your loved one is also on the same ride. Unlike yours, their seat is falling apart, their seatbelt is not working properly, and their fear of heights is even greater than yours. So, in addition to your own discomfort, you are concerned with the far worse situation your loved one is in. You want to help and to alleviate their fears, but most times you feel powerless. And the ride goes on and on…
As most caregivers, I have been, and will continue to be, on this roller-coaster of emotions. I’ve had ups and I’ve had downs. I’ve felt sad, overwhelmed, alone, anxious, worried, frustrated, and tired. Oh, and this is while managing a career, sessional teaching, and volunteering on top of being married and along with additional personal responsibilities. How have I managed all this? Through continuous learning, patience (lots of it) and resilience. When I reach those moments of intense negative emotions, I strive to remember an Ojibwa saying: “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky” reminding me that this moment in time shall pass. I have also realized the importance of advocating, using lived experiences to support and encourage change. This is the reason (along with wanting to advocate for the outstanding outpatient programs the hospital manages) I joined Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Mental Health & Addictions Patient & Family Advisory Council.
Caregivers to loved ones experiencing mental illness are often an invisible group. The Council gives us a voice, a medium to advise on mental health and addictions care at the hospital. The Council is also leading, in collaborating with the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Windsor, a Caring for the Caregiver project. We have just concluded a community needs assessment where we learned about the needs and experiences of caregivers to adult loved ones living with mental illness or addictions in Windsor-Essex. I’m proud to say that Bell Let’s Talk featured our project on their social media and we also received a research grant! Now, we will use the data to inform the content of a Caring for the Caregiver Conference scheduled for this fall – stay tuned! We will also publish the research and share the findings with the hospital and its partners. The countless hours spent on this initiative and institutional support at the leadership level is evidence that the organization is committed to supporting caregivers and sees the value we bring to the healthcare space through our commitment to our ill loved ones. As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words” and HDGH has certainly shown their support through their actions. As a caregiver this is heartwarming. Navigating complex healthcare and other government services is exhausting so it’s fantastic to see the amount of support this project has received. A huge shout out to Dr. Jennifer Voth, Patrick Kolowicz, and Erica Colovic! As well as to Dr. Edward Cruz at the University of Windsor.
Long term caregiving leads to increased stress and burnout which impacts the health of the caregiver as well as the amount and quality of support we can provide to our loved ones. The burden of care is on us (at least those of us able or willing) for numerous needs that our loved ones have and most of us are struggling with this immense but important responsibility. Coupled with challenges in accessing quality and continuous care for our loved ones, this can become overwhelming. For me, seeing an organization such as HDGH recognize this and do something about it is commendable. Which brings me to the last important emotion in this post: gratitude. As I continue providing support to Simi, I am grateful for the support that HDGH is providing me and fellow caregivers. It certainly makes the roller-coaster ride less bumpy.
Apr 5, 2021 | Community and Partnerships
What a spring we are already having! The weather has been glorious with great temperatures, lots of sun and the prospect of a wonderful growing season for those of us who like to garden (or even those of us who enjoy others gardens because we’re too lazy or not terribly good at gardening ourselves). My thought is that this summer I want to create a raised garden bed in my back yard to break up the ugly lawn we have (hubby loves the lawn – me not so much). Up to this point, my dreams of garden-glory are merely that, a dream or an idea. I will definitely have to take some concrete steps to move it out of the idea phase and into reality. Truth is, there is no chance that I’ll be seeing some lovely flowers, butterflies and birds in my backyard unless I set forward a plan to make it happen. My garden will not just magically appear. It will require some thought, an action list and probably a few Home Depot purchases to bring this garden into a blossoming reality (pun intended.)
This notion of wanting something, dreaming of something, hoping for something being a wonderful time waster or nugget of optimism is great, but sadly this is nothing more than a time-waster if you’re actually wanting to experience it firsthand. The notion of turning hope into action, transformation and change is the theme of April’s blog.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what we all hope for as we begin to see the end of the pandemic and I’ve talked to our HDGH staff about this as well. Some common themes during these conversations have been:
Personally, I’m looking forward someday hopefully soon to bringing my grandchildren to the movies, taking my grandson bowling, my granddaughter to get her nails done and maybe a dinner with friends that I’ve missed seeing for this past year. I particularly want to have my extended family at my home this summer to finally have the celebration my mom asked us to have in her final instructions to us – we haven’t been able to do that for her or for us. We, like other families, need to close that chapter and come together to remember someone we miss terribly.
