Changing the world one gesture at a time


Interview with Jocelyne Bernier
conducted by Claudette Lambert

Last December, Jocelyne Bernier, a community researcher and health care equality activist in Montreal, received the 2013 3M Health Leadership Award from Health Nexus. The award recognizes leaders who have made a major difference in the health and well-being of their community.

This national award, given out by 3M Canada and Health Nexus, honours individuals who inspire change in their community and who have made a significant contribution to community health.

Claudette Lambert: This award is providing wonderful recognition for your work just as you complete your mandate as coordinator of the Chair in Community Approaches and Health Inequalities at the Université de Montréal.

Jocelyne Bernier: I established this Chair with the Chairholder Louise Potvin. It focuses on community development and brings together institutional partners like the City of Montreal, United Way, the Public Health Branch and local inter-sectoral roundtables, which number approximately thirty in Montreal: Centre-Sud, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Saint-Michel, Montreal North, etc.

I would like to talk a bit about your career. You started out as a researcher, but you are a sociologist?

J. B.: Yes, I studied at the Université Laval, and my first job was with the study commission on laity in the Church led by Fernand Dumont. When I was younger, Dumont’s teaching had really influenced my thinking. I conducted research for the Dumont Commission on social organizations with ties to the Church in Lower St-Lawrence parishes.

What kind of ties to the church?

J. B.: There was the Bureau d’aménagement de l’Est du Québec (eastern Quebec planning office), which took a slightly soviet, top-down approach to planning. It would decide to shut down a village, for example. At the time, when a parish was poor, in a remote area, or lacked local businesses, people were displaced. That was the approach to planning back then. But people refused, because they were attached to their community. With the support of their community and clergy, some villages resisted, while others created logging cooperatives, grassroots collective development initiatives, to fight against top-down planning. I have always been inspired by this type of experience, where people take things into their own hands even when they have limited means and feel excluded from decision-making.

Did they have a big influence your career choice?

J. B.: I was already absorbed with social issues. I was interested in scientific research, yes, but I ultimately chose sociology. It was the height of the Quiet Revolution…

Everything seemed possible!

J. B.: For me, those initiatives were life lessons. I then worked at the Université de Montréal on labour training programs, but this turned out to be a big disappointment, because these programs were more about financing businesses than helping people who needed to find employment or train for better-quality jobs. So I decided to quit research and go to work for the public daycare network that had just begun to grow.

That’s a fairly radical switch! Why public daycares?

J. B.: I come from a family where my father had a grade 6 education. He started working on ships when he was 16. My brothers finished their cours classique, but when I got to grade 7, I was asked: “Do you want to be a schoolteacher or a nurse?” Jokingly, and because my mother was the daughter of the village doctor, I said: “Never mind nurse, I want to be a doctor.” And my parents said: “Oh, we never imagined that.” My parents were open-minded, so I completed my cours classique, which was the normal path to university. I tell this story because when I decided to quit research to work for the public daycare network, these daycares represented a tool that gave women access to the workforce. It was the 1970s. My activism focused a lot around women’s issues.

The feminist movement was very vibrant, very militant at the time.

J. B.: Yes, there were a lot of issues…Of course, the whole issue of abortion, and in legal trials, women never even sat on juries. So I got involved with the daycare network, which seemed to me the best way to help women escape poverty, find jobs, and raise a family with dignity. There weren’t as many single-parent families at the time, but domestic situations were more unstable. At Pointe-Saint-Charles, where I worked, I saw a lot of single mothers with low-paying jobs who wanted to support themselves and give their children a future. That’s how I went back to working in the field.

And by working in the field one can enact social change!

J. B.: I felt like research was good at labelling things, but never really reached the decision-makers. So, it was important to act. And to me, acting meant going back into practice to develop projects. Following my work in daycares, I arrived at the Pointe-Saint-Charles community clinic, which was one of the forerunners of the local community services centres (CLSC). The clinic started in 1967 and the first CLSCs dated from 1974. The community developed a number of social innovations. At that time, there were public clinics throughout Montreal’s poorer downtown neighbourhoods. The Point-Claire-Charles clinic was created by doctors from McGill University, but they reported to a board of directors made up exclusively of citizens. People would come for help with health and social problems. Again, I saw there was a limit to what an individual could accomplish, so I worked to develop group interventions. A group for teenage mothers, a youth coffee house, which we called the “café sans mur” (cafe without walls) – because at first we didn’t have a location – which became the Paradoxe cafe, a youth rehabilitation organization. The young mothers group found its footing. The older mothers set up a kind of mentorship and support system that led to a really interesting kind of development. These women, who at 20 years old already had three children, eventually became caregivers, a bit like a family caregiver, which is another issue that I became involved with. So I became a community organizer, working more in community development.

Your background as a researcher allowed you to set parameters to guide action.

