Submitted by Vince Terstappen
Northern Health believes that health happens in the community and launched the Community Health Stars program to shine a light on amazing individuals who are promoting health where they live. The Community Health Stars program grew out of a desire to keep the spirit of the Canada Winter Games burning bright long after the closing ceremonies. This spirit has seen communities come together, volunteers contribute thousands of hours, celebration events taking place across our region, and residents living healthier, more active lives. When it comes to this legacy, this month’s nominee has it all: community spirit, volunteerism, active living, and more!
Our Community Health Star for the month of February has an infectious belief in the power of community connections to create healthy change. Whether she’s meeting a group to continue their “Walk Around the World”, connecting with others on one of 17 committees that she contributes to, or simply smiling and laughing with friends at the library, everything that Hollie Blanchette does seems to make Valemount a little happier and a little healthier.
Northern Health is pleased to name Hollie Blanchette as our Community Health Star for the month of February! I was very fortunate to be able to chat with Hollie about her contributions in Valemount.
Vince: Why is a healthy community important to you?
Hollie: For me, it boils down to the fact that this is where we live! I don’t know about you but I want to live somewhere exciting, vibrant, and fun filled with happy and healthy people!
Another important consideration for me is that we are all aging. I think that we need to be asking ourselves how we want to age, both mentally and physically. I’m a very happy person – I think that mental wellness is such an important component of overall health – and I want to stay happy and age happily. I would like for my mind and body to stay as healthy as possible as I age and living in a healthy community is key to that.
Vince: What does a healthy Valemount look like to you?
Hollie: For me, a healthy Valemount is full of diverse, unique people! Health isn’t about being a size zero and having tight skin. It is about eating healthy foods, being active, and managing stress to the best of our abilities. Each one of us is unique and there is no “perfect” – only the best you that you can be! The first step to a healthy community is ensuring that it is filled with people who are happy with themselves.
The second component of a healthy Valemount is that people are connected with one another. Our connections make our town healthier. They help us to know what is going on, who can help with what, and how each one of us can make a difference.
Vince: How are you involved in creating a healthy Valemount?
Hollie: My involvement started with simply observing. When you live in a place that you love and when you want that place to be as healthy as possible, you start to notice things and then decide that you have to do something about it. For me, “doing something about it” meant connecting with projects and people in the community so I joined a few committees. I then wanted to make an even bigger impact so I ran for Council and was elected in 2011. There, I discovered the Northern Health liaison position, expressed an interest, met with local medical staff, and then took on that role. I’ve been able to learn so much from community members and partners in this role and I really enjoy it!
I currently serve on 17 different committees in town so I really see my role as knowing what’s going on, knowing who is doing what, and connecting those people in order to see projects take off. Some of the projects that I’ve contributed to and am currently working on include Valemount Walks Around the World, the building of the Bigfoot community trail system, working towards a dementia-friendly community designation, looking into projects to keep seniors happy and healthy at home, coordinating a visiting hearing clinic, installing indoor/outdoor chess, and more!
This involvement comes from a love for my town and I must say that living in Valemount is fantastic! I had moved 13 times in 18 years so when I first moved to Valemount, I didn’t hang up pictures. Now, I can assure you that there are pictures on the wall! I feel rooted here and it is that feeling that led me to get involved. This is one of the first places where I’ve really involved myself in local activities, which I believe says a lot about the wonderful place that I call home! I’ve got a great job and a great way to serve community members.
Vince: What is the Valemount Walks Around the World initiative?
Hollie: Valemount Walks Around the World is a five year project that aims to get residents of Valemount moving! The project asks participants to input the time that they spend being physically active into a computer program which then converts that time to steps and tracks both individual steps and community steps on a walk around the world. Whether you swim, bike, in-line skate, walk, or run, your total helps move Valemount across the world!
The project has been a huge success in all sorts of ways! We just started year three and we’ve got about 10 per cent of our population signed up to the program. We just recently made it across the Atlantic Ocean together! We’ve also connected with local doctors who have noticed some patients walking as part of this project who are showing lower risks of chronic diseases and experiencing reduced morbidity.
Vince: What is your message for other northern B.C. residents?
Hollie: For me, healthy communities start with the citizens. It is the citizens who see gaps and opportunities and it is the citizens who need to take these ideas for healthy change to the community.
If you have a project that you want to take on, look around for the liaisons, groups, and partners who might be able to help with this idea. And get involved with local non-profit organizations. These are the groups that can make it all happen and they keep you involved and busy! This is how communities can become healthier – citizens see a need, they ask for change, and then they connect with one another to create that healthy change.
Lastly, I think that a lot of health comes from being a happy person. Everything else fills itself in from there!