Hope – it’s a wonderful thing and the one feeling that is never final. We’ve all begun to let our hopes grow and talking more about what we will do when the pandemic is finally over.
But here’s the thing with hope – it’s not a plan folks. Hope alone won’t get us to the end of the pandemic. Hope won’t get us on airplanes. Hope won’t allow us to gather to say goodbye to those we’ve lost, to celebrate or walk into a grocery store without a mask. While important, Hope is NOT enough.
We need a plan of action. What can we do? What will we do? What will YOU do?
One thing we need to do is get vaccinated. I know that some of you will read this and say I have no business telling you what to do and that’s true. I’m not talking to you as a hospital CEO who, has quite honestly, had her fair share of professional and personal challenges over this last year. I’m talking to you as one hopeful, action-oriented person to another. I’m asking you to go from hoping for better times, to taking action into making those times part of our shared reality. We all need this to end and for those of us who are able to get the vaccine, this is one sure action to take for much more manageable day-to-day living.
If you have questions, ask them.
If you have concerns, raise them.
If you are afraid, talk to your physician or health care professional.
With so much misinformation about this virus out there, local partners, including HDGH, have come together to support www.WEVax.ca – a central source for all things vaccinations. Whether you want to find out if you are eligible, how to book an appointment, locations of clinics, parking, transportation, etc. you will be able to find it on this website.
On March 25, 2021, I was fortunate to be joined by three of our HDGH physicians, Chief of Staff, Dr. Andrea Steen, Dr. Jeff Cohen, Program Medical Director of Restorative Care and Dr. Don O'Neill, Occupational Health Physician to discuss vaccine hesitancy. The webinar is available here should you want to learn more about the vaccines and have some of your questions answered.
While there is always space for hope and optimism, those feelings must be met with our own inherent ability to makes choices and to act. We are not out of the woods on our COVID days. How we get to experience our tomorrow, will very much depend on our actions of today. As one of those actions, I write to you with an encouragement to get that shot, probably one of the most important shots you will have taken in a long while. Let’s together begin to heal from our shared experiences brought on by this virus – what an exciting tomorrow that will be.
Feb 3, 2021 | Leadership, Community and Partnerships
Well, we have officially made it through the first thirty-one days of 2021 after a year that already seemed never-ending at times. I am happy to be writing to you all today at the start of a new month in this new year that brings fresh opportunity, new insights and a hopeful perspective if we are willing to recognize it.
In this month’s blog, I welcome a new guest blogger who has been a big part of our organization for some time now. Mrs. Bethe Jarcaig, the Chair of the HDGH Foundation Board of Directors, is someone who you will read below is a loyal ambassador for our organization; a leader living and breathing the mission and vision of HDGH. It’s important for you all to learn more about Bethe and the role of our HDGH Foundation in order to begin to understand the adjustments, creativity, and unique changes that have been required from a fundraising perspective since the onset of COVID-19. More today than ever before, the funds raised through our Foundation are required to help support our patients/clients and their loved ones. Our community has supported us through the pandemic (and before) and in turn we support many in our community that need us now and into the coming year or more. Bethe along with the members of both our hospital and Foundation Board are incredibly dedicated volunteers. They give one of the most valuable gifts a person can give – time. This gift of their time allows us here at HDGH to have the potential to change lives and that is exactly what we do together. Thank you to Bethe, to our HDGH Foundation Board along with our loyal and dedicated donors for making this time in our collective history a little brighter. You truly are the gift that keeps on giving.
Stay warm, safe, and healthy,
There is no doubt that hospitals are being put under increasingly unprecedented fiscal pressures. Recently, the Ontario healthcare sector has undergone significant modifications. One area that has not changed is the importance of philanthropy for hospitals, and how many hospitals use a separate fundraising foundation to implement their fundraising strategies.
The Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare (HDGH) Foundation has adopted this model which allows us the ability to maintain local fundraising efforts. Together, we function as a bridge between the hospital system and the community. Our mission is to be “a trusted foundation transforming healthcare and cultivating a healthier community through generous giving.”