J. B.: To move in the right direction, I had to reflect on the actions we’d already taken, identify their limits and figure out how to go beyond them. Those kind of organizations always experience growing pains, so I teamed up with Lorraine Guay, another prominent activist, and we took over the clinic with the board of directors. I was asked to manage the clinic and I stayed in that position for ten years. During that time, the boards of directors of the CLSCs underwent a transformation, with fewer and fewer places for citizens. I realized that this clinic was a community institution, in a neighbourhood that had benefitted from the work of the first community organizers, who were from the Church. Since the 1960s, it had enjoyed a long tradition of self-management and autonomy that still endures. The minister wanted to force integration on us. So we mobilized people, because I believed that this organization, which had been around since 1967 and was almost 27 years old, was a valuable development tool for the community, a real tool for autonomy.

It sort of belonged to the people and they had a certain degree of control over it.

J. B.: It was also a tool for empowerment. The board of directors included people on social assistance, and we faced enormous challenges, because we had to negotiate collective agreements with professionals. Try to imagine being on social assistance and negotiating the salary of a nurse who is earning twice or three times your annual income… We had to do a lot of educating, constantly train people, take a lot of time to explain the issues and help people make decisions. Staff hiring was done by professionals who would assess skills, but people from the community also had input with respect to values. The board of directors was an incredible public education tool. And with each reform to the health care system, the clinic came under threat, but it survived. Soon it will celebrate its 50th anniversary. And its board of directors is still made up of community members. So for me, that had a big impact on my career.

But you changed course again in 1997!

J. B.: I gave myself ten years! When you’re in the middle of the action, it’s hard to step back and take a critical look at what you’re doing. So I decided to go back to research and take time to reflect and try something new. I did ad hoc research for the United Way on projects like 1,2,3 Go, on child development, and I wound up at the Women’s Health Centre. You might say I came full circle, back to where I started … I worked a lot on family caregiver issues. These are mostly women caught between two generations, their parents and their children. I also worked with a Canadian network on the health care system’s impact on women.

In 2001, the Centre closed and I was hired by the Chair in Community Approaches and Health Inequalities. But this centre had to be built from scratch. I suggested that we get practitioners involved in our work and form research partnerships. We worked on local development issues and health inequality. For example, how is it that life expectancy in Saint-Henri is so different from that in Westmount, when they’re only one or two kilometres apart? And it’s quite the gap! Eight years! We needed to examine health factors, genetic factors, lifestyle, and community resources. The poorer you are, the more important it is to have local resources. This issue resonated with me too. Then we got together with the thirty neighbourhood roundtables to get them interested in the research program, and we also approached the City of Montreal, the United Way, the Public Health Branch… I formed a partnership and we developed research questions so we could document our findings systematically. This Chair was funded for ten years, until 2011. I then thought I would take my retirement, but I was asked to come on board a Canada Research Chair, which bears the same name. And that was my final move.

Does this Canada Research Chair have an impact outside the country?

J. B.: We have developed projects with Brazil, I worked with the Réseau Francophone International pour la Promotion de la santé [international French-language health promotion network] to develop tools for Francophone Africa to combat health inequality, which are available on the Web and elsewhere. We collaborate fairly closely with the International Union for Health Promotion and Education, which is active in Latin America, Africa and Europe.

How would you define the role of a community leader?

J. B.: A leader has to listen to people, understand their potential, and bring together their different strengths to open up new opportunities. I’m not the kind of leader who takes centre stage. Of course, I will intervene in certain situations, when a project needs be defended and developed, but in all my battles, I have tried to empower others. You know, when you haven’t been to university, you learn by experience, and you gain confidence through practice. Right now, I’m involved in community urban planning. Neighbourhood intervention is not easy. You have to engage in negotiations, sometimes meeting the mayor and various city employees who are responsible for specific files that affect quality of life, such as public transit, parks and green space, road safety, access to grocery stores and local services.

Anything that affects people’s daily lives!

J. B.: People with limited resources rely more heavily on local services. They use the neighbourhood library or sports centre, but they don’t go to the Bell Centre or the Grande Bibliothèque. Income gaps also make a difference when it comes to life expectancy.

When community stakeholders clash with mega projects, two different philosophies butt heads. One is focused on progress, profits, efficiency, while the other is concerned with quality of life. Is it possible to find a common language?

J. B.: The two points of view ought to converge, but that rarely happens. In Pointe-Saint-Charles, we led a highly-publicized fight against the casino’s relocation. Sometimes, developers present us with shiny, nice-looking projects, but they’re not always based on very thorough analyzes. The casino is a good example. They talked about putting Montreal on the international stage and bringing in foreign tourists, but a closer look revealed that the casino mostly attracted Quebecers. We all know that gambling can be a problem, primarily for families and the poor. They may have removed video lottery terminals from bars, but they wanted to bring the casino downtown, right into a poor neighbourhood. We worked on this issue with the Chinese community, which was very affected by gambling. We analyzed the project but we also mobilized the population. We circulated petitions and sought external support. The Montreal Public Health Branch released a report on traffic issues and rising housing costs. Often, projects planned from the top-down don’t take into account the local impact. Sometimes, we clash. In the case of the casino, we clashed.

