Organizations meet to build awareness and support for Veterans and military families

Increasing the network of collaboration and building on previous initiatives to better support military and veteran families, was once again the focus at the third annual Canadian Military and Veteran Family Leadership Circle meeting held on Monday, Jan. 23.

An initiative of the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Leadership Circle, is a collaboration between organizations and leaders from around the country to build awareness, capacity, competency and community support for military and veteran families.

Due to the increase of members part of the Leadership Circle, more than 60 individuals from 50 organizations including 38 member organizations, the Leadership Circle introduced, for the first time, Leadership Circle Hubs.

“One of the ‘wouldn’t it be great ifs’ from last year was ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had more time to spend with our colleagues and people with shared interest,’” explained Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute and Co-Chair of the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle.

These hubs included a health care hub, a mental health hub, education, children and youth services hub, employment and labour hub, research hub and transition and outreach hub.

Members of each hub exchanged ideas and discussed the potential for the hub in the coming year to connect with other professionals in their particular field. They also worked on a collective “wouldn’t it be great if” statement for next year and determined how to make it possible.

“The feedback we got was positive. People like to be able to have concentrated, conversations in their areas of expertise. But we also provided opportunities for cross-pollination between the hubs, and that was very successful,” added Spinks.

The Leadership Circle Hubs, and the meeting overall discussed meaningful call-to-action plans and exchange of ideas that translate on the ground level.

“We created the Leadership Circle to build awareness capacity competency and community and what we’re also finding is that we’re building relationships, we’re building trust, we’re building connections and all of that is a cornerstone for high quality partnerships and collaborations and people were commenting that unlike other meetings, where there are lots of opportunities to sit around and talk, this group is about action. So, the conversations weren’t just about what are you doing and what am I doing but what are you doing that I can learn from, what are you doing that I can build on, what can we do together, who do you know in terms of your network, are there people in your network that might be of value to me and my constituency,” explained Spinks.

According to Spinks, the discussions generated at a hub and overall level were an organic process.

“It’s not like we say ‘well we want to come up with three ideas for next year.’ Well, no, we want to come up with ideas that are actionable, and we want people to be engaged and have a sense of ownership and apply whatever skills they have, resources, networks, to realize those visions,” stated Spinks.

During the course of the day, the Leadership Circle also highlighted the achievements of several organizations and individuals who have made significant strides in better supporting military families. This list includes Dr. Gail Wideman, from Memorial University, who recently hosted an Atlantic Region Leadership Circle. The College of Family Physicians of Canada, who released a document to enhance the military literacy of family physicians entitled “Working with Military Families. The document was distributed to nearly 40,000 family physicians at the Family Physicians Conference. Lastly, the Leadership Circle recognized the Mental Health Commission for sponsoring the meeting.


Amongst the distinguished attendees of the event was Her Excellency, Mrs. Sharon Johnston, C.C, who highlighted the work being done to create a system of support for military and veteran families.

“As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Leadership Circle illustrates the power of collaboration and community engagement across the country for the benefit of military and Veteran families,” said Mrs. Johnston.

Overall, Spinks believes this year’s meeting was a success.

“When we asked at the beginning of the day, after the welcome and introductory remarks, how many people had met someone they hadn’t met before, almost every hand in the room went up. By the time we finished the afternoon session, most people had met at least five people they hadn’t met before. In terms of networking and connections, high score. In terms of quality of connections, a number of people either made discoveries about organizations that has led them to a new project or new idea or a follow-up meeting. So, in terms of talk to action, high score. In terms of celebrating successes from the past year, I think people were very excited about how much progress this group has made through non-traditional partnerships and collaborations,” said Spinks.

In the coming weeks, Spinks and her team will be working on disseminating information gathered from the Leadership Circle and determining where there are still gaps. They will also be sifting through the “wouldn’t it be great if” statements from this year, like the need to have greater provincial representation, and determining how to make them a reality.

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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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