Our Foundation Board of Directors is comprised of diverse individuals, each with critical skills and knowledge, entrusted to care for the foundation’s philanthropic resources. We are the Ambassadors of HDGH, by sharing information, identifying donor opportunities and spreading the word about the hospital and foundation. As Directors, it has been some of the most challenging, most humbling, and most fulfilling work we’ve ever done. But mostly, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. My role as Foundation Board Chair has allowed me the pleasure of working collaboratively with our Directors, leadership and stakeholder groups, bringing us closer to our community enhancing HDGH’s ability to serve the people of our Windsor-Essex community – YOU!
We have been so fortunate to have so many incredible Windsor-Essex donors. Their generous support has made a meaningful difference to the patients and clients of HDGH. I would be remiss to not mention some of these donors in this blog as they have been instrumental in not only helping us carry forth our mission but also in supporting us through a challenging year on so many fronts.
With that, thank you! Thank you to the Klundert Family of BK Cornerstone, who in the spring of 2020 supported our Foundation with a $190,000 donation from the sale of a home built exclusively to sell for charity. Along with the continued support from Anita Imperioli and In Honour of the Ones We Love, these funds will go to our mental health programs at HDGH.
Thank you for the ongoing active support on our campus from our friends at T2B. Not only have T2B been instrumental in supporting our palliative program for many years but they also donated 24 iPads before the holidays to ensure patients on this unit could stay in touch with their loved ones during the pandemic. They also went as far as recognizing our staff, who have continued to persevere, in gifting each nursing floor with a lovely Tim Horton’s gift basket.
In Honour of the Ones We Love, Anita and your team, we are grateful. Thank you doesn’t seem to suffice. You have been a supporter, a believer, and active members of our HDGH Family and Foundation since day one. You have gifted blankets, keeping palliative patients warm on their darkest of days. You have partnered on events and even designated funds from some of your own. You have provided our staff, visitors, patients and their loved ones a place to sit and nourish through the In Honour Café in the Emara Building and breakfast to some of our community’s most important - our RCC Children. HDGH is better, stronger and healthier because of you.
Dr. Lillian Mok and Family support our RCC programs in a profound way and we look forward to working closely with the Mok Family to help enhance the programs and services provided by their very generous support.
Mr. John Viecelli your passion to make Windsor-Essex and its residents just a little happier is contagious. You have gifted us with a generous donation where we look forward to sharing the details in the upcoming months. It has been a true pleasure getting to know you and your wife, Lia.
To the Solcz Family Foundation. Your grant in supporting the Breaking Free program and those struggling with substance misuse will change lives. Your legacy of giving to this community is one so deeply rooted that you have made a family affair. You continue to add to the story of Windsor-Essex written together, by us all. Our Foundation is grateful to be a chapter in this story.
Finally, to our community. As the Chair of our HDGH Foundation, I have watched you rise with compassion, generosity and love. From PPE, to meals, snacks, signs, and strength, you have amazed us.
To conclude, I would like to encourage the readers today to please visit the HDGH’s Foundation website to learn more about some of the upcoming ways you can help us build a stronger, healthier Windsor-Essex. It can be as easy as purchasing online 50/50 tickets (happening now!)
As a true ambassador would do, my hope is that you see the opportunity for change, for movement, to raise up and continue to strengthen our footing, base, foundation - together, as one.
Chair, HDGH Foundation Board of Directors
Jul 31, 2020 | Mental Health, Leadership, Community and Partnerships, Faces of HDGH
YAC Group Shot
The last few months have been a testament to the fact that the world is ever changing in unexpected ways. But, it has also been a testament to the great importance of connection, conversation and community that is so crucial to us as human beings. Even before COVID-19 began to sweep across nations, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare (HDGH) recognized the importance of including youth in the conversation of healthcare, their healthcare and the future of our community’s healthcare. I am incredibly proud of this initiative which adds a tremendously important voice to the healthcare conversation – one that frankly is not as “loud” as it should be. You will read two such voices today as you hear from Kaitlyn and Kat – two remarkable young women who are the future of our community in so many ways. Courage, compassion, collaboration and resilience have already been asked for from these young people and thankfully they answered the call with oomph J Enjoy this months blog from our Youth Advisory Council (YAC) that speaks to an important aspect of our individual and collective humanity; the desire and the need for togetherness – of supporting each other – of being vulnerable and being human.
