In 2016 the Cumberland and Colchester East Hants community health boards conducted a survey and held several focus groups to determine community needs. Mental wellness and a sense of belonging consistently scored very high as being important to the community.
Those conversations told us the participants wanted to create an inclusive community and felt this could be achieved through more opportunities for the community to gather.
They felt community gatherings and a variety of educational opportunities would help to create a stronger sense of belonging.
Community events, support services, trails, green spaces, volunteering and employment were among the items that respondents felt contributed the most to a sense of belonging. In order to develop this, we have to feel like we are participating.
Almost half of respondents said we have to learn to celebrate everyone’s differences.
“We need people to feel like they belong; be a more welcoming community. Many feel ‘this is not for me.’”
Along with the feeling of exclusion, other barriers to developing a sense of belonging include finances, transportation, and time. Over 40 per cent of respondents said employment increased their sense of belonging.
In Cumberland County we are very lucky to have many opportunities to participate in events and programs for little or no cost.
There are several volunteer opportunities, Including the community health boards (which currently have vacancies).
We have Family First events in Amherst that are open to everyone at no cost and are alcohol and tobacco free. Arenas in Amherst, Oxford and Springhill all offer some open skates at no charge and there is a free equipment lending program in Amherst, Oxford and the Municipality of Cumberland County.
All three of our CHBs, Springhill, Oxford, Amherst & Region, (SOAR), Southampton, Parrsboro, Advocate and Region (SPAR), and Pugwash and Area have joined forces to support several initiatives including Minds in Motion Mental Wellness Walk, the Bell Let’s Talk campaign and several Communities Addressing Suicide Together (CAST) community training sessions.
The Minds in Motion Mental Wellness Walk is a great example of helping to create a sense of belonging. This annual event happens in Amherst each May and is open to everyone at no charge.
The walk is held in partnership with several community groups including the Cumberland YMCA, the Bridge Adult Service Centre, the Town of Amherst, and Nova Scotia Health Authority.
The event consists of an energetic warm-up followed by a two-kilometer walk and a nutritious lunch. Each year between 100 and 200 people come out and enjoy friendship, fellowship and fun while learning about the benefits of physical activity for our mental health and to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
The SOAR community health board has helped celebrate the Pride Flag Raising since 2014 in partnership with the Town of Amherst and NSHA.
In 2017 we were very proud to be part of the first annual Amherst Pride Parade and we look forward to working with our partners again in 2018.
In the April 2017, the SPAR community health board hosted Spark your Curiosity, an event with music, yoga, healthy food, and positive information to help improve mental health and wellness. It was such a success there are plans to make it an annual spring event in the Parrsboro area.
All three of our community health boards have worked with the Cumberland CAST Coalition to support mental health education sessions in several communities throughout the county.
Along with our own projects and initiatives, perhaps the best way we accomplish our goals is through wellness funds.
This year in Cumberland County we have just over $42,000 in Wellness Funds available for community projects and we have received 66 applications totaling $137,867 - more than three times the available funds.
The volunteer selection committee has a very difficult job ahead of them.
Colleen Dowe is the co-ordinator of the Community Health Boards for Cumberland County.