Partner up: Collaboration builds capacity

A growing partnership between ChooseWell and Alberta Blue Cross® allows both organizations to better meet their goal of supporting Albertans’ holistic wellness. Over the past three years, the partners have worked together to offer education sessions and provide grants to communities in need. “ChooseWell’s work spoke to us because it’s exactly what we’re trying to do too — empower Albertans to live their best lives and affect change in their communities. And when you collaborate, you maximize impact,” says Ashley Bolduc with Alberta Blue Cross.

By Anna Schmidt, 2023

In March 2020, wellness champions from across Alberta gathered in Calgary for ChooseWell’s annual Healthy Communities Symposium. That year, the event had an exciting new sponsor and partner — Alberta Blue Cross®.

“It was the very last in-person event I attended before the world shut down,” says Ashley Bolduc, senior community impact specialist with Alberta Blue Cross. “It was an amazing experience.”

While the following months and years brought many unexpected difficulties, Alberta Blue Cross and Communities ChooseWell had forged a strong relationship based on a shared vision: to support the holistic wellness of Albertans.

“We knew right away we were like-minded organizations,” says Ashley. “ChooseWell’s work spoke to us because it’s exactly what we’re trying to do too — empower Albertans to live their best lives and affect change in their communities. And when you collaborate, you maximize impact.”

The partnership has flourished over the past three years, with the two organizations working together on everything from virtual education events to COVID recovery grant programs. The joint efforts have expanded the capacity of both groups to champion wellness across the province, says Janet Naclia, director of people and programs for Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA), ChooseWell’s parent organization. 

“In the wellness industry, there’s not always a lot of resources. So really successful partnerships are collaborative. We share people, we share time, we share passion,” says Janet. 

For example, Alberta Blue Cross approached ChooseWell with an idea for a session at the virtual 2022 Healthy Community Symposium. The aim was to host a panel of Indigenous leaders from across the province who would share insight into relationship-building with First Nations and Métis communities. Together, the partnering organizations made the idea a reality, hosting the Making Relations Panel. 

“Community members want to learn with and from Indigenous communities,” says Anita Quach, wellness partnerships and innovation specialist at Alberta Blue Cross. “Hearing the panelists tell stories was so meaningful. It was one of the top-rated sessions out of the whole program.”

While planning the panel, Alberta Blue Cross introduced Janet and ARPA to a contact at the Métis Nation of Alberta, helping launch more collaborative work.

More recently, Alberta Blue Cross and ARPA collaborated on another virtual event — an education session titled Grandmothers’ Circle: Protocol 101, featuring five Indigenous female Elders sharing their wisdom and answering questions from Alberta Blue Cross staff. The session was recorded and shared with ChooseWell communities, ARPA’s membership network and all Alberta Blue Cross employees.

Overall, Anita and Ashley say ARPA’s relationships and experience brought these events to life, and that the sessions play a vital role in ensuring those in the wellness sector have opportunities to learn how to make their work more inclusive and accessible.

“Communities are made up of so many different people and cultures and levels of ability. Education can help you make your community better for everyone,” says Ashley.

Beyond the presentations, Alberta Blue Cross and ARPA supported one another’s grant programming. When Alberta Blue Cross launched a new COVID Community Roots Program to support vulnerable Albertans through the pandemic, they reached out to Janet to help develop the grant criteria and adjudicate the awards. ChooseWell shared the grant application with their network of grassroots wellness champions, bringing much-needed funding opportunities to communities.

While the partnership continues to make a difference for Albertans, it has also led to meaningful friendships between the staff at both organizations. Those relationships inspire one another to keep doing the hard work, says Janet. Alberta Blue Cross staff are quick to agree.

“There’s a passion that drives all of us. It’s that passion that will unite us time and time again,” says Anita.

“We’re all motivated to do this work, and together, we have the means to do it,” adds Ashley. “I just can’t wait to see what we can come up with next.”