It is very political, what you do…

J. B.: We don’t have a choice, politics dominate our lives. They influence development. And you know, in health, to develop sound public policies you have to act on every front: nurturing favorable conditions, supporting community activism and changing the way the health system is organized to include intersectorality. The people need to have their say.

Another negative example: the development of the Griffintown district in south-west Montreal. They forgot to reserve land for a school and parks. The ward now has to buy land at a very high price to provide these basic services. If the local population had been involved, it’s likely these issues would have been raised much sooner.

So on the one hand, we need the developers, investors, political leaders and creators, but we also need the grassroots to adjust the momentum to meet the real needs of the population.

J. B.: Top-down and grassroots stakeholders have to negotiate together in developing communities, if we want people who live in the city or a neighbourhood to bring their vision and contribute to a given project.

You have been a researcher, practitioner, volunteer, activist; so many different roles in your career, but they are all related. What is your perspective as you look back on your career?

J. B.: I think that one can never effect social change by working alone. I am interested primarily in society, in communities, but we need inspiring leaders at the forefront. It’s important to motivate the population, or else people get excluded. I have developed this vision over time. We have to reject inequality, and then transform this inequality. This is a big challenge for a society. It’s important to take a holistic approach and work with multiple stakeholders. Right now I’m chairing the board of directors of an organization called Communagir. I’m excited by the fact that it supports collective processes throughout Quebec — in Gaspé and the North Shore ― it helps communities work with elected officials and public servants.

And so you’re off to fight another battle!

J. B.: It’s all part of a continuum. It is important to “work with”, and not to “work for.” “Working with” is really the focus of community development.

Human beings first!

J. B.: Yes, and life lived in solidarity. We’re not alone. Humans evolved because we looked after each other. If you go back far in our history, it was impossible for any isolated individual to survive. Communities can be constraining, but they also hold great potential. We need to learn how to use communities to ensure people’s development.

Note: Health Nexus is a non-profit organization that increases communities’ capacity for health promotion by fostering inclusion, early child development and chronic disease prevention. Over the last 25 years we have helped health services workers and health promotion organizations develop and implement strategies to improve the health of their communities and ease the demand on health care and social services.


Helping people live with dignity – Interview with Joyce Rock


joyceJoyce Rock spent 13 years working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. A leading community worker for low-income persons, she was the Executive Director of Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, and was the recipient of the 3M Health Leadership Award in July, 2011.

This national award honours individuals who inspire change in their community and who have made a significant contribution to community health.

Claudette Lambert: Joyce Rock, what brought you to Vancouver?

Joyce Rock: Pure chance! In 1997, I thought I would take a short break and try living somewhere new for a while. I had studied in the U.S. and then lived in Paris and Amsterdam, but I didn’t want to go that route again. I had been planning to visit a friend in Vancouver, so I said to myself: “Well, why not Vancouver?” Soon after I arrived, I discovered the Downtown Eastside, the neighbourhood with the highest material poverty rate in Canada. Thousands of homeless people battle alcohol and drug problems and live with food insecurity because of their limited resources. They often are forced to panhandle and many visit food banks daily. I started working with them.

Before you became an Executive Director, you were a street help worker?

J. R.: Actually, my background is in film, in the great Direct Cinema tradition of Francophone Quebec, which promotes the value of listening to “others”, an approach that lets you see past surface appearances; and that influences everything I do. If I want to understand the lives of the people I work with, whether as a film maker or a street help worker, I have to earn their trust. People have the right not to trust me and say: “I don’t want you here.”

I’m a very curious person and I love people, but I’m a white, middle-class, educated woman. The people (I work with) aren’t like me, necessarily…I live in a small corner of the planet, but I know it is home to a wide variety of people. I don’t need to visit India or travel to the far reaches of South America to “find” myself, intellectually or spiritually. I can stay home, open my door, glance around, and say: “Look at all the differences in race, class, talent, outlook, spirituality, etc.”

Did you extend this respectful outlook to the people living in this poorest neighbourhood of Vancouver?

J. R.: Yes, but for me, I have to stress that material poverty does not automatically mean intellectual, spiritual, or emotional poverty. It’s not my place to label them as impoverished. I’ve always been a vocal critic of what I call the poverty mentality, which shapes and defines the charity model.

Can you explain that?

J. R.: The poverty mentality assumes that people who are materially poor are also poor in other respects. That is totally false! Also, the charity model takes an approach of: “Poor you! I have something to give you, I have knowledge to impart!” But it’s always this “I have…” business.

In middle class neighbourhoods, when people have money, they have the right to therapists, professionals, medications, nice soundproofed houses so their neighbours can’t hear them…this affords more privacy than day centres, parks, and sidewalks. The sidewalk becomes your living room when you’re a “roomer.” It’s easy for us to tell people lacking in financial resources that we know what they should do to change their lives. It’s absurd to think we save people.

In my work, I want the best and nicest workspace possible. For homeless people, for roomers who share a single bathroom and spend their days waiting in line to eat or see the doctor, the social worker…and who don’t have the option of making their own choices, I would like them to have the best, too.

