Good-bye Fast and Processed Foods: Learning to Cook from Scratch!

By Jennifer Jenkins-Scott, Health Promoter, Healthy Families Division of Halton Region Health Department

When was the last time you made a meal from scratch? A whole meal, prepared using fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs?

Parents today are so busy that they often rely on fast or processed foods for ease and convenience. But the trade-off is that these foods are much higher in fat, sugar and salt. Eating these types of foods frequently can put children at risk of developing chronic diseases. There is also a lost opportunity for family time together in the kitchen and for children to learn the enjoyment and skill of cooking.

Research has shown that improving children’s food skills in the kitchen results in higher vegetable and fruit consumption for the whole family! “Our Kids Eat Well”, a new Our Kids Network work group with a focus on promoting healthy eating in fun and interesting ways, has launched “You’re the Chef!”.

You’re the Chef! Learning to Cook for 10 to 17-year-olds
Numerous Our Kids Network community organizations have been trained to deliver a four-session program to children and youth 10 to 17 years-old, on how to prepare fruit and vegetable dishes.

This valuable “You’re the Chef!” program teaches youth how to read a recipe, measure ingredients, chop, fry and bake. Learning these important skills and having fun at the same time builds confidence and the skills to prepare fruit and vegetable dishes in their own homes for themselves and their families.

The initiative started in May and runs until the end of December. It will be evaluated for its effectiveness in preparing the trainers, and in teaching cooking skills to children and youth. Ideas on how to expand the program to more age- groups, communities, and organizations will be considered 2018. Additional initiatives will also be developed to continue to build our focus on strengthening food literacy in Halton.

If you’re interested in learning more about the “You’re the Chef!” initiative, contact Jennifer Jenkins-Scott, Health Promoter, Healthy Families Division of Halton Region Health Department at

Happy Birthday Canada! Top 10 reasons why Canada is a Great Asset-Builder!

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

Asset-building in Halton has evolved and now encompasses Developmental Assets, Family Assets and Relationships. We don’t need to look any further than our own country for great examples of asset-building:

  1. Canada knows that small things like pond hockey, neighbourhood barbeques and nature walks make a big difference.
  2. Canada is a caring and responsible role model for other countries.
  3. Canada plays nicely and builds strong and respectful friendships with other countries.
  4. Canada understands that health, education and safety are important.
  5. Canada’s music, arts and dance scene is celebrated and supported.
  6. Canada welcomes and embraces people’s differences. It strives to create environments where people belong.
  7. Canada resolves conflicts peacefully.
  8. Canada offers adventure and new experiences through its beautiful landscapes and its unpredictable weather patterns.
  9. Canada practices democracy and freedom of speech. Communication in Canada is very polite.
  10. Canada likes itself. It is valued by others as a great destination and is highly embraced by others when it travels.

Canada didn’t get like this by accident. It was the work of careful and intentional planning in an environment of partnership and collaboration. For Canada’s birthday this year, let’s reflect on the strengths that make us all a great asset-builders for Halton kids.

Happy Birthday Canada and keep up the great work!

For more information, resources and ideas about asset-building, visit the Asset-Building Toolkit.

Follow us @OurKidsNetwork #ABOKN17

150 ways to show kids you care! Canada Day and every day!

Father’s Day is a Special Occasion to let Children know the Importance of Family

By Bruce Callan

Bruce and Kathie Callan just celebrated their 23rd anniversary. As a blended family, they have two boys and two girls from previous marriages who are now 25 to 43-years-old, and three grandchildren. They are a proud foster family that has cared for many teens in the past five years, and are looking forward to their next experience of providing a loving home to a young person at a time of need.

When I was asked to write a blog about Father’s Day, I looked back at my childhood and remembered my father as the head of our family. He would spend time with my brother and me, taking us to Judo and hockey. We were taught responsibility by making sure that our chores were done. If we didn’t complete our chores, we would face consequences, but when our work was done our time was free to spend as we liked. We had great family vacations going fishing, travelling on a boat for a week at a time, or going to Myrtle Beach.

Today, I have two wonderful daughters and three grandchildren who are very much a part of my everyday life. Two of my proudest days as a father were when my two daughters got married. On each occasion, I walked them down the aisle to give them away. Last summer, my oldest daughter and her family spent a week at our family cottage with my wife and me. It was a wonderful time for everyone – going on boat cruises and playing on the beach near our cottage.