The Youth Advisory Council (YAC) was established in 2018 to provide all staff members of HDGH with feedback on hospital programs, services, new initiatives and community engagement from the perspective of youth of Windsor-Essex. Since its establishment, the YAC has grown to 14 dedicated members who all bring differing experiences, perspectives and knowledge to council discussions and initiatives.
YAC has been committed to volunteering within the community to build powerful relationships with other youth and organizations for youth. In addition to providing consistent feedback to all areas of HDGH and contributing to the social media channels, they are also currently in the process of beginning a new initiative, Wellness Through Grace. This initiative will allow students to have resources, knowledge and support to be able to better care for their own mental health, support their loved ones and guide others in the right direction when it comes to wellness.
Kaitlyn McCarthy and Katarina Kolobaric are the co-chairs of the YAC and have been members since its establishment in 2018. As co-chairs, Kaitlyn and Katarina share the role of oversight, guidance and organization for biweekly meetings, initiatives and community outreach. They feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work alongside the wonderful individuals that are their council members as they help build a better future for youth, by youth.
A Note from Katarina:
As an individual who is always going through life at full speed, the onset of COVID-19 was not an easy adjustment. Essentially everything that I had planned for the next six months, from concerts to conferences and all the extracurricular events in between, was cancelled. Life had come to an abrupt halt, making me skid from the speed I was going at and come to a complete stop.
In all honesty, the very beginning of the pandemic was the most difficult on my mental health. I didn’t really know what to do with myself or how to really comprehend the vast degree to which this virus was affecting the world. I felt very detached from everything and everyone and like I had lost my purpose. Without the hustle and bustle of in-person University, my lifeguarding job and my other various involvements, it came down to realizing I literally had no hobbies because I never had time for them. It took a little while, but I was finally able to start feeling like myself again. Though I intensely missed the ability to see my loved ones, to hug them and talk to them without it being through a computer screen, I made peace with what I had.
My mentality was always able to shift positively when I came back to the root of my gratitude - being so thankful for my health and the health of all those around me. Also, being thankful for technology and its ability to still give us some form of connection helped me get through the more extreme feelings of social isolation. What really helped me was establishing a routine. Making a list of a few things to do every day made me feel more productive and purposeful. Adding on other hobbies that I had dropped because of lack of personal time, like actually reading for pleasure, inspired me to seek other things that I could do, simply because they made me happy. Having hobbies and setting tasks for yourself is great, but doing nothing is fine too. I learned to be more kind and patient with myself when I just didn’t have the energy to do anything on certain days.
There is no right way to respond to a pandemic. It has been scary, frustrating and extremely taxing on everyone. Allow yourself to take all the time you need, give yourself credit for just getting out of bed. Appreciate the little things. If we can take away anything from this pandemic, it should be that we should always take the time to slow life down a bit. To not take for granted the things that we have and to spread more love and kindness to the people in our lives.
We will most likely never go back to the “normal” we had before. But, that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. We are most definitely capable of coming out of this stronger than ever - resilient and ready to take on the next challenge. Continue to become more in touch with yourselves and learn as much as you can. We are powerful beyond measure and will make it through this, together.
A Note from Kaitlyn:
In March 2020, I stood amongst 100 other nursing students waiting for a midterm to begin, shoulder to shoulder. I had just gotten home from Toronto where I shared a milkshake for dessert at a restaurant and watched a film at the theatre next to strangers. Days later, I said an indefinite good-bye to my closest loved ones and gathered with my family to watch the Prime Minister make his first address regarding COVID-19. In the beginning, it felt surreal, like normal would be back and I could pretend that nothing happened. But soon still hasn’t come.
In March I was prepared to care for my community in the midst of such uncertainty. As an aspiring nurse and a dedicated member of my community, I knew being on the frontlines was where I needed and wanted to be. I was hired in mid-March as a Patient Screener at Erie Shores Healthcare and then signed on to be part of their Migrant Worker COVID Outreach Assessment Team. While working, I finished up my semester of nursing practical experience and lectures, online.
