FOLLOW TINA AND HER TEAM AS THEY work to CRAFT THE FRAMEWORK FOR A SUSTAINABLE POPULATION GROWTH STRATEGY IN LUNENBURG COUNTY
NOW Lunenburg County and the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore have partnered together for a project that both groups are passionate about: bringing more doctors to serve the people of Lunenburg County.
For the last 18 months, NOW Lunenburg County has been hosting medical students and potential new recruits; showing them all that Lunenburg County has to offer. Tina Hennigar, NOW Lunenburg County’s Population Growth Coordinator notes the drive to help attract physicians to Lunenburg County came from the organization’s cross-Canada tour in 2017, when they invited people to create a life they love in Lunenburg County.
“What we heard from the thousands of folks we met is that we have a few barriers that we need to look after in order for people to join us here. Having a doctor rose to the top.”
As NOW Lunenburg County began to showcase the community to visiting physicians, they also started having conversations with the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore, which was also trying to find a way to help bring more doctors to practice in Lunenburg County. After over a year of each group supporting the other in their efforts, the Health Services Foundation has committed $60,000 to the physician recruitment work of NOW Lunenburg County, over the next year.
“Our goals are the same,” Arleen Stevens, the Executive Director of the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore shared. “We have heard loud and clear from our donors and the community that we (the Foundation) need to help recruit physician to our community. Through conversations with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and NOW Lunenburg County, we feel confident in suppling this funding to continue the great work around physician recruitment already underway on the South Shore. By working together, we feel strongly we’ll be more successful than working separately.”
With the financial contribution of the Foundation, NOW Lunenburg County is able to continue to do the work of hosting and accommodating physicians, and who show them and their families what their lives could look like here. In fact, in the few weeks since the partnership with the Health Services Foundation has become official, Hennigar and NOW Lunenburg County has made multiple connections with potential physicians, hosted a physician for a six-week term, and is hoping we will soon see a vacancy filled.
“This is a long game. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Hennigar said. “But we’re all committed; the Board of the Foundation, and the Core team of NOW Lunenburg County."
The year-long partnership has key-performance indicators attached to it which will help measure the projects success to determine if it continues into 2021.
NOW Lunenburg County is currently assisting a handful of families living in other provinces find appropriate rental properties in Lunenburg County. Many hoping for a September start for their children to attend school here. At the same time, there are many local families who’ve asked for our help because, for a variety of reasons, they are struggling to find appropriate housing. Air B&B is sometimes thought to be to blame or intolerant landlords who won’t allow pets or children or both.
We should sympathize with landlords. I can almost guarantee that every homeowner who has rented out their home has experienced a less-than-ideal tenant. I’ve seen it firsthand living in apartments where people have left their units in disarray, even with urine soaked floors from pets. Those tenants have ruined it for the amazing families who need a home; one they’ll treat with respect as if it were their own.
That brings me to the families who I’m trying to help secure housing. These people are homeowners themselves. In some cases, they’re renting out their homes until they sell to come here to start a new life. They’ll respect their rental home because they know how vulnerable it feels for strangers to have access to their biggest investment. When people can’t find a rental in their “community of choice”, they’ll go wherever they can find one. That might be of benefit to the neighbouring community, or to the neighbouring county or perhaps, the neighbouring province.
Recently I was helping a new doctor find an apartment, and with only weeks until his arrival, he said his only option was to consider moving to Halifax. That was concerning because if he were to move to Halifax, chances are, he’d have practiced in Halifax too. Fortunately, and with your help, we found a number of suitable options, and he found a beautiful space where I’m certain he’ll be happy in the town of Bridgewater.
In the case of the other families who want to come and those who want to stay, it’s important they find housing where they can taste what life is like here, and in many cases, find a home to buy. If that doesn’t happen, they'll move to the next community. They’ll work in that community. They’ll volunteer in that community. Their kids will go to school in that community. And they’ll buy a house and invest their lives and pay taxes in that community as well.