As a family, we make sure that we are all together for birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and many other special occasions. Father’s day is another of these very special occasions when we express the importance of family, being together, and supporting each other.

We are also a foster family and, as a foster parent, I have tried to be a father figure for the many children who have come into our lives. I believe each and every child who has lived with our family is better for having spent time with my wife, myself, our children, and grandchildren. We try to help each child who comes to us understand how a family should be there for each other.

One of my proudest memories is of an email message I received last year from one of the children who lived with us:

“Happy Father’s Day Bruce! Thanks so much for everything. You’ve been a huge father figure to me, to the point where I’d call you Dad! One day isn’t enough for me to tell you that you’re very special in my life. I’ve got a big spot for you in my heart, thanks for being the best guy to me! Love you and hope to see you soon! Give Kathie a big hug for me.”

So this Father’s Day, let’s make sure that we reach out to our fathers and our families and make it a special day for everyone.

Families Matter
The Family Assets framework takes Developmental Assets to a deeper level. These assets are the everyday interactions, values, skills and relationships families can focus on to help them thrive. In good times and challenging times, children, teens, parents, and other family members all play a part. Read more


A Mother’s Day Message

By Kathleen Callan

Kathleen and Bruce Callan just celebrated their 23rd anniversary. As a blended family, they have two children each from previous marriages, two boys and two girls, who are now 25 to 43-years-old, and three grandchildren. They are a proud foster family that has cared for many teens in the past five years, and are looking forward to their next experience of providing a loving home to a young person at a time of need. 

Oprah Winfrey once proclaimed that, “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”

Although biology may be a component, it does not necessarily have to be. Mothers are women who embrace children to become part of their lives and live in their very souls. They nurture children –  whether their biological child; a niece; a nephew; a grandchild; a distant relative; an adopted child, a foster child, or a child who is in need and is embraced simply when paths cross.  Mothers are women who are there for us at all times when no one else will do. They nurture us through our years to help us become stronger, brighter, and happier human beings. They pick us up when we fall. They seem to know when we need them, and when we can manage on our own. They teach us values to live by even when we don’t want to listen. They are our strength when we need them most. They stand beside us when the world seems too big for us to bear. They give us strength to keep trying. They listen to all our stories with intent, no matter how silly they are. They are our rock, our confidant, our grounding, and our sanctuary.

All too often, mothers sacrifice their own desires to give us ours. Some say it is a thankless job, but as a mother myself, I beg to differ. The times I have spent with my children span the good, the bad and the really ugly, but I am thanked every time I see my children succeed. I am grateful every time I see their excitement, enthusiasm, and awe of the world. It touches my soul to hear their laughter and breaks my heart to see them cry.

Even though I know I have given them the strength to get through all of life’s ordeals, I stand by each day in case my children need me because my love for them never ends. Now I watch from a distance and I see that they have the strength, the values and the perseverance to carry on. And the cycle of life repeats itself as I can see the values I instilled in my children built upon with their own children.

So, when we celebrate Mother’s Day, remember we are celebrating all those moms who have touched the hearts of children, and have helped them, or are helping them, to grow and become adults with aspirations, hopes and the will to succeed at whatever they set out to do.

So from one mom to many others “Happy Mother’s Day”!

“These two snowmobile daredevils are my granddaughter and me!
We love spending time together as a family. We had a blast that day in the snow at our cottage!”  -Kathleen Callan

Read more about the Callan family.

Celebrating the Vibrant Lives of Families Video 

Families are central to the positive development and success of children and youth and are at the heart of thriving communities. Three Halton families shared stories of challenges, successes and love in this special video. The Callans and their foster son, Kyle, are one of those special families. View the video.

2017 Asset-Building Forum a Model for Openness

I was driving with my teenaged son the other day and I had been mulling over my recent experience at the Our Kids Network Forum when I asked him what he thought makes a good relationship. In his wisdom he didn’t miss a beat and he replied with ‘openness’. He shared that if you aren’t open to sharing, contributing and maintaining a relationship you are not going to get very far and he then went on to share some examples with me from his interactions with friends, teachers and coaches.

Openness. Receptivity. Innovation. These are words I would also use to describe the mindset of my colleagues at Halton Our Kids Network (OKN). I have had the sheer privilege of sharing their approach with audiences across North America in my work with Positive Youth Development, and these qualities were once again front and centre at their recent Relationships First – Social Innovation for Human Connection Forum. This annual event is always over-subscribed and for good reason.