No one ever asks them what they would like to eat! Most of the time, they’re not even told what’s for dinner. They’re instructed to just get in line, follow the rules, and they’ll get something to eat. And they’re expected to say thank you all day long. It’s devastating, soul-crushing to spend your day begging. But both as Executive Director and Community Worker, my job has always been to organize everything with the utmost respect, to make people’s lives easier and give them some independence. Sometimes, that just means making sure instructions are legible for people who don’t have glasses or posting a telephone number [on a wall] instead of forcing people to ask for it. Every day, these so-called “poor people” get pretty creative. They’re the ones who should decide when they’re ready to take whatever step might suit their needs. Once community workers like me have put things in place, we have to give them space to make their own choices and exercise some autonomy, which is their right as human beings. It’s important to create a little oasis of calm, a comforting, genuinely respectful space, not only with words, but through concrete actions. And maybe one day — or maybe not, it’s up to them to decide — they’ll be able to take certain steps. But it’s their journey, not mine, and I certainly can’t decide their path for them.

What circumstances led you to develop this approach that respects people’s dignity and gives them back their autonomy?

J. R.: I think it goes back very far, I understood at a young age that all was not right with the world. My older brother and I often reminisce about our childhood when we chat. We were an immigrant Irish family. Our father was born here, but he was a soldier in the Canadian army and was in London during the Second World War. My mother, like all good Irish women at the time, went to London to find a job and that’s where they met. Then they came to Ottawa, which is where we were born. So we lived the life of immigrants and grew up somewhat poor. My mother knew severe poverty in Ireland, and was forced to leave school at 13 to work in a factory. It was the same thing for my father here in Ontario, he was sent to work when he was still a child. Poverty had a deep impact on them, and my mother told herself “Never again!”

But the thing that influenced us most as children was that we grew up surrounded by people who had escaped the Nazis. We knew Jewish people who had survived the death camps. When you’re not even 10 years old, and you’re around people with numbers tattooed on their forearms who repeatedly tell you their story, that’s a lesson that stays with you for life. I don’t remember how old I was exactly, maybe five or seven, when I figured out the world was a sordid place and that we weren’t all equal. As a child, I didn’t have the words to express that, but as I grew up, I started naming these things. What kind of equitable relationships can we choose to build between us? How do we define what is equitable or non-negotiable? And how can we build positive human, personal, professional and social relationships?

These questions that haunted you, were they a big motivator for you?

J. R.: I was overwhelmed! I quickly learned how the world I lived in worked. My family weren’t big readers, but our copies of Life Magazine were full of great photo essays chronicling the goings-on in the U.S. I just had to transpose it [to my own context]. Here in Canada, the dominant discourse was silent on the fate of Aboriginals who had welcomed our ancestors arriving on their ships. We came from everywhere, and we were heirs to all the Aboriginal nations who were here already. I didn’t totally understand it, but I perceived that when society referred to Aboriginals, it did so judgmentally. I knew that they were poor, but maybe also dangerous…that’s all I understood as a child. I also had a vague sense of other social injustices in Ireland, South Africa, and Palestine, even though we knew a lot of Jewish people who were very proud of the founding of Israel. Not the Israel of today! But that’s another story! I grew up with these ideas in my head, and I already knew the world was not a nice place. We were told stories.

So your activism stems from this deep indignation you felt when you were very young?

J.R.:  Even as a child, I could not accept the world as it was. I felt this sense of urgency, which I still have, because for me, changing society is very simple: we just have to decide to do it. As patient as I am with people, I’m also impatient when the wheels of change are slow. So for me, founding the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House was a great thing, because this organization works directly in the field and uses food as a tool for community development. We made an effort to provide these people with dignified alternatives to the long soup kitchen lineups that can be so humiliating. We were able to establish rules, develop our philosophy.

Is it hard to find partners who will adopt your philosophy?

J.R.:  No! However, the people in positions of power, those who lead round tables in every sector of society and in politics, are all middle-class and overeducated. What scares me is that these leaders speak “their truth” rather than the [actual] truth. I’m afraid we’ll end up getting suffocated by middle-class niceness. If you can’t accurately analyze a situation and figure out how to form strategies to do things differently, it can be dangerous for the people you’re working with. In intervening, decision-makers often want to make other people just like themselves, and that’s a trap. That’s a mistake. This is why I find it so refreshing to work with people who don’t live a middle-class lifestyle, who are not at all pretentious. While we dance around a topic, they zero in on it because they don’t have any time to lose. Sometimes, in a meeting or debate, I’ll point out realities and call them out, and then as I’m leaving the room, people say: “I’m so happy you said that, because I also feel that way!” Each time, I say to myself: “Why don’t you have the confidence to say that out loud! That’s why you’re on this earth. To speak out about what you know to be true.”

You’ve put a lot of energy into reaching your goals, into enacting social change.  I imagine that you’ve achieved many of your dreams. Have you experienced any failures?