So, what can we do about it? We can connect with homeowners whose homes have been on the market for an extended period of time and ask if they’d consider renting them. We can call Air B&B operators and ask them if they’d consider doing a longer term rental. We can ask around, call our neighbours, ask our coworkers and hairstylists and share available rentals. By the way, all of these things I have done, and some have been successful. Do you know of a rental property and do you want to help ensure that new and existing families live, work, volunteer and invest in Lunenburg County? Help us create a database of rentals. Contact me with details at firstname.lastname@example.org
BY TINA HENNIGAR
I mean no disrespect, and I'm certain that I'll appear very ungrateful, but I think we need to have a conversation about gift giving and our lack of creativity. Let me explain.
NOW Lunenburg County has been asked to speak at several events recently to share our insights and experiences. And we're happy to do it. We feel it's our duty as a grassroots organization to help other grassroots organizations learn from our success, and more importantly, our failures. And aside from being reimbursed for our expenses, we don't get paid for these speaking engagements. Getting a small gift as a token of thanks for the time and effort that it takes to put together a presentation and to be present and engaged, while nice, isn't entirely necessary. But I get it. It might feel weird, awkward even, to not give anything.
Recently, we presented at the Healthy Communities conference hosted by the department of Communities, Culture and Heritage. I wrote recently that the event was positive and participating felt very worthwhile. I learned a lot, even as a presenter, so it was time very well spent. Receiving a gift was entirely unnecessary, but even still, as I walked to my car, I was eager to open it. Secretly I was hoping it might be the plan for how communities can apply for the $200,000 of funding that the Liberal Government announced to assist communities in attracting doctors, instead of having to wait the usual months for the criteria and application process to be released.
I opened a beautiful, stunning Nova Scotia Crystal bowl. It's gorgeous. I'm so thankful that our province gives products made in Nova Scotia. A quick search on their website, I learned that this bowl cost $60 and I immediately thought of what our grassroots group, who is always relying on donations, could have accomplished with $60. Not much you might say. Not true I say.
Just this week, I supplied coffee, tea and carrot muffins for 10 influencers from Dalhousie Medical school as they explored the area as a possible site for the Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship program, where up to 5-medical students will live and practice in our community. $60 could have paid for us to tour 143 KM's of coastline with our visiting doctor and her family. $60 could have helped us pay for a bike rental so they could have explored our trails. Sure, we often leverage partnerships with the private sector and generously Sweet Rides in Mahone Bay often get donates bikes but golly, it would sure be nice to actually pay for one every once in a while.
$60 might have paid for a bottle of wine for a couple to share over dinner, or it could have been used to help us pay for gas when we go to New Brunswick in the fall for our next doctor recruitment event.
I'm not trying to suggest that we don't appreciate gifts, or that they shouldn't be given or to stop supporting Nova Scotia products. But honestly, my first thought after opening it was, "I wonder what I can fill this with to give to a visiting doctor, so they'll remember us. Maybe I can fill it with homemade nuts and accompany it with local craft beer. Perhaps I can turn it into a soap dish and include some of our homemade artisan soaps."
See, I told you I'd come off like an ungrateful brat, but as difficult as it was to say this, someone has to have the courage to tell the truth. Let's not stop buying fabulous gifts made in Nova Scotia that promote our province. But let's understand our audience. Let's continue to support our incredible Nova Scotia producers by giving them to potential investors. A basket with Nova Scotian Crystal, craft beer, Amos Pewter, Ironworks rum, seeds from The Incredible Seed Co, and a litany of other incredible products made here in Nova Scotia, to show investors that Nova Scotia is where it's at when it comes to doing business and creating epic products. But to presenters at a conference, someone like me who is a 'sure thing', who already knows we are the creative epicentre, the best gift of all would be if our government could make it easier for our group and other grassroots groups like ours to do this work.
BY TINA HENNIGAR
If you spend any time online, you’ve seen that Nova Scotians seem to have a lot to complain about. It’s been raining for what feels like an eternity. We don’t all have a family doctor. And don’t get me started on the taxes!
But if we’re going to be negative while the world is watching, we need to be honest, too.
