Jesse Veenstra inspects a juicy red tomato from a vine heavy with fruit, assessing its size and shape. She’s standing on the seventh floor of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) corporate office where she and her colleagues use break times to cultivate an office garden rich with potatoes, eggplants beans, and more. The garden is a source of discussion about health and fostering community in the workplace – a deep passion for Veenstra.
As a Project Manager for Healthy Families BC, the province’s health promotion plan initiated in 2011, Jesse spends her workdays managing Healthy Schools BC (HSBC) and Healthy Families BC- Communities (HFBC-C) initiatives – a new role she took on with PHSA’s Population and Public Health team in the summer of 2015.
Community Health Profiles
One of the projects Jesse is managing with her team includes developing community health profiles. These profiles provide local data for use by health authorities and local governments to support community health planning and decision-making. Find the current pdf profiles here. The profiles were developed by the PHSA Population and Public Health team in 2014.
In her new role, Veenstra is also responsible for managing the development of a website that will provide the community health profile information, and additional data, in an interactive format. “Each community has its own unique characteristics, so different things work for different communities,” explains Veenstra.
The Healthy Schools initiative aims to strengthen relationships across health and education sectors. Similarly, Healthy Communities seeks to strengthen the relationships across health and local government sectors. The ultimate goal of both streams is to improve capacity and overall health outcomes where British Columbians live, work, learn and play.
The information and dialogue from the evaluations of both of these initiatives, both managed by the PHSA PPH team and now in their third and final year, will showcase the progress of these initiatives in their initial years, and help to inform their continued development.
Championing Health across BC
Veenstra’s background as the Manager of Operations and Planning for the Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) prepared her well for a province-wide perspective on health. She traveled extensively around B.C. supporting the provision of medical services and specialized training to communities that required temporary additional capacity. “I gained an appreciation and understanding of the challenges communities face depending on the local conditions, populations and demographic,” remembers Jesse. “It gave me a unique, on-the-ground perspective of BC. The experience helped me develop my passion in prevention and health promotion.”
I gained an appreciation and understanding of the challenges communities face depending on the local conditions, populations and demographic.
Her work experiences build on a life-long love and respect for food. Her background in nutrition also fuels her desire to improve population health. This is evident in her community collaborations, such as the PHSA office garden; a project that generates lunch- and-learn sessions, planting parties and workplace potlucks. She is also an avid volunteer. Most recently she has volunteered for community supported agriculture projects with farmers in the Fraser Valley. In the past she’s provided knowledge to the Inspire Health Integrated Cancer care, where she taught patients and their support people about healthy food choices.
“I enjoy sharing knowledge that allows individuals and communities to be more self-sufficient,” says Veenstra. She also holds an emergency responder medical license and volunteers as an Emergency Responder at events and festivals and she is looking forward to doing more volunteering for projects supporting food security initiatives in her community.
Despite meeting the demands of a busy career and her many volunteer commitments, Jesse still finds time to write her blog about food: www.fouramongstthree.com. On that site you will find pages of her own recipes, mouth watering photos, food resources and more about Jesse’s personal journey that cultivated her endless enthusiasm and understanding for the systems that sustain us.