Click here to access Stuart Shanker's guest article: Expanding our Understanding of the Meaning of "Safe."

COMMUNITY: Positive Post–It Day, October 5, 2015

by: Meaghan Trewin, Communications Advisor

What is International Positive Post–It Day?
Positive Post–It Day started in Airdrie, Alberta, when high school student Caitlin Haacke decided to fight back against online bullying by posting notes with compliments on every locker in her school. The positive post–it movement soon took off—in Caitlin’s school, in the Airdrie community, and on social media. This year, schools and communities around the world are celebrating Positive Post–It Day on October 5.

Are you interested in getting involved? Here are some ideas on how to plan your own day of positivity at school, in the classroom, at the office, at home, or on social media.

Celebrating in your school
Designate one area to be your “Wall of Positivity”—mark it with a sign or cover it with paper. Distribute sticky notes to classrooms and announce the day during morning announcements. Post–it messages can be anything with a positive message, directed at a specific person, or at the school community in general! Give students examples, such as “you have a great smile” “thanks for tutoring me in algebra” or “I love my school.” Encourage students and teachers to stop by the wall to post their messages and to read others’ notes. At the end of the day, read a sample of ten messages over the P.A. system.

Celebrating in your classroom
Bring sticky notes into your classroom and distribute to students. The more colourful the sticky notes, the better! Divide students into small groups and ask them to write one positive thing about each person in their group and post it on their desk.

Celebrating in your office
Work with human resources or your office manager to create a designated post–it wall in a common area, such as the lunch room. Send a memo to your coworkers a few days beforehand to let them know about the wall, explain the day and encourage participation. If there aren’t any available common spaces, post messages directly onto coworkers’ cubicle walls and office doors. Take advantage of this opportunity to build office moral and plan an office potluck or happy hour to extend the festivities.

Celebrating in your home
Write short, sweet, and positive messages and hide them in your family members’ backpacks, purses, briefcases, coats, or lunches.

Celebrating online
Snap a picture of your positive post–it and share it on Twitter or Facebook, using the hashtag #positivepostitday. Mention @SafeandCaring and we will retweet you!

365 days of kindness
If you miss October 5, don’t worry! There are lots of opportunities to celebrate kindness and positivity throughout the year.

  • Random Acts of Kindness Day: November 13, 2015
  • National Bullying Awareness Week: November 15-21, 2015
  • Random Acts of Kindness Week: February 14-20, 2016
  • Year round!

Now stock up on some sticky notes and start spreading some joy!

This article appeared in our Fall 2015 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

COMMUNITY: Launching the Youth ART Project – Bullying Prevention in Schools

ART thumbnail-01Safe and Caring is thrilled to be working with the two rural Alberta communities of Wabasca and Rocky Mountain House to deliver ART bullying prevention training with 12 to 17 year old youth at O’Chiese School and Mistassiniy School.

Visit our project webpage to learn more about this project, and keep up to date on project news and development.


FOCUS ON: Celebrating Our Youth

by: Susan Hopkins, Ed.D., Executive Director and Barry Davidson, Managing Director

Barry Davidson_webspacer-01We look at adolescents and often our very selective memory seems to kick in with some vague conception that young people today have no similarity to the young people we once were. That’s just not so—think back to when you were a youth and “knew it all.”

Young people are gloriously complex, just like we once were, before we put up boundaries around what we were supposed to be and do. Evolutionary biology can explain everything from why teenagers want to sleep in every morning to why they “need” to separate from us in increasingly evident ways. They love us, even if they don’t say so, or act in opposing ways. It’s never personal—typical “teenage” behaviour is often an emotional response, part of their developing brain chemisty.

Whether we like it or not, the “thinking ahead” areas of teenage brains are still under construction. That includes the prefrontal cortex areas responsible for decision making, delaying gratification, switching and sustaining attention. All of those areas we parents and teachers often try to appeal to are still in development and sometimes not accepting input. The emotional centre of the brain—the limbic system—is often running the show in youth, prioritizing things like risk–taking and social standing over long term consequences.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the great work being undertaken in their brains, youth are capable of great passion and have a wonderful energy for positive action. This summer, we want to celebrate the amazing youth making a difference across our province every day, taking action on issues that matter to them and marking their place in the world. Alberta’s youth inspire us every day. EVERY day.

