By Cal Braid
Westwind Weekly News
Raymond is a better place to live thanks to a team of proactive community members. In 2019, the Raymond Wellness Coalition (RWC) began a three-year grant project aimed at boosting the strength, vitality, and morale of the Town’s residents.
Myrna Sopal was a key player in the project. She’s a family support worker at Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), a public service that exists on an 80/20 per cent financial split between the province and municipalities. She also knows a thing or two about the workings of community initiatives.
“I had volunteered and worked with a variety of social programs and agencies like (FCSS) over the past 17 years,” Sopal said. “A lot of the initiatives I’d been involved with were pilot projects; healthy eating classes with children, a literacy gala and festival, and a project to help prevent homelessness through education.”
“All of them were great programs and all of them disappeared once the funding was finished,” she continued, emphasizing the latter part of her statement. With that in mind, she had a keen sense for contributing to community initiatives that would have a lasting impact.
“When the first COVID lockdown happened, we had just started a new initiative called the Raymond Wellness Coalition. (It was) a partnership between FCSS and the Town of Raymond, from an Alberta Healthy Community Initiatives (AHCI) grant.”
The AHCI falls under the Alberta Health Services umbrella and offers grants for community health programs. In 2018, AHCI opened the door for Alberta communities to submit a grant application that, if approved, would empower ten selected grant recipients to embark on projects that would improve the level of overall wellness in their communities. Under Zakk Morrison, executive director at FCSS, the grant application was completed and approved by AHCI.
“Our assessments revealed that well being and resilience were the (main) priorities for community members,” Sopal said. The five-step process of an AHCI grant plan is to: 1) Engage and create connections; 2) Understand your community; 3) Prioritize and plan; 4) Implement and evaluate; and 5) Sustain, improve and share.
At a Raymond Town Council meeting on June 7, 2022, Sopal presented a summary of the program as RWC marked the end of their three-year project. Going into it, the top priorities were resilience, mental well-being, healthy eating, physical activity, and UV protection.
During COVID, they posted positive messages on the Town’s electronic signs. They developed and assembled 100 care packages that were distributed by FCSS, the library, and churches. Local sponsors contributed to the packages. They also delivered 1500 ‘Wellness Through Connection’ door hangers which listed information on how to get involved in community, where to turn for support, and other resources.
Five participants have planted and maintained a community garden. The Raymond Natural Play space was constructed at the elementary school. The Coalition paid for the lighting at the outdoor skating rink and Zamboni alterations to a tractor. They helped supply a ‘Beyond Books’ lending library that includes outdoor play equipment and health items. They also planted shade trees and installed sunscreen stations at four locations in town. The stations will be maintained by the Town and FCSS.
Using past shortcomings as a strategic guide for the work at hand, Sopal and the RWC prepared community enhancements that were built to last, in the form of physical structures and partners in the community who are willing to maintain and keep those projects running. She said, “The RWC isn’t involved in running any of them. When our funding runs out, our work will not disappear.”
“We had our final meeting on June 1, 2022, at the golf course. We enjoyed dinner at Brimstone. We were able to just be finished after three years. It’s been a really long process, so it was really nice,” Sopal said before council. “We were presented with a certificate of completion from the Town of Raymond for being part of this process. We’d like to present it to the Town Council as our supporters and backers for the grant and the projects we’ve been through.” Mayor Depew thanked her for the work of the Coalition.
She put together a short video entitled “When the Funding Ends,” that depicts how the projects initiated by the RWS would continue beyond the grant project. It’s available to view on YouTube or the AHS website.
The funding has run out, but thanks to the insight and planning of their team, the work they did carries on.