Alberta Cancer Foundation

Rural Communities Across Alberta Are Creating Custom Programs to Support Their Health

When you look around your community playground, what do you see? A place for kids to be active, sure, but do you also see a tool for cancer prevention?

In Cold Lake, Alta., community members created an initiative called Playground Passport in 2015, and in 2017, that initiative was given a cancer-prevention lens through the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund (ACPLF). With Playground Passport, children receive a passport with fill-in-the-blank questions they can complete by visiting local playground sites and identifying the healthy features of the park. For example, does the park have shade structures available for UV protection? Can you spot no-smoking signage, walk to local establishments that offer healthy eating options, or visit a nearby community greenhouse or garden? It’s an innovative way to engage kids, and their caregivers, in the big picture of cancer prevention.

Cold Lake is one of 19 pilot locations —16 rural communities and three Métis settlements — taking part in the Alberta Healthy Communities Approach. Conceived and overseen by the ACPLF, the Healthy Communities Approach aims to improve health and wellness by creating environments that make the healthier choice the easier choice. The ACPLF provides communities with evidence-based data on cancer prevention, as well as the expertise of a locally based Health Promotion Facilitator and access to $25,000 in Community
Implementation Funds.

The project, which started in 2016, helps communities identify areas of focus for cancer prevention, develop and implement action plans and track their own success. Stephanie Patterson, operations and implementation lead for this ACPLF initiative, says that rural communities don’t always have the resources and infrastructure to support healthy choices, but they do have the best knowledge of what works for their community—are there safe walking paths, sidewalks, lighting, benches? Do residents have access to fresh, affordable produce?

“The project is really guided by the communities themselves,” she says. “It focuses on strengths and positives, as opposed to, ‘You have high cancer rates, so what can we do?’”

In Spirit River, Alta., locals can now be more active thanks to an indoor walking program at the local community hall, the creation of an annual Winter Glow Walk Festival and a fun Gift of Play initiative. And in Mirror, Alta., shared garden boxes have provided healthy food and brought the small community even closer together.

Patterson says the goal is to connect and empower these communities to create healthy spaces in a sustainable way.

“Most communities have really embraced being part of [the project], and have given so much feedback on what really works and where it can be improved,” she says. “It’s not about a start or an ending, but a different way of thinking and creating health in the community.”

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