We have the most amazing beaches the world has ever seen. The talent we have is world class. We’re creating tires, airplane parts, video-games, jewelry, beer, and incredible food. And the people- they don’t come any better than our people!
NOW Lunenburg County has been doing this work, growing the population, while shining a spotlight on some of the barriers. So, we have to be positive, while at the same time, be truthful. The back and forth can make a person feel like they’re vibrating.
I was recently a part of a panel of community leaders who are trying our darnedest to create the conditions for people, in particular doctors to create a life they love in Lunenburg County and throughout the province. For me that means I’m baking cinnamon rolls for visiting residents, touring visiting doctors around our community to inspire them and biking 20 km’s during Rural Week to show 3-medical students our beautiful coastline. It also includes baking a carrot cake for a team visiting from Dalhousie Med School in preparation for the Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship, an initiative that will entirely change the game when it comes to bringing students here and exposing them to life and work in Lunenburg County. The good news is this is all work I love - so doesn’t feel like work at all!
The bad news is that regardless of the effort, if you go online, you’ll read all kinds of comments about why this isn’t working, or that this isn’t the community’s responsibility and other reasons why it’s easier to do nothing. It’s easy to simply complain and criticize those who are trying.
For example, our province recently announced a $200,000 fund specifically for community groups and organizations to help recruit doctors to Nova Scotia. We’ve long been saying that community groups such as NOW Lunenburg County need funds to do this work, and only the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg and the Town of Mahone Bay have supported our work. "Doctor recruitment is not the job of municipal government," is what we hear from the rest. But organizing bike rides, touring with and hosting visiting doctors, helping them find rental properties, all that work comes at a cost. This fund could help offset that cost. It could help make sure that NOW Lunenburg County, and others like Now Lunenburg County, can at least get reimbursed for our gas and ingredients. We felt hopeful by the announcement. It’s certainly not going to solve all the issues facing doctor recruitment and retention. It will not address many of the issues that we have no influence over. But it will help us address many of the things we can do and control.
Yet, armchair quarterbacks were quick to comment on how this fund is implying we have to “clean ourselves up” to “attract” doctors. Others suggested that this is a mechanism to evade responsibility so that government can no longer be held accountable. “We gave you money to recruit. If you can’t, well, then that’s on you,” one commenter suggested. And then there is the idea that $200,000 will do nothing to help the situation. And that is where I felt my blood pressure rise.
(The street names you’re about to read are fictitious.)
As high school students make their plans to pursue their post-secondary education, some will choose to leave, others to stay, travel or take a year off. Whatever they choose the closer we get to the end of the year the more their excitement level increases as does the anxiety level of their parents.
My son and I visited the new community where he plans to go to school in the fall, for now. Plans change, and that’s perfectly fine, too. I’m not overly familiar with this Nova Scotia community. I’ve only really been there for hockey tournaments. I know where to find the rinks and Tim Hortons. That’s it.
So, we booked an afternoon to see a half-dozen apartments in different parts of the community. First things first: he would need to find a barber. He has great hair it’s kind of his signature and I just knew he couldn’t be truly happy in a community until he finds one he likes. And while he loves his current barber, and it’s not too far away, he can’t very well come home every time he needs a haircut.
I sat in the Barber Shop waiting room talking to another patron, and, as I always do, I began asking questions about this community. He filled me in on all the great and not-so-great things about it. “Don’t live near Fraser Street. Or Edward Road. Make sure to stay away from Patton Drive, too. It's known for its prostitution.” I looked down at my sheet of all the apartments we were going to view right after this haircut, and all of those streets were listed.
Later, after I emerged from the washroom having just hyperventilated in a paper bag, we proceeded to go to all the places the guy in the barbershop recommended told us to avoid. We went for lunch. We checked out some of the bulletin boards filled with all the cultural activities happening in the community: concerts, plays, lectures, and even hockey.
We spent the afternoon walking the streets in the downtown core, and I could see my son’s face light up with a smile and feel my shoulders begin to relax when we found a great apt and truly experienced all that this place will offer him. “This will be fine,” I reassure him and myself.