So remember if you ever feel frustrated or confused about teenage behaviour or activities, it is not rhetoric when we say that the youth of today ARE the leaders of tomorrow. They are using their passion and taking risks to make their world a better place. Join the conversation this month by sharing stories and advice to promote youth action and celebrate successes! #CaringYouth

This article appeared in our August 2015 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

COMMUNITY: Celebrating the Wabasca Community

DSC_1018by: Meaghan Trewin, Communications Strategy Coordinator and Barb Milne, Project Manager

As an organization that has been around for over a decade, Safe and Caring has had the pleasure of working with many Alberta communities. One of our longest standing relationships has been with the small northern community of Wabasca, home of the Bigstone Cree Nation and many hardworking people in a strongly oil, gas and forestry-based economy.

Safe and Caring has been working in partnership with the Wabasca community since 2006 and, in 2009, we were awarded the opportunity to deliver Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) training to help local students build skills to form positive relationships within their school and broader communities.

Located 300 km north of Edmonton, and with limited access to valuable government services, Wabasca residents face many of the challenges common amongst remote Alberta communities: poverty, housing scarcity, unemployment and a prevalence of family violence. Within Alberta as a whole, the impact of violence against women and their families is dramatic, representing more than a quarter of all reported violent crimes (StatsCanada, 2013).

Despite the challenges that they face, Wabasca residents and leaders are passionate about their community, and passionate about the safety of their women, children and elders. Thanks to the generous ongoing support of Status of Women Canada, as well as from corporate sponsors Cavalier Energy, Inc. and Koch Oil Sands, Safe and Caring has experienced first-hand how this community can come together to support the well-being of their people.

Each community has unique needs and priorities. When Safe and Caring first came to Wabasca, we connected with those who knew best what the young students in the community needed to thrive: the people of Wabasca itself! We engaged community stakeholders from start to end, beginning our research with a community-driven needs assessment and consultation to identify the specific needs of Wabasca. Using findings from this preliminary research, we developed a Steering Committee of local leaders, educators, businesses and support services to help interpret findings and oversee program implementation.

Overall, this evidence-based and collaborative approach has not only ensured that the work we do is relevant and contributing to lasting change – this approach has also helped empower the Wabasca community to build their own long-term capacity. Through the Steering Committee, Safe and Caring has witnessed the people of Wabasca work together to identify the issues that are most important to them, and to pursue a strong shared commitment to end the pervasiveness of cyclical violence, to strengthen connections within and across their community and to support collective action to impact change.

Safe and Caring has continued to work closely with the Wabasca Steering Committee, finding ways to adapt SNAP program delivery to better meet the needs of their community.

This has included using interactive classroom instruction that emphasizes role-modelling, role-playing and in-school mentorship, with the goals of strengthening positive relationships and developing trust amongst students, families and the community as a whole. Further, with a high First Nations population in the schools involved, the Steering Committee and Safe and Caring have integrated culturally appropriate games and activities, in order to give students the chance to engage with their heritage while gaining confidence and learning valuable life skills.

Overall, the program has helped students develop an awareness and common language for dealing with violence, and empowered them to build healthy relationships for the rest of their lives. As one student commented: “I was a bully and didn’t realize I was being a bully. I thought I was just sticking up for my friends, but I learned that I was being a bully too. Now I know how to be a friend without hurting others.”

Going forward, the Steering Committee has expressed strong ongoing support for continuing and expanding this important work, and for continuing to work together to strengthen and empower the Wabasca community!

This article appeared in our June 2015 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!



by: Meaghan Trewin, Communications Coordinator

Mark Cabaj (MBA, BA) is a Safe and Caring Board Member, and Founder and Associate (Former VP) of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

For Mark Cabaj, community engagement and development is a way of life. Growing up in St. Paul, Alberta, Mark enjoyed supporting local public and not-for-profit groups such as Boys and Girls Clubs and Friendship Centers. As part of his university studies, Mark went overseas to Eastern Europe to complete undergraduate work on solidarity, leading to the opportunity to work directly with international development organizations such as the World Bank and United Nations Development Program.

When Mark returned to Canada to pursue further education, he opted for the graduate program in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Waterloo. The broad and integrative approach of the Planning program appealed to his own understanding of the organic, complex and sometimes messy reality of community change and well-being. “Issues of community are challenging, it never ends. I’ve always been interested in exploring how we can tackle complex problems and not treat them as simple issues on steroids.”

While still living in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, Mark ran a multi-sectoral initiative, taking what we would now call a collective impact approach, to reduce poverty in his community. Building on the success of this initiative, Mark co-founded the Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement to mobilize and support communities to solve complex issues. At Tamarack, Mark took on the roles of Vice President of the Institute and Executive Director of Vibrant Communities Canada, an affiliated network of 15 urban collaborations whose aim was to find new ways to reduce poverty.

In his line of work, Mark often gets asked what it means to build a healthy or vibrant community. Ultimately, however, there is no one definition: “I enjoy the fact that in every new situation I go into, people are trying to figure that out for themselves.”