Ever since the beginning, I have struggled immensely with things I never would have expected to struggle with. I miss not being able to hug my loved ones or be surrounded by people smiling, laughing and talking, in shopping malls or at school. I am the one to tell families that they can’t see their loved ones in the hospital and I am the one to give doctors and nurses their designated personal protective equipment for the day. I have held the hand of a young migrant worker through multiple layers of gloves as he was swabbed for COVID-19, pale with fear. I don’t handle all of it well, there are still many days I cry or shake with anger. However, there are also days that my cheeks hurt from smiling and my mind is at peace.
Driving past the supportive signs that line the roads on my way to work and seeing the posts on social media about community togetherness helps me get through the bad days. Having the time to connect with old friends over the phone helps me get through the bad days. Finally focusing on myself and doing things I enjoy like going for a walk, listening to old music, painting and being with those in my household helps me get through the bad days. However, what has helped me the most and what continues to help me the most is knowing that we are all in this together.
No matter what, we are all affected by COVID-19. It may be in different ways but, at the end of the day, we are all learning, we are all trying, we are all doing our best and we will recover from this, together. So, for those of you who are at a similar place as I am, my advice to you is to take each day one step at a time. Take this time to focus on yourself, reach out to others to encourage them and support your community. The world is not going to move on without you, we are the future of the world, we will move as it does. But, as you find yourself in the unknown; watch, learn and start to see how you can be the change as a generation of the future.
Jul 2, 2020 | Leadership, Community and Partnerships
I am 60 years old. Some days I feel every day of this age and others I wonder how it could possibly be that I’m the old lady my mom used to be. Some of you are asking “what is she talking about?” or/maybe (hopefully J) “wow she doesn’t look a day over 59.” lol
Age is relevant I think because this month’s blog is some advice for new grads from a mature, experienced, white haired grandmother and CEO – me. I’ve never written an advice column for grads before but this years’ graduating class (at all levels of education) is a unique one in so many ways. Graduates are setting off into a whole new, and somewhat uncertain, world. With this reality, we thought some advice might be helpful. To all the grads out there reading this, take what resonates and leave all the rest behind.
Be Bold. Wow profound eh? I know many say this but what does it really mean? For me it means have the courage of your convictions and stepping up and speaking out. It has taken me a long time to get to the place where I know that I MUST speak out on issues and concerns that hurt my heart. For too long I’ve felt that my job, my role, my profession, my own insecurities about being criticized or shut down was more relevant than speaking out for what I believe. Don’t be me – be you. Be bold and audacious. Speak out loudly and strongly. Find friends who believe what you believe and be part of a movement for change because we all know (even us old folks) that we didn’t do it well and you have work to do to make it better.
Be a change maker. This one is super important. The world is in a mess. We have children with no homes, families with no food, people with no hope, cities with no diversity, countries with no leadership and the world with no real plan to save ourselves. But everywhere there are people who are trying to change this and make it better. Be one of those. If all you can do is support, then support. If you can march – march. If you can be an organizer for change – organize. If you can lead a movement – lead. Whatever you find in yourself that can make the world a better place, share it broadly. We all need you to do that.
You’re all graduating and starting a journey. I hope you have a destination in mind but if not, don’t worry, life has a way of leading you where you need to go. Most of the building blocks of the people you will become are already there. Some of those blocks are strong and firmly embedded because of the love and support you have had from your family. Some of you however have not had that positive family experience and you will have to look to build that strength within yourselves and the people you choose to make your family. Choose wisely and be selective. The hundreds of “friends” you have on your social media channels are not the people that will help you as you build out your life and your future. Find the few that care – the few that love you no matter what – the few that will stand by you when you mess up – the few that know how to forgive. Those are the ones that will help you to build your foundation. The rest are entertainment.
Maya Angelou wrote that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I try to live my life with this in mind. I didn’t always – for too long I felt that my words were important and my accomplishments mattered. I know now that when I die the people who will remember me will be the people who loved me and who I loved in return. That is what truly matters grads – loving and being loved in return.
Now go be the change I know you will be J
May 11, 2020 | Leadership, Community and Partnerships, Faces of HDGH
Mar 2, 2020 | Community and Partnerships
This month’s blog is written by a colleague and friend Leigh Vachon who is currently serving as the ED for Victoria Manor. She writes from a unique perspective that I personally have learned from and hope you will as well.