When new people move to a community, it is essential to seek out an ambassador who is in "the know". I feel as though I am a great ambassador for new people in Lunenburg County. But I'm not the only one, and every community has some. If you don’t know who that person is, you might find them in the local coffee shop, sitting at the bar at the local pub, in the library, or even in the waiting room at the barbershop, just as we did.
It's important for us all to act as an ambassador. Sure, point out the not-so-great things about the community. Every community has a few blemishes. But also, be sure to highlight the great things too, because we have far more of those. And by only highlighting the bad things, you might be leaving someone, hiding the bathroom, with incredible anxiety, breathing into a paper bag.
We found an apartment in an area not mentioned by our new friend. We found a barber, a deli close by and even a pool where he might lifeguard. “Anywhere else before we leave?” I asked him while putting on my seatbelt.
“Nope,” He smiled. Except maybe just a quick drive down Patton Street.”
A few weeks ago, I attended a session on housing in Lunenburg presented by Project Lunenburg. The Lunenburg Fire Hall was packed with people deeply engaged in lively conversation. It was excellent.
The purpose was to talk about some of the issues that the town of Lunenburg faces in terms of housing and offer some creative solutions about what can be done to help solve the issue.
And what is the issue? Simply put, the town needs more housing options. That’s pretty simplified. You can learn more about it at projectlunenburg.ca. Basically, there are too few long terms rentals, plenty of vacancies due to summertime residents, not enough housing options in general, and the feeling that the popularity of Air B&B’s isn’t helping matters. The issue is complicated so the solutions aren’t going to be simple and will require more than one way of tackling the issue.
However, the good news: I was utterly blown away by the commitment of the town to initiate this conversation, by the committee who hosted such a meaningful session and the community who responded to the invitation to be part of the solution. Being at several community engagements, I can say, this one was good! Now, the challenge is to listen.
The voices at my table were diverse. There were seasonal residents, retirees, people looking for options, and of course, myself. While I’m not a resident of the town, it’s my job to help bring more residents here, so I felt it was appropriate to attend. I’m grateful that no one kicked me out. I felt that my perspective was welcome.
The truth is that the feeling of housing insecurity is one I know all too well. I was one such person, 20 years ago, on the hunt for an appropriate rental, having to move to an adjacent town to find one. I know the anxiety that creates, and at least once a week I receive a call from someone just as anxious as I was with a familiar story that I had. I try to connect them with potential landlords. I can’t always help, but in some cases we have.
It’s easy enough to say, just build more housing. The costs of building are only getting more significant making rent prices high. Housing developments are often met with resistance by neighbours. Prohibiting Air B&B’s, even if it was possible, would only create another issue of not enough accommodations, which would significantly impact our most significant economic driver; tourism. So, we’re going to have to get a little more creative.
This is just one example of the creativity I’m suggesting: Occasionally, people come to Lunenburg County for temporary work stays. I recently learned of a medical practitioner who will be joining us for 3-months and is struggling to find temporary housing. Since 14% of dwellings in Lunenburg are owned by seasonal residents, who leave their homes vacant, what if there was a way to take an inventory of the seasonal residents and connect them to the folks who are here temporarily, who might actually love it so much they won’t want to leave?
McAdam, New Brunswick listed 16-lots for the low, low price of $1, attracting people from Ontario and even Nova Scotia. Those 16-$1 lots will create a lifetime of increasing tax-revenue. Also, what about co-housing? The Treehouse Village Ecohousing project in Bridgwater is solving a housing issue in Bridgwater. It’s not going to answer all housing issues, it’s not going to appropriate for everyone, but it does show the creativity needed to tackle these complex issues.
Aside from buying a second home to rent it out, or selling your own home to someone else, you may feel as though there is little the average person like you, and I can do, when in fact, we can all help in a small way. You can keep your ear to the ground for places that are coming up, and for those who are in need of accommodations and connect the two. If you have space available, consider making it accessible to others. Learn about what groups such as the South Shore Housing Action Coalition are doing to tackle the issue at sshac.ca.
And of course, continue talking about it, just like they did a few weeks ago that evening in Lunenburg.
