Long recognized as a community leader in health promotion, Woolwich Community Health Centre’s Joy Finney will be celebrated on the national stage next month with the 2014 3M Health Leadership Award.
“I am very, very touched and honoured and really conscious that I work with really, really committed volunteers,” Finney said. “They are the ones who give an inordinate amount of time and energy to (Woolwich) Healthy Communities, and have for many years.”
The finalists for this years prize were: Agnes Contois, coordinator of Career Trek in Skownan First Nation, Manitoba; Leslie Dunning, former director general of violence and abuse prevention with the Canadian Red Cross in Calgary; Doug Kelly, chair of the First Nations Health Council from West Vancouver; and Teresa Fleming, director of deaf adult services at Silent Voice Canada in Toronto.
“This award is an opportunity to celebrate the kind of leadership that seeks to make a difference in communities, to improve health by focusing on the key fundamentals of where we live, learn, work and play,” said Barb Willet, executive director of Health Nexus. “Given the complexity of the issues facing our communities, it is more important than ever to share the story of leaders like Joy, to recognize their outstanding efforts and encourage the leadership capacity that resides in each of us.”
Finney has spent more than 24 years working with the Woolwich Community Health Centre in health promotion.
In 1991, she helped jumpstart Woolwich Healthy Communities, “which strives to promote and improve the health and well being of our community, economy and environment.”
The organization “currently facilitates five working groups: Clean Waterways, Trails, On-road Cycling, Environmental Enhancement, and a Coordinating Committee. Other groups, such as a Well Water Quality group and a Sustainable Community group have sprung up from time to time to address particular needs and interests.”
WHC also promotes activities like a taste of Woolwich, community cleanup day, yellow fish storm painting, tree planting, bird watching hikes and spring on the trail.
“I think more and more we are learning that if people are to be supported in making healthy decisions, they need a supportive environment,” Finney explained. “Our culture plays a significant role in influencing our behaviour. I feel like we don’t make individual lifestyle choices in a cultural vacuum. And it is often healthy public policy that shapes that culture. “
WCHC executive director Denise Squire has worked with Finney for 17 years.
“We are thrilled and proud and we think she is absolutely deserving of the award,” she said. “Joy’s approach to her work is all about people. Where she is working with volunteers, with clients, program participants, her coworkers or with partner agencies, she consistently takes a strengths based approach. She really lives her belief that everyone brings different skills to the table to build a healthier community.”
Finney exemplifies what the health leadership award is all about, Squire added.
“I don’t think there is a whole lot of public recognition of health promotion work in general. There are all sorts of awards for the newest kinds of medical technologies, new operating techniques and new approaches to surgery, but there isn’t a lot of public recognition of the very important and equally life changing work that happens in communities with people who look at the broader things that contribute to health and well being. And so I think this award program is really an attempt to at least lend a little bit of recognition to that other kind of work that is not so flashy. The people who have won this award in the past are folks like Joy who have been quietly, humbling, out of the spotlight doing really critical, but gradual work to make things better.”
Working with WCHC has been a perfect match, Finney said.
“One of the things that I love about working here and working with Woolwich Healthy Communities is that they are both community-based organizations. One of the beautiful things about the community health care centre model is that it allows you to work on the issues that the community identifies. It is a model that allows you to work at all ends of the continuum: the treatment of illness, prevention of illness and also the health promotion. So you are working at the policy level and creating supportive environments, as well as all of the other ends of the spectrum.”
She continued, “I am really fortunate that I get to work with such a really committed group of volunteers and a model that we are all passionate about because it makes a lot of sense to have the opportunity to work at the prevention end of it with volunteers that really know their community well and can be strategic about where to put their time and energy.”