In this blog she talks about connections and community and the importance of both. I can say that for me what resonates the most is how privileged I am – and I was – to have both connections and a sense of community in my life. I have managed through some challenging personal and professional times because of both. I am grateful that Leigh is one of my close connections and that I am fortunate enough to be in her community of friends, supporters and colleagues. Enjoy!
I am of a certain age where I say things like “I remember when…” nostalgically, somewhat wistfully when I recall my childhood. The idea that things were better than they are now is problematic. Not only is it statistically inaccurate globally, but also said from a place of privilege. For those who are marginalized and disenfranchised, the past is not a time to be remembered fondly. Still, for many of us it’s not so much remembering our own childhood experiences with nostalgia, it is instead a fond remembering of the places and people we knew.
Childhoods are times of wonder and innocence but for many of us they are also times of trauma and of adversity. But even at its worst of times, we will recall the communities within the larger community where we grew up as our safe spaces, be it with neighbours, shopkeepers, librarians, lifeguards or bowling team coaches, all being ones who cared for us, invested in us or sheltered us. Sometimes it was our own homes that were not safe. I remember some of the families of my friends, how their home lives were so different than my own, and for some of them being at our house with my Mom was their safe space.
As an adult, with a child of my own, and a childhood full of memories of her own, I am very aware of the differences in our childhood recollections. We have one set of neighbours to our left that we know well, but she has never played with any neighbourhood kids, she has not walked to a corner store with her friends and a fistful of change to spend. She hasn’t played outside until the streetlights came on. I miss that for her.
When I say that I remember that time nostalgically it’s much about the freedom from the stresses of adulting, but it’s also about a time where I felt connected to my Ottawa Street community. A time when I knew, if not by name but by face, the people I shared the sidewalk with. We watched out for each other. My grown up life doesn’t even have sidewalks.
I have been the Executive Director of Victoria Manor Supportive Housing for many years. My inward view is of many low-income people (114 as of today) struggling with mental and physical illness, some with substance abuse issues, many with histories of profound trauma. My view looking outwards from this inner-city home is much the same; poverty, untreated and unsupported health issues are glaringly juxtaposed against the beauty of this historic neighbourhood. Substance abuse and crime rates continue to climb as governments, social serving agencies, institutions and community advocates all try to apply pressure to the wound of social disconnection.
It’s an oversimplification to say that the causes of our societal ailments is the loss of connection to our neighbours, but I do believe that the complex issues we are facing have been building on the shaky foundation of gutted communities.
With school closings, community centre and library amalgamations, malls and plazas and big box shopping developments, we streamlined and centralized, but we cut ourselves out of the lives of everyone around us. Convenience has replaced connection.
The loss of connection to each other, the loss of recognition of ourselves as part of a collective is what Clifford Longley calls "retreat from the common good." When we no longer know each other, it becomes easier to live individualistically, to perceive our needs through the singular lens of “mine.” We are not “us” anymore. Over time the lack of “us” has become a lack of compassion and a lack of social conscience. It makes it easier for people to steal from or to hurt each other.
Rebuilding and revitalizing communities is our greatest opportunity to alter our current upward trajectory in crime, homelessness and illness rates. We need to walk on those sidewalks and look directly into the eyes of those around us. No more heads down, just getting ours.
I have taught a Community Practice class at St. Clair College for the last few years and this idea of reconnection for change underlies every lesson I teach. Nakita Valerio wrote, "shouting 'self-care' at people who actually need community care is how we fail people." Community reconnection serves not only the common good, it serves each of us. Valerio goes on to explain “community care is a recognition of the undeniable cooperative and social nature of human beings and involves a commitment to reduce harm simply through being together.” It might be a cliche, but people do in fact need people.
I was honoured last semester to have Janice Kaffer, CEO of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare speak to my Community Practice students; much of what I have said here resonated throughout her presentation. Hospitals, like schools, like policing, have had to adjust their sails in response to shifting needs. We are losing people every day to substances, to homelessness, to illness, to loneliness; whatever our big institutions and public sectors were before they cannot remain. HDGH is committed to taking the work of the hospital outside of hospital walls. Access to services in the places people call theirs is a return to community members looking out for each other. Consistent and compassionate community outreach is giving people a face to recognize and in time, to trust.