J.R.:  The only times I’ve ever failed was when I didn’t fulfill what I call my “personal duty.” I work with homeless people, but I cash two big cheques each month and enjoy a full range of benefits. I have a nice home. I have everything I need in life. But we’re not put on this earth to go shopping, or to collect friends or relationships. We’re here to learn how to live! And you can be 93 years old and still be learning how to live, how to change, how to evolve. I am not yet the woman I want to be, but I am much closer than I was ten years ago. Before, I would never have been able to do the work that I did in Vancouver. I wouldn’t have been ready. Seeing the pain and suffering of all these people on the street every day, it would have killed me to confront all that misery. I would have internalized it all. I would have made it personal. Even worse, I would have gotten in the way of their progress.

Why did you choose to make universal food security the central focus of your work with the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House in Vancouver?

J. R.: The human right to food is a determinant of health as well as a social determinant. I used food to open a channel to dealing with other issues. In this impoverished neighbourhood, I discovered a chilling reality: out of a population of 18,000 people, 12,000 do not have food security. This includes seniors of all races, children, drug users, and other people who, at 55 years old, only have a tiny apartment or even just a room in a shelter. Most of these 12,000 people depend on food provided by secular and religious non-profit organizations that are generally overwhelmed. The lineups are long and the donated food is often of poor quality. Why would people living in poverty want to eat this unappetizing food that we don’t even want ourselves? We know that every human being needs to eat every day, so why not offer them healthy food, a nice fresh peach, access to fresh water? Before trying to solve drug problems, why don’t we provide some of the basics, and sit and chat while enjoying a quality sandwich with a glass of water or juice? Food is an important factor in human interaction. We use food as a weapon everywhere in society. If you do what I want, you’ll get to eat, if you take that course, you’ll get to eat. What if instead we said: “Because you’re breathing, you’ll get to eat, end of story!”

Ultimately, food provides a starting point, a way to reach the whole person.

J. R.: Yes. In this Vancouver neighbourhood, we knew that community centres were already full, that there were specialized resources for a range of needs, but we wanted to communicate openly, regardless of people’s age, race, gender, or occupation. We thought that since food is a basic need, it could be a way to bring people together, and everyone agreed.

I find what you’re saying extremely interesting, but we don’t all have that calling. I would never have the courage to do what you do. How can your experience help us change who we are at work, in life, with our friends and family?

J. R.: I would say it’s the fear of the unfamiliar that stops us from opening up to other people. We relate to things that are similar to us. Everyone has the same basic needs, including the need to be loved. My parents could read, but they weren’t very well educated. Growing up, I noticed that when I started putting names to realities I didn’t understand, I became less afraid. My parents, on the other hand, remained fearful because they didn’t have the vocabulary.

In our society, people talk about addicts, junkies, hookers, and I’m allergic to that kind of language because every time you label a person, you diminish them. You take away 97% of who they are as a whole. A person becomes their label. Instead, I talk about what they do: people who use drugs, who work in the sex trade, etc. Yes, this takes a few more seconds [to say] each time, but it humanizes your neighbours.

Social change comes out of details. It doesn’t come out of laws, policies or procedures; it doesn’t come out of our nice, team-based decisions, it comes out of small gestures of respect towards one another. These small details start to slowly nurture real dialogue. They establish a space where, in the face of inequality, we can build equitable relationships, confront our fears and start to tear them down bit by bit.

James Baldwin, the African-American essayist and novelist, described morality in North America as the dream of security. He believed this security is based on the constant need to see someone worse off than ourselves, someone in trouble. That this comforts us in our security and helps us understand it. I think he’s right, to a certain extent.

You’re now back in Montreal working with homeless people in an organization called Sac à dos. Was it difficult to return to Montreal?

J. R.: No, not at all! I’ve moved many times in my life. One morning, I woke up and felt in my bones that it was time to go back. Three months later, I was back home, in Montreal, my adopted home. There is a lot to accomplish here, too!

Claudette Lambert is program director at Radio Ville-Marie.



A sit down with 2014 recipient Joy Finney


Picture of Joy FinneyJoy Finney, Community Health Promoter with the Woolwich Community Health Centre in St. Jacob’s Ontario is the most recent recipient of the Health Leadership Award. We discussed the Health Leadership prize with Joy as well as her vision on community health. Here is the summary of our conversation with this amazing health professional which one colleague has heralded as the “great network weaver”.

Firstly, congratulations on being recognized for your outstanding leadership Joy.

What was your initial reaction upon hearing the news that you had won the Health Leadership Award? What do you think about this idea of a prize that recognizes your work? I think you usually shy away from this type of attention do you not?

I was very touched. How can I describe it…? Words fail me really… I was very honoured. I was also very surprised. I knew I had been nominated but I was so impressed with the work of all the other nominees! To me, it was so impressive to see collectively all the extraordinary things that are being achieved every day in our province!

Why do you think you were chosen?

I think it’s because I work with an amazing group of kind and generous people for whom helping others is the most important thing. This prize is the expression of all this put together. I work with some amazing and wonderful people to whom I am very grateful.