The real challenge in his community consultation work is developing and implementing solutions that are effective, authentic and dynamic. Each community has a unique background, unique needs and unique goals. Rather than offering a cookie-cutter solution, Mark helps break down boundaries within communities to identify common solutions to shared problems. “Building the connections and getting on the same page is part one; part two is developing an adaptive solution. The word adaptive is important because, when we have a complex issue, sometimes impacts are predictable, sometimes they are not. You need to be constantly gathering feedback, adapting your strategy as you go.”

Looking forward for Alberta’s urban and rural populations, Mark sees tremendous opportunity to reinvigorate our communities. “One of the prime things preoccupying me right now is the idea of social capital as a driver of community and individual well-being.” Social capital is the interwoven network of relationships among people who live and work in a common community, the ties that bind friends, neighbours and colleagues together.

For example, community members build social capital by living in the same neighbourhood, having kids that go to the same school, visiting the same grocery store, carpooling to and from work, sharing a snow blower, taking fitness classes together – overall, having multiple inter-dependencies to lean on and connect with one another. The research is clear: these connections that we build foster trust, cooperation and shared social values, and ultimately lead to happier people and more engaged communities.

According to Mark, twenty-first century life has consistently cannibalized opportunities for building social capital. Things like cars, urban planning, television and social media make it possible for two people to live two houses down and never have their lives cross in any meaningful way. And if they can’t connect, can’t develop relationships, can’t develop trust, then they can’t develop social capital.

For Mark, the question at hand is: How can we create the conditions to rebuild social capital? “To turn things around, we need to find ways to connect within our own communities. There are a lot of ways to do that, and one of them is to get really involved in existing local institutions.” Schools in particular are one of the best places that community members can still consistently come together.

“I think that is also part of the reason that emotions get really high when a school closes
– it’s one of the last places for building social connections for many neighborhoods, which
are left simply as a bunch of individual homes.”

Similarly, community leagues and community associations within urban centres such as Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer offer another one of the most underutilized assets available to Alberta communities. In many areas, the majority of households belong to the community league, and consistently come together for recreational sports and community events.

Asks Mark: “What if we did more than soccer together? What if we rebuilt these institutions, the schools and community leagues, and broadened their mandate to include village building?” The benefits of more active and vital neighbourhood institutions could include increased safety, caring and inclusion, and an overall stronger sense of identity and well-being for everyone in the community.

This article appeared in our June 2015 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

FOCUS ON: Just, Re-thinking our communication for better relationships

Guest Contribution by: Barry Davidson, Vice-President, Safe and Caring Board, Senior Advisor for the Canadian Crime Prevention Centre and Senior Safety Advisor to Amtac Professional Services.

Recently my daughter Megan was competing in 4H speaking competitions and she presented a speech that really got me thinking about how adults communicate and the way that communication determines healthy, positive relationships.
It became clear that even one word can become such a motivator or put down, depending on context!

Let’s look at the word “just.” It can be a very powerful word. You have the ability to reduce an amazing personal achievement, act of bravery, good deed or attribute to nothing by inserting it. Think of the last time you spoke about someone you knew and referred to them as “just a cab driver” or “just a secretary” or “just a cop.” What message does that actually send about your thoughts of them or their career?

When we work through the myriad of human conditions that affect our communities and relationships, we often over-complicate how we should be dealing with people on a daily basis. The core to that is how we communicate. While we know that body language accounts for more than 70% of acknowledged communications, I would suggest that verbal cues, although lesser in quantity, still have a drastic ability to define whether that communication is positive or negative.

Our society has evolved to a point where we shorten our messages, whether they are in an email, text or tweet. This has begun to emerge in face-to-face communication and perhaps this is a reason we are witnessing an increase in negative interactions, often labelled as disrespectful or bullying. Perhaps this often occurs by accident because the people communicating have not put enough forethought into what message they actually want to convey or the language they should use.

“Words matter and how we choose to state an idea is critical to what we want to
accomplish within our communities.”

In today’s world we do not need to be a scholar or English major to succeed, but I suggest we do need to become much more conscious of what we are saying and how we deliver the message. The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words. If we consider how many of those words are used incorrectly on a daily basis, it is not surprising that we have communication and relationship issues. When we look at the word “just” as an example, it becomes clear that we have the ability to have a positive impact on those around us and, by extension, the world.

So the next time you are talking to or about someone and fall into the common vernacular of “he is just a teacher” or “just a volunteer,” think about what message you are sending. Then examine if that is your intention and why. Critical thinking applied to how we communicate will go a long way to building better relationships, achieving your goals and living life to the fullest.