Too often we toil away in our agencies – hitting enrollment numbers, juggling budgets, dealing with the day-to-day challenges ranging from lost mittens, to family disruptions, to health challenges and more. We are immersed in the necessary functions, but sometimes drifting so far from what energizes us and drew us to this work in the first place, our feeling of contribution and of purpose. The Forum’s focus was on “Creating environments where meaningful relationships for children and youth will thrive.” As we came together, some as staff teams, some as single representatives from our organizations, we knew that this day would be different.

As we were entering the room, we instantly felt that OKN was shaking things up and the engaged buzz of conversation heightened our receptivity. The beautiful sound of cellos, violins, violas, keyboards and guitars was not coming from an iPod dock, but from real-live students – the Abbey Park Strings. The institutional lights in the auditorium were dimmed to create an intimate vibe more reminiscent of a coffee house. And the seating? You had your choice of everything; including tables, pods, desks, comfy couches and even carpet surrounded by a nook that took you back to story time.

They say the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach and the planning team took this seriously. The food was amazing and the promise of what was coming out next was a great way to denote the transitions between speakers for the participants.
Our innovative hosts had created an environment for us where we could enrich our understanding and build our capacity to help children and youth to thrive. The program launched with a challenge from MC Jacqueline Newton, of the Halton District School Board, “to think about why we do the work that we do” as we experienced the program.


The presenters at the Forum embodied the elements of Developmental Relationships* 

Left to right: Drew Donaldson, Craig Woodhall, Annyse Balkwill, Kiron Mukherjee, Mike Gallant


Challenge Growth – The day began with Rick Boersma’s Innovation in a Box approach to collaborating. Rick stretched our traditional understanding of brainstorming utilizing his structured innovation process and practical tools to help us learn from our experiences. Rick assured us that, “The act of feeling frustrated is part of finding the solution. By utilizing tools and processes to frame the dialogue the frustration may not last as long and this will help move us to innovation.”

Expand Possibilities – Mike Gallant and Drew Donaldson from the Halton District School Board connected us with new ideas, experiences and the unique location of a cloud to build relationships. Openness to broadening our horizons and exploring new ways to connect are hallmarks of innovation and we look forward to learning more about how we can potentially utilize these tools in our work environments.

Express Care – Annyse Balkwill of the LuminUS Group reminded us that to unlock our collective wisdom we need to make a choice about our mindset when we show up and that we need to do so with intention. The warmth and encouragement that set the tone for her presentation (right down to her bare feet!), conveyed that paying attention to the process combined with trust helps us move forward toward our true purpose – why we do the work we do.

Share Power – Byng Leadership’s Craig Woodhall helped us make the most of our leadership potential and understand that even at the highest level of organizational leadership, we need to ask ourselves at the end of every day what we did to live the values we believe in. He said, “When you lead yourself in a better way you are prepared to lead others.”

Provide Support – Kiron Mukherjee’s enthusiastic storytelling and passion for his work with the Royal Ontario Museum’s family and children’s programs was a perfect way to wrap up the Forum. His ability to empower his campers with a life-long curiosity through hands-on learning while establishing boundaries to keep people on track with actions as simple as hanging out at the door to send the campers off at the end of the day provided us with simple actions we can employ in our own environments.

When all was said and done at the Forum, OKN modelled for participants exactly what we need to do in order to create environments where meaningful relationships for children and youth will thrive. The openness of OKN to sharing resources and training at the Forum exemplifies the importance of putting the building of relationships first. The openness to collaboration that OKN personifies is evident in the shared commitment from the Protocol Partners to maintain a solid foundation. The openness to sharing data and contributing to the efforts of each individual participant in OKN is rarely observed in regional and municipal collaborations.

Thinking back to the car ride home with my son, I wondered how the same child who can’t seem to find the dirty clothes hamper could be so aware of such an essential element of our basic human connection – openness. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for good parenting, at least on the well-rounded deep thinker I’m raising. We still need to work on instilling good housekeeping habits, but that’s material for another blog!

*Learn more about Developmental Relationships


Pat Howell-Blackmore – As principal and founder of PHB Spark Consulting, Pat focuses on providing consulting services related to group development, community development, capacity building, program research, development and evaluation. Pat has acted as a contributor and developer for original resources, training models, revisions and international editions on topics including Positive Youth Development, group facilitation, Asset Building, Social-Emotional Learning, Service-Learning, strategic communications, game-based learning, community engagement, conflict management, and community capacity building.