The FRESH project was a group-based program that sought to achieve three changes for their clients. These were to help clients to 1) gain knowledge,
2) develop practical skills, and 3) make social connections. The program was targeted to clients involved in our case management program and delivered by CMHA staff with the help of community members at times. The group ran twice a week, once to focus on physical activity and the other to focus on nutrition education. Physical activities were meant to introduce participants to activities that they can access within their own community but may have never had the opportunity to do so previously. A focus was put on choosing activities that would be accessible to most - both physically and financially. These included attending the YMCA for Aquafit, Tai Chi, hot yoga, dog walking at the OSPCA, hiking/walking throughout town, bowling and ice skating.
During our second weekly meeting, education was provided on topics such as chronic disease management (specifically heart & stroke diseases, diabetes) , eating well on a budget, the benefit of local & seasonal food, as well as, sessions focusing on addiction and nutrition and mental health and nutrition. A recurring theme that was often emphasized was the connection between physical and mental health.Participants were able to prepare recipes such as homemade soups, granola, pizza, sausages, hand formed meatloaf, different salads, and Christmas baking. Participants were also encouraged to go 'outside of their comfort zone' when trying new activities and foods. They were provided with equipment to take home such as hand blenders, meat thermometers and reusable water bottles.
Many of the physical activities were offered at a reduced rate or for free for the purpose of the program. Perth County Kitchens, a local initiative encouraging community members to utilize existing kitchens throughout the community, provided support around finding a suitable kitchen and facilitating some of the meal preparations. We used many resources from the Perth District Health Unit, Huron Perth Diabetes Outreach Program and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. A local church, Knox Presbyterian, provided an industrial, inspected kitchen at a reduced rate for FRESH.
Consumers were consulted regarding the content of the program and their specific learning needs. We were able to rely on one consumer to make weekly reminder calls to all of the participants to let them know of the location of the activity. She also did all of the grocery shopping and food delivery for the program. She found the experience to be very rewarding and purposeful.
We evaluated our program internally and were also evaluated as a Minding Our Bodies pilot site. Our evaluations found that FRESH was a very positive experience for both client participants, staff facilitators and the agency. Attendance of participants was much more consistent and higher than originally anticipated. Community feedback was overwhelmingly positive. "When's the next FRESH?" is a commonly heard question.
Our program was funded by the Minding Our Bodies project though the support of the Ministry of Health Promotion & Sport, and CMHA Huron Perth. It was obvious that knowledge around the connection between mental and physical health increased and skill building around food preparation, grocery shopping, food safety, etc also increased. Most importantly, for our purposes, social inclusion and sense of connectedness resulted from the group process.
For more information, contact:
Canadian Mental Health Association Huron Perth
540 Huron Street
Stratford, ON N5A 5T9
Phone: 519-273-1391 ext. 309
E-Mail: lynetteheywood [at] cmha-hp [dot] on [dot] ca