I am proud to sit as a Director on the Board of Assisted Living Southwest Ontario (ALSO). Frequent collaborators with HDGH, ALSO has challenged itself to get people what they need, where they need it, creating a hub model of service called - communities of care. Along with Janice, Lynn Calder the Executive Director of ALSO, and several other innovative partners, have been connecting people to much needed supports, and reconnecting them to the idea that they are a valuable part of our community.
Because they are.
Not all of us are hospital CEOs or the Executive Directors of organizations, sometimes we feel like we don’t have the power to affect real change when we feel something is wrong in our communities. But what I believe is that the citizens of any community have the most power, they have the power to unite – our numbers are enough to make the changes we want to see. And of course that means voting, it means volunteering, it means learning and educating – it means active civic participation. The real power however is in how you treat the people. Meet your neighbours, say hello to strangers, do not let any service interaction pass without asking your server how they are today.
It takes some personal inconveniencing to reconnect disconnected communities, but I think it will be what saves us from a continued decline into incivility. And remember that our communities are not only comprised of those who we easily call neighbours it’s the people we pass on the sidewalks that may not live on our block but instead live on our streets.
Community means all of us.
Jan 2, 2020 | Community and Partnerships
Have you ever thought about what you would go back and change if you had the chance? I have - many times.
I guess my musings about this began when I was still pretty young - not really making too many decisions that I would later regret. I've always been fascinated by the idea of time travel; a fascination that began when I watched an old show called The Time Tunnel.
In the show, two scientists travel through time and go from adventure to adventure fixing issues that were awry. Imagine that idea for a moment - being able to go back in time and fix something you look back on with some regret. What would you go back and fix? For me, there is a long and somewhat embarrassing list of regrets; from fashion choices, to jobs and everything in between but one thing I would do for sure is go back and talk to my younger self and say "ask for help" - more specifically, ask for help in how to be a better mom.
I've talked to you before about this subject, and I've talked with my kids in more detail about how I wish I had been a better mom. I wish I had been more patient, not so sad and angry at times, and had made different decisions about work and finances. I wish I had asked for help when I was overwhelmed or flustered. I didn't though, and despite this, my kids are wonderful human beings whom I adore unequivocally. But maybe it could have been easier if I had reached out?
For some background, when my kids were little my hubby and I moved out of the Toronto area into a farming community. We purchased an old, ramshackle farm house on 50 acres of land; a hobby farm it was called. It was all we could afford at the time. After the excitement wore off from the "Green Acres" analogy we realized that this life was going to be hard. We had no family nearby. We had no friends. My hubby still worked in Toronto (a 90-minute commute one-way) and was often required to work extra hours. This meant that I was alone a lot. Money was tight or absent. Life wasn't easy.
Essentially, I had to figure “stuff” out on my own and I didn't always do a good job of it. I was young and there weren’t any manuals for how to be a great mom - no internet - no google - no smart phones. Being alone with my questions and my problems was tough and I really struggled to find my way. However, I worked hard to make friends - moms of other kids of the same age and with them I began volunteering at the school. I became the “hot dog mom” and “the head lice mom” and I can't tell you how many school trips I went on. It helped. A lot.
There was a local library with a librarian who ran a program for pre-school kids called Story Hour so I took little Kate and Matt to that before they began kindergarten. I became a Scout/Beaver leader, made more friends and met more and more people. We gradually became part of the community and with that, I found support in my parenting. It was good but there was a big gap - no professional help. I wish there had been.
If I could go back in time I would tell my younger me to find that help and sign up! And if it didn't exist I would tell younger me to work with the other moms to bring it to the community because in hindsight I now know so many of the other moms were struggling just like me. But - time travel doesn't exist - and maybe that's a good thing. Thankfully Triple P Parenting classes do.
Triple P – Positive Parenting Program is a collaborative community initiative made up of more than 20 organizations – HDGH Regional Children’s Centre being one. It is a parenting program for ALL parents. It doesn’t tell you how to parent but provides a toolbox of ideas and practical answers to everyday parenting concerns, similar to mine, which would have been a lifeline in those years when I needed it most.
The program prides itself on helping with whatever you need, no matter how simple or complex. It also is age specific and addresses concerns or common issues that come up among certain stages of our children’s lives.
