Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Society

We are an alliance of organizations all interested in improving the health of our communities: Regional District Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS), Interior Health (IH), School District 67 (SD67), Penticton Indian Band (PIB), City of Penticton, University of British Columbia, and Okanagan College. In 2012 a Letter of Understanding was signed by the first five signatories undertaking the creation of the Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Coalition as a five year pilot project. We are currently in our fifth year of operation.

Keremeos walk and talk meeting of Healthy Community BuildersOur Impact Why We Exist

We work together across sectors to identify ways in which we can improve the health of our communities, by engaging grassroots leadership to work together on issues of shared concern.

We want to lessen the impacts of chronic disease on our vulnerable populations, including our elderly, youth, First Nations and people suffering mental illness.  We belive that making it possible for everyone to afford nutritious, culturally appropriate food at a reasonable price through programs as diverse as farmer's markets, farm schools, community gardens and classes on cooking and preserving produce will improve the health outcomes of the citizens of the South Okanagan-Similkameen.

Princeton Town Councillor Kim Maynard, OSHLC Coordinator Angelique Wood, OSHLC Chair Toni Boot, and Summerland Healthy Community Initiative Coordinator Joanne MalarOur Story What We Do

The Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Coalition grew out of the Okanagan Healthy Living Fair, established in 2008.  In our years of working together, and looking at individual health versus population health, we have learned that individual health outcomes depend more on a person's postal code than any other factor.  This means that chronic disease, on the rise  the form of diabetes, obesity, mental illness and COPD- to name a few- must be fought upstream, by impacting the social determinants of health.  The reality is that many of our citizens might desire healthy food, or to exercise, or quit smoking, but their daily life does not afford them the luxury of healthy choices because they are economically unreachable.

Our direction to focus on the Food Security, Food Policy and Food Systems of the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen has risen from working with grassroots community members throughout the area and supporting the issues that they bring forward as most pressing.  This focus has been narrowed from what we began as five overarching areas of concern.  This initially included tobacco reduction, healthy built environment, priority populations (seniors, youth, First Nations, mentally ill), healthy food and nutrition and physical activity.

In 2016, we scanned our communities and found that the three most common issues from throughout the area were Food Security, Mental Illness and Ageing in Place.  Now we believe that narrowing our focus more- to Food systems, policy and security- will allow us to work more effectively with a widespread citizenry, many of whom are working on projects related to this broad topic.

Below is an excerpt from a recent article in the online magazine Politico on the amazing success stories of Burlington Vermont:      

America’s First All-Renewable-Energy City-

Burlington's decades-long commitment to sustainability has paid off with cheap electricity—and some pretty great homegrown food.

"The environmental sustainability revolution has spread to other sectors of civic life. Outside the gates, farmers, community gardeners and food-minded social workers tend fields and plots spread out over 300 acres of once-neglected floodplain just two miles from the city’s center. Together the agricultural enterprises in the valley—working land controlled by a non-profit that partners with the city—grow $1.3 million in food each year, much of it sold at a massive, member-owned cooperative supermarket, its own origins traced back to City Hall."

Food is one of the most important human needs and offers society one of the greatest opportunity for social, health and community economic development if we support initiatives to make it more sustainable, accessible and local.  Our goal is to focus the next two years on assisting our Constellations, spread througout the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen, to improve the health of their communities through the development of the food related projects they deem most vital.

We began working together in 2013 after an Inaugural Forum in Osoyoos brought together leaders in local governments and First Nations, Health Care staff, Community Services, Planners and the School Board to craft a vision looking at our community strengths and building momentum to enact positive change together.  Since our first Letters of Understanding between the initial five signatories, UBC Okanagan and OK College have both come on board as partners as well.

On the ground, Interior health supported this initiative by developing an opportunity for its staff to use some paid time to work on projects in the communities they live in.  This support helped recreation managers in Oliver and Okanagan Falls to champion projects they may not have taken on as they fell outside their job descriptions and mandates.

We offer assistance writing funding applications, facilitating meetings, by organizing workshops and writing letters of support.  We attend meetings upon request to share relevant information with community stakeholders, and bring a regional perspective to our communities who are struggling head-on with issues unaware how other local communities have successfully dealth wtih the same problems.

Our goal is to "make the Okanagan Similkameen the healthiest region in BC" and we do this by supporting, educating, and advocating for our grassroots community leaders and champions.

Kinesiology Professor Wendy Wheeler presents findings of her college students' Food Security studyOur Programs How We Do It

As a regional coalition, we try to respond to the needs of each community and the expertise the leaders of that community have to improve the health of locals- starting where they are.

In Penticton, this meant working with Okanagan College students to look at their own food security on campus, while in Oliver it meant assisting with a grant application to Community Food Action Initiative that led to a three year project entitled "Food Secure Oliver".  IH continues to provide support to Oliver as they move forward in what we hope will be a project whose learnings can be shared region wide.  Tiny towns like Hedley have focussed on developing a Farmer's Market, recognizing the social, economic and community development that such an initiative can foster.  Summerland Healthy Community Initiative has worked on an engagement strategy, using a film and discussion series to gauge where its citizens want to go. 

We supported these inititatives with activities as diverse as by giving lectures, participating in panel discussions, sharing resources, and helping to write and edit grant applications.  We join meetings and contribute ideas and suggestions for moving forward.

Our associations and relationships allow us to form constellations to address issues and then re-form new constellations as situations change.

Meeting with community leaders and identifying issues in their communities is one of the keys to deliver meaningful support that will effectively "move the needle" on some of society's most pressing concerns.

As a five-year pilot project, OSHLC is now entering its fifth year and we are undertaking activities to refine our business model.  While we intend to continue to assist and deliver projects and initiatives in our communities, we also feel we need to move away from a grant-reliant organization.  We are investigating the structures of social innovation companies an enterprising non-profits to see if we can transition our coalition over the next few years so that we can stabilize and grow.  With more certainty in an income stream and less reliance on grant funding we hope to increase our capacity to make real, meaningful and lasting positive change to the health of our communities.

BC Healthy Communities, a non-profit devoted to building and strengthening Healthy Community work, has recognized the value of our regional approach and has planned to assist our organization with coaching activities in the coming months.  Our challenges have been that the vast geography of more than 10,000km2 and 80,000 residents require a lot of time and resources to connect effectively.  In the coming years, we plan to use technology to lessen the distance through teaching people about online meetings and YouTube videos so that our population can work smarter, not harder.

John Mott thanking Dr. Kent Mulllinix and OSHLC for an inspiring lecture on Building a Sustainable Food System for British ColumbiaWhat You Can Do

Come join the fun! 

We meet on the first Tuesday of every month from 4:00pm to 5:30pm at the Health Center on Carmi Avenue in Penticton.

You can join by teleconference as well, just email the coordinator at info@oshlc.ca for details.

We plan and deliver educational opportunities through lectures, workshops and symposia.  We participate in panel discussions and we convene and facilitate meetings as well as broker introductions.  We send out newsletters with the most progressive and and newest ideas in building community health and we look forward to working with more of you!