Oct. 28, 2019

Community partners with researchers on bold ideas for child health

Dynamic discussions at the Calgary Central Public Library

Community leaders from 35 child and youth-serving agencies came together with University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services researchers to explore big ideas at the Child Health and Wellness Community Town Hall on September 27. The 140 attendees had dynamic discussions at the Calgary Public Library downtown about how they could partner on research designed to transform the lives of children and families.     

  • Above: Community leaders come together with researchers at first Child Health and Wellness Town Hall. Photo by Don Molyneaux

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to work together to accelerate research and outcomes for children and families in our community and beyond,” said Dr. Penny Pexman, associate vice-president of research at the University of Calgary, who co-hosted the town hall with Steve Stretch, chair of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Board.

We know there is a wealth of excellent research already underway from laboratories at the Cumming School of Medicine and across campus, to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, and within community agencies,” Stretch emphasized. “As donors to child health research, we are thrilled these new partnerships will spark discoveries that will change the future for our children.”

Participants spoke passionately about their grand challenges, such as focusing on nutrition to boost mental health, connecting immigrants and refugees to services, designing a sustainable built-environment to ensure lifelong health, and supporting reading as a key ingredient for healthy children. 

“What an incredible opportunity it is to share my passion for early literacy and a grand challenge, with a diverse and knowledgeable crowd of people who collectively desire a better future for our community’s children,” said Steacy Collyer, CEO of Calgary Reads.

Kat Main, director of research and evaluation at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, shared that view. “As a community organization working with thousands of young people in Calgary, partnering with the university helps us bridge important gaps in current research and practice, better target our services for impact, and contribute to new and promising practices that will improve health and well-being outcomes for young people in our city.“

This summer, researchers from Alberta Health Services and every faculty across UCalgary participated in five town halls to explore their grand challenges for child health and wellness. The goal? To enable discovery, translation, and better outcomes for children and their families. Inviting the community into the process marked an essential step in designing a Child Health and Wellness strategy at the university.

Dr. Susa Benseler, MD, PhD, director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine, is leading the initiative, which was selected earlier this year by the Office of the Vice-President (Research) as one of two emerging cross-cutting research themes.

“I am extremely grateful for our outstanding community leaders who are passionate about the health of children,” says Benseler. “The emerging Child Health and Wellness strategy will embrace and foster the strength, diversity, and passion of our stakeholders, with children and families at the centre of this unique approach to partnership.” Benseler is the holder of the Husky Energy Chair in Child and Maternal Health and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Chair in Paediatric Research.