The joy in being asked
I’m sitting at home on a Thursday night, watching the Boston vs Carolina game 1, when I get a ‘ding’ indicating I received an email. It’s from the Mahone Bay Founders Society and it’s asking me if I would contribute to the 40th Annual Our Best To You Food Sale at the St. James Parish Hall in Mahone Bay on May 25th, and I finally feel like I have arrived! No joke or exaggeration, I begin to scan my memory of recipes to decide what I should cook or bake and donate to this iconic event.
In case you’re not aware, the Our Best To You Food Sale is a fundraiser where people go and buy food for that evening’s supper, or to fill their freezer, or to eat in the car on the drive home. People cook their family favourites mostly, they donate it, and it’s sold to people like me who love food. And now, they are asking me to contribute. To do the cooking, not just the buying! Honestly, I can imagine this is how it feels to be nominated for a prestigious award. I add it to my calendar, I make a grocery list and search Pinterest for creative packaging, because you better believe I will not disappoint.
It certainly is an honour just to be nominated…. I mean asked to participate.
Coincidentally, the day before, my friend and I were walking the beautiful trail behind the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre, when we ran into a young man walking his dog. We stopped and did the typical small talk about the weather, asked about his gorgeous dog, and then I realize from his accent that he was from Newfoundland. A few questions later we confirmed it. He moved to Bridgewater from Newfoundland and was working in Shelburne. We wished him well and continued on our walk. My friend and I discussed how we hoped he was settling in well here and finding his community. “He is exactly who I’m hoping to help attract and stay here,” I told my friend of my work with NOW Lunenburg County. I instantly felt regret for not asking for his phone number but couldn’t in a way that wasn’t absolutely creepy. If I asked for it, I’m sure he would have given me a wrong number, just as I would have if some strange person asked me for my number in the woods.
So, if you happen to be reading this, the fellow from Newfoundland with the gorgeous dog, I truly would love to connect, not for anything nefarious, but to make sure you’re loving it here, connect you with gentlemen’s league hockey if that’s your thing, or to a band if you play the drums, take you for a beer at one of our cool breweries, tell you about all there is to do, and perhaps even invite you to come and fill your freezer with food from the Our Best to You food sale. I promise, I’m harmless. I’m married, and you’re much too young for me anyway.
And to everyone else, imagine how it feels to be new to a community and have someone invite you to be a part of the community. One simple invitation made me more conscious of being more inclusive and inviting people who might not otherwise participate. I encourage you do the same.
My son and I recently went to the viewing of You Are Here - a documentary hosted by Lunenburg Doc Fest at the Cineplex Theatre in honour of National Canadian Film Day. The documentary is based on Gander Newfoundland’s response to the 7000 stranded passengers that converged on their community of 9000 people during the 9/11 attacks. The musical “Come from Away” is based on that story. It was excellent.
In the film, the term, 'Come from Away' was meant as a term of endearment, meaning, the folks who are not from there, nothing more or less. It’s a term that I’ve long believed is a made-up phrase that locals don’t really use. People who aren’t from here might call themselves a 'Come from Away,' but I, nor anyone I know, identify a new resident as a come from away. But is "Come from Away" not just a title but a way people are treated?
This conversation recently came up at one of our weekly NOW Lunenburg County meetings when discussing the plight of some new Lunenburg County residents who called us, asking for help getting, well, help! These folks, and there have been more than just one, lamented the inability to get tradespeople and have shared a concern that it’s because they’re new to the area, or “come from aways” if you will. I explained that I highly doubt that. I shared how I struggled to find a roofer. Contractors, plumbers, electricians, they’re all in high demand.
But some folks are convinced it’s the result of not being connected to the right people. After hearing a similar story for the third time, I thought, am I wrong? Perhaps I live in an idealistic world. Maybe the term 'come from away' isn’t a made-up term but is an actual thing that is another barrier prohibiting people from moving here and successfully creating a life here. Maybe ‘come from aways’ aren’t just struggling to hire tradespeople, but they’re also struggling to find friends, groups and their own community.