On the other hand, I am just a strategist and community activist, so what would I know…

This article appeared in our June 2015 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

RESEARCH: An Environmental Scan of ‘Safe and Caring’ Practices, Programs and Policies in Alberta

Parents, schools and communities agree that helping children and youth engage in and maintain healthy relationships is an important and common concern. As social learning environments, schools are ideally positioned to help build these skills and relationships. However, schools face many challenges within the current landscape, including competing pressures to promote both academic and social outcomes, fragmented and uncoordinated programming, and lack of resources.

Recognizing the need for an enhanced and coordinated collective effort to encourage healthy relationships and foster safe and caring learning environments, Safe and Caring has conducted an environmental scan and stakeholder consultation to identify existing programs and supports and better understand the needs of educators, schools and school systems in Alberta regarding healthy relationships and bullying prevention. These findings reflect the current state of safe and caring practices, programs and policies across Alberta.

This report identifies findings, including the strengths and gaps in the current environment, as well as recommended next steps for Safe and Caring and our partners. We will be using this report to shape our upcoming strategic directions and initiatives.

Safe and Caring has developed a snapshot report summarizing key findings, available for viewing, printing or download on our website.

If you are interested in reading the full report, you can access it through our dedicated resource hub:

RESOURCE: Self-Regulation Toolkit

TMC logoSelf-regulation is the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviours, and attention, in ways that are socially acceptable and help achieve positive goals such as learning, maintaining good relationships, and achieving well-being.

Safe and Caring has partnered with The MEHRIT Centre and Dr. Stuart Shanker–one of Canada’s foremost experts in self-regulation–to develop a series of resources to help raise awareness of self-regulation and promote self-regulation practice in homes, schools and workplaces.

We are continuing to build this resource library; however, currently live on our resources hub are:

Learn more about these and other resources for yourself on our dedicated resource hub!

RESOURCE: Signs you are in a healthy romantic relationship

MJohnsonSafe and Caring has partnered with one of our newest Advisors–Dr. Matthew Johnson–to develop a series of tip sheets and resources on promoting healthy couple relationships. The first in this series: Signs you are in a healthy romantic relationship, is now freely available for download and print, and for papering in your dormitory walls, on our website.

Matt Johnson is an assistant professor of family ecology at the University of Alberta. Matt’s research focuses on understanding the ways in which couple relationships develop and are maintained from adolescence through midlife. In particular, he is interested in identifying the key cognitive and behavioral couple processes responsible for individual and relational health.

Check out this resource for yourself!


FOCUS ON: Community-Based Research, Everyone is an Expert!

Guest Contribution by: Nancy Gibson, PhD, Safe and Caring Board Member 

Nancy Gibson is a Senior Researcher for CIET, Professor Emeritus & Former Chair of the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta and Former Science Director of the Circumpolar Institute.

With decades of experience as a community leader and a research specialization in community studies, Nancy has facilitated many community-based research projects in Canada and overseas.

This work brings together communities to identify priorities and work together to develop solutions that meet their needs.

Community-based research (CBR) isn’t new, although the approach wasn’t called that until recently.

One of my early experiences was about fifteen years ago, when the Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentoring program in Edmonton wanted to extend their program to serve Aboriginal youth. The effectiveness of the BBBS program in supporting the emotional and mental safety of young people has been well-established over many decades in Canada. But how would the program work for Aboriginal youth? What should be different?

I was part of the academic team and we knew we needed direct information from the people for whom the program was being developed. We invited Aboriginal youth to participate in interviews and focus group discussions, exploring what an Aboriginal mentoring program would look like and talking about program successes and challenges in their local communities.

By engaging the youth as advisors for the new program, they realised that their knowledge and expertise were central to the success of the program. The process was guided by an advisory group of Elders and parents. Through this collaboration with community members, a successful Aboriginal mentoring program was established, reflecting traditional values and culture.

The basic principle of community-based research is: Ask the people themselves. And there are scientifically valid methods for collecting data – interview strategies such as key informant and semi-structured interviews, focus groups and other qualitative methods, followed by meticulous data analysis, and testing of the results – all part of the CBR toolkit.

This is quite different to the expert model that many professionals and academics are used to. And yet, more appropriate and sustainable programs emerge when everyone’s expertise is counted.

Our BBBS research circle included the youth, Elders and potential mentors, along with people from the organization itself, bringing their past experience with many different groups, and… oh yes, us academics, moving from the “expert” model to being resources and facilitators.

CBR is research that includes the people in the community who have first-hand knowledge of the issue, and who may be affected by the research outcomes. This approach has proven to produce more accurate results, more appropriate programs, with much less bias, especially when developing programs addressing community priorities.

This article appeared in our June 2015 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!