People often quote the best leaders as being the ones who work diligently and quietly behind the scenes, far away from such accolades? What do you think about that statement? How do you relate?

When you asked me how I responded to the (Award) news, I would like to say this: it’s really easy to be passionate about the work I do every day and the people I work with. I would love to put the limelight and focus on them and their passion, instead of me… you have no idea! Receiving the award does allow me to give me the opportunity to speak passionately about them and what we do here in Woolwich.

I think what happens is that when u get to work with people in the way I do at the Woolwich Community Health Centre, you see how profound a contribution people are making. You see day in, day out the contribution volunteers are making in their community and the positive effect that these contributions have on the community. Each person is bringing their skillset, their ideas to create these creative innovative projects. When you work in my field, you see everyday these positive contributions. You witness the energy of people working together and who are getting things to work together, so it’s not about you. It’s how people are contributing.

You have a nice vision on sharing the limelight with others when it comes to the work you do as a Health Practitioner. Can you talk a little bit more about how you see that?

I remember 18 years ago, going to workshop where we had, through the Myers-Briggs test, learn how to value and work with our differences. We were put into groups by personality types and were asked this question: If you crossed with a wounded deer in the forest what would u do? It was fascinating! In my group people were interested in the spiritual well being of the deer (even though I have a nursing background, no less!) In my group, we were all trying to establish some sort of relationship with the wounded deer. Others around us were much more practical with their problem solving skills with a range of ways of helping this deer. I remember that like it was yesterday, it really struck me and has stayed with me since.


This made me realize how important it is to have a range of different people to help others around us, I mean people with different approaches, different visions. When you can bring all that together, it’s so rich and remarkable! We need to look for the creativity & creative opportunities in all of these differences. I seek out such opportunities.

What do you particularly enjoy of working as a Health Promoter with a Community Health Centre?

Our Centre is based on the Healthy Communities model and I feel that this model focuses on having a supportive environment to foster change towards the right decision. This model is crucial to making the right decisions. It’s also a very holistic model. It looks at all the determinants of health and it also allows to work on the issues specific to a community or that are unique to a given community – issues that the community identifies for itself, not us for it. And those are decided upon through the community, with the support of an Advisory Committee. Other health organizations have priorities established for them. Our mandate adds a layer of health promotion to create the environmental support people need to implement themselves the information that they have learned (or have been informed upon). Without that support, chances are slim that the desired change will occur and stick. Unfortunately, in tight economic times, needs are urgent in primary care, and that’s often where funds go. But I think in those times, we have to work even harder at preventing illness. Just giving information out, isn’t enough. You need the supportive environment to help people make choices that are good for them. If you take smoking in public places as an example. Since it’s been banned, the environment changed and no longer supported the unhealthy behaviour. Because this is no longer the norm, we see a positive change take hold. So we change behaviours through our environment, you see what I mean? The same type movement is becoming stronger and stronger towards eating locally and healthy which means we need a healthy farming community. Food processing must also be done locally, etc. Again, a supportive environment that keeps local food, local. So this is all interrelated. We need to ensure support at all levels.

You are obviously a very passionate woman! Where does the motivation come from?

I’m really blessed. I work in a place with a strong sense of values, which has a real resonance with my own. This is very important to me. What matters to me is working on what the community decides (that’s an authentic Community Centre model). This model frees me to do what matters in my community. So you get to focus on matters that matter to them. I get to witness over and over again the good news stories in which people contribute to their communities and make a difference in their lives. I love working in a Community Health Centre also because you get to work at all ends of the health promotion continuum (the CHC works at the treatment of illness, prevention of illness & health promotion by definition). So you’re not just working with people when they are ill, you are working with people that are well to ensure everybody stays healthy. I love giving people the tools they need to make better choices for themselves. Those are authentic and real changes and the ones that have the better chance of success because they come from the people making the choices. My experience in travelling the world has showed me that culture and healthy public policy play together, a most important role when it comes to the healthy choices we make, hence the importance of a supportive environment for our health. Therefore, healthy communities require a healthy economic environment as well as a strong social supporting one. That’s the model I like to work in and one in which I firmly believe.

You make interesting links between cultural environment and health. Can you elaborate on that a little?

Oh, cultural environment is so crucial! Part of that for me, comes from when I went to school in India where there were students form all over the world. I then travelled and lived all over the world. We are shaped by the assumptions we make. You then realize how differently we view our world. It’s fascinating.

When I was living in the UK, and was working with refugees and I would assist the mat medical appointments, I witnessed how much culture influences health. Culture literally shaped whether or not they would implement a doctor’s ideas or not, no matter what he (or she) said, no matter what there needs were. I am blessed to I have been exposed to so many different cultures and to have seen how significant culture is in shaping our decisions, namely in health.