What if local employers, the same employers who have shared that they're struggling to find staff, are missing people who are right under their nose because these new people aren't connected to the right people? These new people, we're told, might not even know where to start or who to talk to in their industry to begin their job search.
So, what can we do about it?
Can we first remove the term "Come from Aways" unless you're talking about the play? Or if you like the term and want to call yourself that? But to identify someone as a, "CFA" feels a little bit like calling me a "local". Both terms are accurate but depending on how they’re used they can be derogatory. I really don't like that. Can we just remove the labels?
But what else can we do about it? Well, we can share the one thing that we '’locals” know, and that's the experience of living here. I recently met a new, lovely couple, Howard, and Judy. Howard came from the financial sector in Ontario and knew very few people. I simply sent out an email to the people I knew would know far more about the opportunities in that industry than I do. I introduced them via email and days later, he was employed.
My request is two-parts: First, can we stop thinking of people in two groups, from here or not, and instead, think of us all in one lovely group; people who have chosen to make Lunenburg County our home? And second, recognize that if we connect the right people together, we're helping to build a strong community for everyone.
NOW LUNENBURG: What is the Quality of Life Index and why should you care if it shows up in your mailbox?
When NOW Lunenburg County received a request to be involved in the Quality of Life Index, a project initiated by Engage Nova Scotia, we were initially skeptical. It’s not the first time we have been asked to endorse or support a project. And we are not big fans of reports, since many of them have done little more than sit on a shelf collecting dust. Our province does not need another costly report or study to tell us what we already know.
However, this survey, we quickly understood, is a little bit different.
At the initial meeting, we learned that the Quality of Life Index might help people decide where they may live. Since we’ve spent the last two years actively inviting people to create a life they love in Lunenburg County, it made perfect sense for us to be involved. But we are fully aware that not everyone in our community has a life they love. We have some barriers that have made it challenging for everyone to enjoy a high quality of life. Lunenburg County is not immune to issues such as poverty, racism, we have a doctor shortage, we have food, housing and internet insecurity.
The Quality of Life Index is a survey that will be mailed to 80,000 Nova Scotians. It’s long. It asks over 180 questions. Whoever receives it and fills it out is making a 30-minute time commitment. But it’s an investment of time we need you to make, and this is why:
The Quality of Life Index will go ahead whether we endorsed it or not. The results will be released whether you toss it in the trash or take the time to fill it out. This survey is also an opportunity. We’re asking you to take advantage of this opportunity to make Lunenburg County’s quality of life known; whatever that means to you, good or bad.
If you receive it, consider yourself lucky. I know, you might not feel very lucky to receive a survey with over 180 questions, but you have a unique opportunity to share your voice; an opportunity that most of your neighbours won't have.
NOW Lunenburg County is sitting at the table with other leaders in our community, a group of about a dozen. When Engage Nova Scotia, who’s doing the survey, introduced the project to us, they were met with a borage of questions we posed on your behalf: What is going to happen with the results of this survey? Will the results help influence positive change? How can we be certain that the most vulnerable citizens, our youth and the elderly will have their voices heard? We explained that our reservations are likely the same as the community will have. Their answers left me feeling hopeful. If you receive the survey, and don’t do it, either in protest, apathy or just because you don’t want to do it, then we have squandered an opportunity to have our opinion heard. What results from the Quality of Life Index is another matter, and while those results might sit on a shelf I do not believe anyone wants that to happen, least of all us at NOW Lunenburg County.
I’m calling in a favour from you, the community who I love so much, asking you to check your mailbox carefully in late April and early May. When you sift through the litany of bills and junk mail, if you happen to stumble upon an envelope that asks you to take the Quality of Life Index survey, please fill it out. I’m encouraging you to follow the directions, perk a cup of tea or something a little stronger, take some time, clear your mind and complete it fully and honestly, on behalf of all of us.
For your effort, Now Lunenburg County will make a personal commitment to see that your time and your tea is not wasted. Thank you for taking the time to help with this research project and we promise the results won’t gather dust on our shelf — we will use this data to help inform our work.
Tina Hennigar is the population growth coordinator for NOW Lunenburg County.