What makes a community, a community? Our shared spaces, shared values, common histories - those are often mentioned. Support for others, a respect for diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, and shared ownership of and participation in civic institutions - those are no less important. Perhaps you have a few of your own, too. Communities, of course, vary from place to place, and time to time, collecting and reflecting the unique traits of the people living there.

I work at a community health centre: NorWest Community Health Centres. In many ways, I feel that our centre encapsulates many of the traits we aspire to in our wider community, but it also plays an important role in laying the foundation for one of the things that we believe is a precondition to community: the chance to live a healthy life.

Addressing the points at which our community bonds break down and leave people behind is also a crucial part that our centre plays in Thunder Bay - and one that determines the health of our community overall. But what is health, and what does it mean to be healthy?

The World Health Organization's 1948 constitution defined health like this:

1. A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

2. The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

At NorWest Community Health Centres, we firmly believe that this is what health and well-being means. It's why we're committed not only to accessible and culturally appropriate services when you're not well, but also why we place such a large emphasis on health promotion and keeping people well to begin with.

Community health workers, dietitians, therapists, nutritionists - these are some of the many people helping us in Thunder Bay to go beyond a health system that treats illnesses, and to become a community in which everyone can achieve their best possible physical, mental and social well-being.

The second part of the WHO definition of health is where I believe that our work at NorWest Community Health Centres really shines. Some people cannot attain their best possible health and well-being because of many factors, including racism, economic or social conditions, sexual orientation, or gender expression. Health equity means we work every day to identify the barriers that keep people from achieving their health and well-being goals, and finding ways to break down those barriers.

Our commitment to ensuring individuals have equitable access to services can be seen as our community health workers, nurse practitioners, foot care and nursing staff offer services at Shelter House, Limbrick resource centre and in our rural and remote communities.

Successful partnerships have allowed us to increase services such as our memory clinic, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder clinic, and, identification clinic. We work to create a safe and inclusive environment whereby individuals can participate in community kitchens, health and wellness activities.

Staff here at NorWest Community Health Centres through their actions, big and small, work to keep people well.

So, this Community Health and Well-being Week, talk or write to your MPP or city councillor, chat with family and friends, and share on social media why the unsung health equity heroes in your community matter so much, and why supporting them is one of the healthiest moves we can make for Thunder Bay.

Juanita Lawson

CEO, NorWest Community Health Centres

Thunder Bay

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