Here in Canada, I see it everywhere. A simple example here is the Clean Waterways Group, an initiative that changed local farming practices in order to secure clean creek water. We worked with local farmers to find solutions that worked for them. For example, some farmers were comfortable working with financial government support while others were not, because of their religious beliefs for example. So we had to find funds and ideas to achieve the same desired goals but by being respectful of the culture and beliefs of all involved. It was a real challenge but we succeeded by working together, for the good of our community. We couldn’t just go to them with a grant, we had to find more creative ways to approach community members and work it out together. When we talk with each other, when we consult each other, we always find solutions. But first, you have to build trusting relationships. That’s what makes such a difference in how we work with one another. And I am very fortunate to be working within a community where people still believe in this. Woolwich is a community that has found ways to retain qualities where people are caring for each other and working together and supporting one another. I have a lovely work environment and my team really understands health promotion. Lots of people comment on how our community is caring and that our organisations work together very well. I am very proud of that.

From your perspective what your view of the future in community healthcare?

I think one of the challenges is that I see a drift where health promotion is being limited to health education. I think that this is partly because economically, when money is tight, it’s easier to focus on treatment and handing out information info because we think we have met our responsibility. But by doing this, there is a risk that we miss the significance within health promotion, of missing the entire component of the environment as I mentioned earlier. I think our centre is a good example of how when you are involved at the community development level of promotion, you can obtain the community’s insight as well as their understanding, which lead to positive and sustainable changes. You can tell people over and over again to be physically active. Here, some community volunteers decided to do something about it. Some volunteer members lobbied and obtained a Township Trails Coordinator position. She in turn helped mobilize the community in order to work towards the creation of walking trails at the Township. So we created the opportunities to allow people to be physically active. It’s critical that we recognize the community development element of the health promotion continuum as well as how public policy supports culture. And we need to allocate enough resources and funding towards those goals. Simply informing people is not enough. We need to work on the determinants of health.

In support of Joy Finney’s nomination, D’Arcy Farlow, an Organizational and Community Capacity Building consultant said of Joy Finney: “Joy wound never see herself as a leader. In the true fashion of someone who “leads from behind” she facilitates others to discover their leadership potential by providing them with the knowledge, tools support, and encouragement they need to become active and excited. As a result of this process there are numerous leaders driving the successful projects of Woolwich Healthy Communities and many other health promoting activities within Woolwich. Joy, in her wise and beautiful way has been a mentor to me and so many others in Woolwich Township and in the Waterloo Region. We value the vision of community that she holds in her heart and models in everything she does.”

We can’t find a better or more eloquent way to conclude a discussion with such an engaged and devoted individual, a woman with a big heart. We sincerely congratulate Joy Finney, recipient of the 2014 Health Leadership Award.

You can learn more about Joy in this video created by 3M Canada.



Celebrating leaders who inspire change in communities across Canada


For the past 4 years, I’ve looked forward to learning, through the 3M Health Leadership Award, about the incredible caliber of individuals working in communities across the country. This year is no exemption.

We are celebrating 5 individuals, recognized by our judges to demonstrate the leadership needed to facilitate the kind of social change necessary to improve health and well-being in their community, inspire others, and have a lasting impact. Congratulations to Joy Finney, our award recipient and our 4 finalists, Agnes Contois, Leslie Dunning, Doug Kelly and Teresa Fleming.

We are also excited about this year’s roster of leaders because together they represent many aspects of the award, our commitment to the underlying determinants of health and reflect our belief that leadership is action, it is taking responsibility and it is more than a position or title. Our leaders work on issues that span the environment, people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Aboriginal communities, violence prevention and system change. Geographically they represent much of Canada– British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. For more information please see our awards website.

Our awards gala on December 4th promises to be a highlight of the year as we meet these leaders and celebrate their accomplishments and commitment to healthy communities. We hope you can join us!

By Barb Willet


A memorable tour of the Pointe-Saint-Charles neighborhood


On September 25, we had the pleasure of touring one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Montreal, if not in Quebec. This neighbourhood is the Pointe-Saint-Charles (PSC). Our guide for this tour was Jocelyne Bernier, community activist for over 30 years and winner of the 2013 3M Health Leadership Award. PSC_carte

Pointe-Saint-Charles is located south of the Lachine Canal and is landlocked by transportation infrastructure. When walking beside the Lachine Canal, you can see the condos from Griffintown approaching and the skyscrapers of downtown, even if it seems to be in a small town far from the metropolis of Montreal.

Since its founding, the community has faced several obstacles which incited residents to work together to improve their community and defend their rights as citizens.

The neighbourhood is currently threatened by the boom in condos and train noise.

We hope to inspire you this summary of our tour of  the PSC neighborhood, a community truly representative of a healthy community — a community that understands that health begins where we live, learn, work and play.

You can learn more about the history of the area here.

9: 30 am Meeting place: Centre for Community Education whereDSCF5255 we find this poster.

Proof positive of the vitality of the community – residents have organized a demonstration to be held later in the day to fight for the protection of abandoned and vacant lots in the neighborhood. You can see a copy of creative posters that supported the event here.

Towards the canal include a small garden, affectionately named, The masked cucumber. This garden is one of many squat gardens that are a

Jocelyne Bernier and the Lachine Canal. Grifftintown condos are seen in the background.

