Elizabeth McCarter’s enthusiasm is infectious. “What I love about my job is seeing people connect - people come in as strangers but they don’t leave that way. I believe in community.”
As the Coordinator for Island Health’s Yakimovich Wellness Centre she generates plenty of opportunities to connect with the community at the Centre and around the region. McCarter works as a health educator and runs the Learning Centre. The Centre offers educational sessions and a place for peer support groups to share knowledge inside the Centre.
Sitting in her office filled with light, plants and shelves of resources, McCarter points towards the learning centre space. “It’s not a meeting room – this is a learning space. It’s open for the community to use for learning opportunities.”
McCarter also develops partnerships with recreation centres and groups in different neighbourhoods throughout the Capital Region to take education out into the community.
“We see clients as a whole person and who they are in the community,” she explains, “I believe in working with people where it’s real for them. Meaningful activity can take place wherever they are.”
The programs are popular - attended by over three thousand people last year alone.
McCarter has always been interested in community and convening groups. She was trained as a recreational therapist. Recreation therapists focus on the whole person’s health in the whole community by focusing on clients’ strengths, capabilities and interests. They recognize that clients have enhanced overall health and well-being when engaged socially, emotionally and physically in their defined community.
“We don’t want people dependent on the health care system. We want them to feel empowered to learn skills and access community services. We encourage clients to make their own decisions – by identifying the skills they need to connect with community. I believe in the strengths of individuals and families and communities.”
She looks at health broadly by using the determinants of health approach. “It’s easy to measure exercise and food and we forget to connect the dots. If we don’t have social connectedness we are missing a whole lot.”
Her integrated approach extends to how she works with other people in the field. She sees opportunities for health care professionals in different capacities to come together to create a more resilient community through comprehensive, cohesive planning and through dialogue and better partnering.
McCarter has a favourite analogy for a well-functioning team, “I used to row. I often think of the eight people in the boat. Our goal was to cross the finish line as best we could. Everyone in the boat has a different function – we respect the function of each person because we need that function to get where we need to go.”