The Symposium experience — A Q&A with two first-time attendees

This March, Communities ChooseWell hosted the first in-person Healthy Communities Symposium since 2020. Attendees travelled from all corners of the province for three days of connection and conversation. After the event, we spoke with two first-time attendees to learn about the experience through their eyes — and what lessons they brought back to their communities.

By Anna Schmidt, 2023

Every year in early March, as the first hints of spring pop up across the province, a group of Albertans gathers for the annual Communities ChooseWell Healthy Communities Symposium.

This year, the attendees met in person for the first time since 2020. Over three days, they shared meals and meaningful conversation, all between interactive sessions designed to inspire their work in healthy eating and active living.

A couple weeks later, ChooseWell caught up with two first-time Symposium attendees, Jenni Kachuk and Taryn Ma, to hear about the event through their eyes — and what lessons they brought back home.

Jenni Kachuk is a planning facilitator with Edmonton Catholic School Division, where she and her colleagues work to improve school communities, which includes building safe and inclusive playgrounds. Taryn Ma is the community engagement coordinator with Housing for Health, a project based out of the University of Alberta that aims to improve well-being by exploring the connection between home and neighbourhood environments and holistic health.

Responses have been edited slightly for length and clarity.

What was the atmosphere like at the Symposium?

Jenni: It was a community of people that came together. We didn’t feel like strangers. I made a point of sitting with different people and getting to know them and how they had an impact on their communities. I heard a lot of amazing stories. There were people from all walks of life — different demographics, different nationalities. It wasn’t just networking, but really connecting with people.

Taryn: There was a lot of great conversation going on. I felt reaffirmed that although sometimes we still work in silos, we all have common goals. I felt reinvigorated and remotivated to continue the work we’re doing.

Was there a moment from the event that stood out to you?

Jenni: Megan Hunter’s talk on psychological trauma — the silent bullying in the workplace and how it can affect you. We don’t all experience the same traumas, but I’ve seen colleagues go through some of the things she mentioned. She spoke about how exercise and nutrition can really positively affect your mental health. I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the room. People who didn’t know each other were handing out kleenexes and hugging each other.

Taryn: I enjoyed how the event opened with the Grandmother’s Circle. It was my first opportunity to participate in a Grandmother’s Circle, so it was a very new and cool experience for me. They spoke about the importance of remembering how the land we are on is here to give back and provide what we need — to go out in nature and experience it as a healing modality.

What did you take away from the Symposium that will impact your work moving forward?

Jenni: I’ve been more aware of not getting caught up in the hustle and bustle. Since coming back, when going for walks, I’ve been taking notice of the little things — such as the constellations and thinking of how the Indigenous peoples looked to the sky for guidance both for spiritual and practical reasons. I’m trying to be conscious of nature and remember the stories that some of the Elders and grandmothers told us. The big lesson I’m going to pass on to my team is to get to know other peoples’ stories. You never know what relationship or partnership might develop just by asking someone about their story. 

Taryn: I really appreciated the interactive elements. I’m a better learner when I’m doing, and there was one interactive session on traditional Indigenous games. It was really cool to not only learn about some of the games, but actually play them. I want to integrate an Indigenous component in the sessions I run for my work, so I exchanged contact information with the facilitator and he said he was more than happy to lead some Indigenous games at future events. It was exciting to form that connection. There’s so much we can learn from traditional Indigenous practices and stories. It’s important to have that at the forefront of the work we’re doing.

What would you say to someone planning to go to the Symposium next year?

Jenni: It’s definitely worth the time. We gained a great deal of knowledge. The speakers, the exercises — all of it created connection between the attendees. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that with another event. I can’t wait to attend again.

Taryn: It’s a great opportunity to connect with like-minded people. Sometimes, especially working in public health, we try to reinvent the wheel when there’s a lot of people out there doing similar work. It was a reaffirmation that we’re not alone.