Jocelyne Bernier and the Lachine Canal. Grifftintown condos are seen in the background.

strategic and peaceful maneuver to prevent construction of condos on vacant land across the neighbourhood.

10:00 Here we are in front of the Lachine Canal. The Canal has it’s own  vibrant history.

The Pointe-Saint-Charles neighborhood is a food desert with only one grocery store to serve more than 15,000 residents. The community advocated for a bus that could transport citizens from the south end of the neighbourhood to the grocery store.

10: 30 La Maison Saint-Charlesparc2parc1

What a hub of activity! Some of the organizations that call la Maison Saint-Charles home include:  Youth house (Maison des jeunes de Pointe-Saint-Charles), Community Housing Group  (le Regroupement information-logement), Women’s support centre (le Centre de femmes Madame prend congé), Right to Food Club (le Club populaire des consommateurs) and it’s independent grocery store – l’Épicerie solidaire, Cuisine-Atout, a social integration enterprise,  Resource centre on non-violence (le Centre de ressources sur la non-violence), and a local soup kitchen (le Garde-manger pour tous).




11:00 Charles-Lemoyne School Playground  parc-etudiants

This playground was built for students through community action.


11:10 The Library

Formerly a firehouse, the community had to rally to save the building which was at risk of being be demolished to facilitate access to highway 15 towards Champlain Bridge.
11:15 “Jardins des citoyens” – Citizen’s garden

11: 20 Community mural

This beautiful mural was painted by artists and members of the community. It tells the story of the PSC community.

m1 m2 m3 m4

11:30 Railyardferro

The large railyard in the middle of the neighbourhood one of the major challenges for the district. In 2006 the railyard site was proposed as the new location of the Casino de Montreal. Thanks to the efforts of the community and OPA (see next stop for more), it did not become a reality.

11: 45 Clinique Communautaire Pointe-Saint-Charles

Community Clinic Pointe-Saint-Charles is the only health center (CLSC) in Quebec to have a board of directors composed entirely of members of the community. The clinic is a great ambassador of the social determinants of health and it initiated l’Opération d’aménagement populaire (OPA) along with Action-Gardien. It is clear that the clinical role to a strong presence in the community.

11:50 Action-Gardienactiongardien

Rallying point. Action-Gardien has 25 community organization members, including several we visited during the tour.

After reading this summary, to whom do you think the Pointe (PSC) belongs?
The answer is clear – to residents of Point-Saint-Charles neighborhood!
And they will not let this fact be forgotten easily.


What makes a successful community leader?


For the past 30 years, Health Nexus has supported and nurtured leadership that strives for fundamental social change to improve both population and community health. This was one of the primary reasons why, four years ago, we partnered with 3M Canada to launch the 3M Health Leadership Award.

As we continue to explore current theories and perspectives on the topic of leadership, we find that our thinking resonates with that of Paul Schmitz, former CEO of Public Allies and author of Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up.

Last December, Paul was our keynote speaker at the Awards Gala and, recently, he presented an inspiring, one-hour webinar on leadership. The work of Public Allies integrates leadership principles from community development and business and focuses on the importance of collective leadership based on a core set of values.

5 values for community leadership

Leadership isn’t just about achieving a goal— it’s also about how that goal is achieved. Paul Schmitz outlines 5 key leadership values that are fundamental to building strong, healthy communities:

1. Community assets— people are the mostvaluable assets in each and every community. Paul encourages us to see the proverbial glass as both half-full and half-empty at the same time, since each of us has strengths and shortcomings. Transformative relationships begin when we act with understanding that we are half-full and half-empty individuals helping others who are also half-full, half empty. We lose the us and them mentality and focus on working with, not for or to, communities.
2. Diversity and inclusion—goes beyond good intentions. When leaders are aware of power and privilege in the community, they can take action to make sure that all voices, perspectives and assets are present and respected at the table.
3. Collaboration—flows from trusting relationships that respect our different styles and talents. Leaders take the time to learn about each other, not just work with each other. If people are collaborating well, there will be conflict, but, with trust, our differences can be healthy, constructive and transformative.
4. Continuous learning—is critical for leaders to grow, and recognize their own challenges and shortcomings. It is important for us to reflect, ask for feedback and draw on the wisdom of others.
5. Integrity—means being accountableto those we work with and those we serve. We are effective leaders when we are true to ourselves and our values and accept responsibility for our actions, our commitments and the goals before us.

These 5 leadership values are fundamental to engage members of the community to work collectively for change.  They are also interconnected—when you practice one of these values, all are strengthened.

Paul Schmitz reminds us that, to address the complex issues of today, leadership must be collective, explaining that, “it is not enough to build effective organizations. We need to build effective communities”. (Everyone Leads, p xviii).

Throughout the coming year, Health Nexus will continue explore these values, as we continue our journey of leadership.

Watch for details about upcoming Health Nexus dialogues on leadership, beginning this fall, with a conversational soirée in Montreal on September 25!