Our neighbourhood is a complex system comprised of friends, residents, families, product and service businesses and agencies all interacting together. There is constant movement of people arriving, departing, and visiting for short and long periods reflecting strong ties to back home. Over half the population of 30,000 turns over every five years. Our apartments are aging and there is pressure to build on limited community space.
A Community Based Approach addresses challenges through existing community patterns, building, strengthening, and where necessary, developing new networks and processes of reciprocity. Success is measured in the ways people participate in and develop their community as a whole and with individual solutions, evolving socially and empowering each other.
A neighbourhood is strongest when these factors are interacting harmoniously as residents steadily strive towards the emotional, spiritual and economic life they have ascribed for themselves.
In this project, we have sought this harmony to address the high-risk factors for diabetes, certain cancers and cardio vascular disease unique to our residents. We have addressed this issue from within our community, identifying, training and supporting residents to engage their neighbours providing knowledge, activities and support to mitigate these health risks. At the outset we believed that a community-based approach would enable St. James Town to achieve health measures equal to or better than the rest of the City of Toronto.
Any new neighbour connects with their community through existing patterns and behaviours of daily life. In St. James Town specifically, these include grand parents and family caregivers gathering at the school to collect children at noon and after school, cultural festivals, and associations, joining a group for a safe walk home from the bus stop late at night, lining up for an elevator at rush hours, formal and informal English classes, the local church and mosque and a myriad of social gatherings with focus on food, health or other subjects.
The community’s small geographic area allows for immediate connection through many of these entrance ways. Establishing connections with new and existing neighbours through these patterns negates the need for traditional outreach methods such as flyers or service provider events.
In practical terms, what does this look like for Community Matter. First, we are experiencing better, more precise, timely and cost-effective decisions made by our Community Assistants. For example, faced with the loss of an outside service agency providing fresh fruit and vegetables our resident staff organized an alternative approach including local food vendors creating a bazar environment offering other local goods for sale. Residents learned small business techniques, we better met the nutrition needs of many neighbours who had not previously participated and we were able to expand our health messaging to a broader group of residents. This shift of influence reached a broader range of residents.
We set out to improve health measures to be as good as or better than those in the rest of Toronto. There are many examples of increased mitigation activities (higher levels of screening – diabetes, pap test, mammogram- residents starting their own activities – walking programs, volleyball programs- improved nutrition, increased levels in established recreation activities – family swimming, Zumba, High Impact workout, qualification of residents to become High Five trainers.) There is more sophistication in the knowledge of health factors and an increase in the number of health goals being set.