These classes are free folks. Yes, FREE! They can be a light for parents trying to figure it all out. They can be the difference between looking back and focusing on your fashion choices and not your parenting choices. They can help when things seem insurmountable. These classes can make tough times easier and hard situations a little lighter. For more information and on how to register, visit https://www.hdgh.org/triplep.
These classes are for you; whether you are a new mom, (or dad), or you have five kids or one. Maybe you have adopted or are thinking of starting a family. Whether you’re a Beaver/Scout mom, soccer mom, Head lice mom, work a full time job, or you’re in school, it doesn’t matter. These classes will help you as they would have helped me. I think that- in an age and time of intense confusion, pressure and an abundance of information on being the “perfect parent” there are common goals which all parents can agree on. I personally believe that we aspire to raise productive, moral, healthy and happy children that become kind and compassionate adults. Despite my own struggles as a mom I am delighted that I achieved this goal and am now helping my daughter raise her own three kids.
We all want to be the best parents we can be. In our world today, we almost have the dilemma of too much (sometimes conflicting) information on how to raise a confident, kind and happy child. Thankfully this program, the Triple P, is one that will help. Check it out – you won’t be sorry you did. So friends, here’s to 2020! I hope for us all that the time ahead; the decade, the year, the month, the day and even the minute is one in which we are kind to ourselves; where we celebrate our successes and learn from our failures, and find balance in our lives! Take care all and if you find that time machine, remember to give me a call. Those sweaters from the 80’s could use a do-over :)
Dec 2, 2019 | Leadership, Community and Partnerships
I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately and what it truly means to have a positive impact on others. I think this subject is especially still top of mind due to HDGH’s recent launch of the iPledge campaign where I committed to 60 intentional acts of kindness in recognition of my 60 years on the planet. But to me, it’s more important than that.
It’s also very much about the season we’re in - a season of giving. Like most probably, it’s because of Christmas and Thanksgiving, two holidays where my own internal compass more naturally orients to others. So this month’s blog will highlight just that - kindness, giving and this internal compass can instead guide us all year long and not just only during special holidays.
Why be kind? What does it matter? Does anyone even notice? Does anyone even care? The answers are simple and complicated all at the same time. Yes, kindness is noticed and yes, it matters to a whole lot of people. But often it is a bit more complicated.
Kindness is sometimes mistaken for weakness.
Consider this quote by the Dalai Lama, “Don't ever mistake my silence for ignorance, my calmness for acceptance or my kindness for weakness. Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.” Think about how you define strength – does kindness, compassion and tolerance come to mind? If not, why not? How do you characterize strength? Do you think of a military-type figure or the type of strength demonstrated by the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa? What is your mental model of a strong person and do you believe kindness is a factor in that strength?
I personally believe that my own internal strength – that I have called on in many difficult years of my life – comes from a deeply rooted desire to make a difference for others. It’s why nursing was such a good fit for me as a career choice and why I believe I’m “home” here at HDGH.
One aspect of kindness for me is the personal orientation of giving of yourself to others; either in time, energy, acts of generosity and goodwill or dollars. I do all of these regularly, year round and with tremendous personal satisfaction. I wasn’t always in this place though – for a long time my “giving energy” was oriented to special events like birthdays and anniversaries and holidays like Thanksgiving within the family and Christmas for others in the community. Over the years, and as my children and my knowledge of the needs in our community grew, I became more oriented to a philosophy of giving year round. How you give of yourself will be personal and it should be meaningful. Perhaps you volunteer in the community, perhaps you foster children or animals, perhaps you donate to our Foundation, perhaps you are a regular contributor to your church, mosque or synagogue. What matters isn’t WHAT you do instead that you commit to GIVE of yourself to help others.
For this coming season and as you enter 2020, I encourage you to please consider being intentionally kind to someone else. When you do this please share it with me and others through social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or can even just simply use the hashtag #iPledgeChallenge) or by sending me an email. You can also drop by and tell me all about it when I’m ringing the bells for the Salvation Army kettle campaign on December 6th at 2 pm at Devonshire Mall (by Shoppers) …. I’ll be watching for you. I look forward to hearing all about your own experiences with the joy that comes from doing something for someone else.
I wish you all a happy and giving holiday season and hope that you find all the love and joy you deserve.
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