Student stories

Planning and coordinating culturally sensitive health and wellness workshops for families living in subsidized housing across British Columbia

Erin Henneberry

M'akola Group of Societies

By Erin Henneberry

The M’akola Group of Societies, a not-for-profit, charitable organization, provides safe, affordable housing for primarily Aboriginal families throughout B.C. M’akola, the largest Aboriginal housing provider in B.C., houses approximately 5000 families in over 1500 units across Vancouver Island and northwestern B.C.

M’akola is Coast Salish word meaning “a safe place.” Through building partnerships with various community organizations and encouraging traditional practices and beliefs, M’akola strives to improve the living conditions of families and provide access to sustainable housing.

My role with the M’akola Group during my last co-op placement over the summer of 2015 was as the tenant events coordinator. I was responsible for all aspects of planning over 45 events in regions served by M’akola including Greater Victoria and the Western Communities, Duncan, Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Courtenay, Campbell River, Prince Rupert and Terrace. I selected facilitators and topics for each session, secured sites, food, drinks and supplies, created and distributed promotional materials and managed a budget. Events ranged from family physical activity sessions to healthy budget cooking, practical budgeting, cultural activities and do-it-yourself projects. The goals of these events were to promote healthy lifestyle choices and build a sense of community among M’akola tenants and representatives from various local organizations. I ensured to remain respectful of traditional Aboriginal values, beliefs and practices that I learned through communication with my colleagues, experienced professionals from various community organizations and Elders.

I built strong relationships with professionals from various community service organizations to secure facilitators, supplies and space rentals. I created surveys, promotional materials and evaluation forms to seek feedback, promote and assess the success of each event. My strong verbal and written communication skills developed through my previous three co-op placements as well as prior work experience initially helped me to develop relationships with M’akola staff and representatives from community organizations. All of my communication was via phone or email; I had to build relationships remotely with other effectively and efficiently to form partnerships in each region.

I also relied on my strong project and task management skills developed over the course of my studies at the University of Victoria. I was responsible for several projects with varied end dates. At times it felt like I was juggling so many tasks that it was hard to know where to start. I kept track of what I was working on by developing and regularly reviewing to-do lists, creating weekly schedules and completing tasks of highest priority first. I made sure to note when to follow up with facilitators to ensure that each event was planned in a timely fashion. I met at least every two weeks with my supervisor to keep her up-to-date on my progress and review any questions or issues that arose. I regularly communicated with front-line staff to ensure they were aware of upcoming events including description, location, details and facilitators. I also needed to rely on these staff members to ensure that tenants were aware of upcoming events.

This co-op placement really helped me to synthesize the knowledge and skills I’ve learned throughout my studies and previous work experiences. Having taken social marketing last year and learnt about programs that seek to inspire social change, I was able to gain practical, hands-on experience in all aspects of planning, implementing, promoting and evaluating events that improve health and well-being and build community among people of different sociodemographics.

More about Exercise science, physical and health education co-op