Meet Heather Acres
Heather Acres is a Community Development Facilitator in Devon, Alberta.
Heather has always had a strong interest in working with community wellbeing and recognizes the various aspects that fall under it. Currently Heather works with recreation, FCSS and other town departments in Devon. Prior to moving to Devon, Heather was involved in bringing about change to the mental health conversation in Northern Manitoba.
Heather holds the belief that community has a strong potential to address mental health needs. She recognizes that the care industry, where services can be accessed to address mental health needs, can also be done at the community level to build a caring and compassionate place for individuals to also feel supported.
Heather is an inspiration to community members to continue this initiative around community building, but what inspires her? “Seeing community members collectively come together to think about what they can do to make improvements to the community and then successfully implement these ideas is always inspiring to me” Heather shared, “the ability for diverse members of a community to come together and identify the needs of the community and then implement these ideas is thrilling.”
Kindness is the Foundation
In Devon, there has been a wide interest in the Virtues Project – where individuals have been considering the importance of guiding themselves and helping to make changes to their community using values such as trustworthiness, patience, determination, care, purposefulness, and the universal virtue of kindness.
During her discussion with the youth population, Heather learned that they heavily focused on a sense of belonging and that they identified kindness to be the foundation of mental wellbeing. This discussion really emphasized the role communities can play to further instill this sense of belonging.
An initiative to create “Kindness Postcards” was to encourage more conversation around kindness. The initiative was meant to provide space to residents of the community to reflect on times when they had experienced kindness and/or offered kindness. The ultimate goal was to visualize Devon as a “kindness community” and what that could continue to look like.
The Youth Initiative
Heather’s many initiatives are led by the youth population. One initiative was “41 ways to show kindness” where the youth painted rocks and offered ideas on each rock on how to show kindness. This initiative was made even larger with the inclusion of others from the youth center.
Heather’s many discussions and workshops with the youth population allowed her to see a strong commitment from them to do things in the community to make it a kind and compassionate place for residents. The youth prides themselves on being able to come up with new ideas, implement ideas and recruit their peers to further support this initiative towards community wellbeing. Heather feels that participating in these initiatives has not only given youth the opportunity to lead mental health initiatives but also skills to apply to various other initiatives in the future.
What Does the Future Look Like for Devon?
Heather let us know that interactive kindness webinars can be expected to further the conversation around kindness. Research on kindness has shown how it can help in mental wellbeing as well as relationships, making it important to continue the conversation and how it applies to the community of Devon.
Heather recognizes that there is still work to be done at the community level, but feels that there has been growth in communities like Devon in being able to acknowledge the mental health concerns that exist within the community. Heather would like to see enhanced roles for all the residents of Devon. She is hopeful that community visioning and strategic planning at a larger scale can occur once pandemic restrictions are lifted. The ability to meet as a large, diverse group and be able take the community wellbeing initiative forward as a whole is what Heather looks forward to.
Words of Wisdom
Heather’s passion and extensive experience as an animator will definitely inspire others. Some words of wisdom for current and future animators:
- Engage in deep listening and accept what is heard.
- Ask questions and get curious to gain better understanding.
- Acknowledge where the community is at and use this as your starting point. Ask yourself what is the community needing right now and be responsive accordingly.
- Create more spaces for youth to come together. The youth population has wisdom that communities can benefit from and should not be neglected.