Compassionate Communities, Kingston: Talking About Death Never Killed Anyone

Florence Campbell grew up in rural Alberta where everybody knows your name. When somebody dies, hundreds of people come to pay their respects. Community members look out for one another. Compare that to city life, and the picture can look very different. “A friend of mine told me when her neighbour died, she was the only person from the neighbourhood who went to the funeral,” says Florence Campbell, a founding member of Compassionate Communities, Kingston.

As Canada’s population ages and health care resources are stretched thin, communities must be more involved in looking after friends and neighbours. “People will say they want to help but they don’t know how,” says Campbell. “We want to give our community the confidence, education and awareness that will make it easier for people to help one another.”

Compassionate Communities, Kingston aims to change our culture from one in which we instinctively decline help from personal and community networks to one that readily asks for—and accepts—help. As well, the organization wants to foster a community culture that is confident, willing and able to offer and provide help. She first heard about Compassionate Communities from former employer, Dr. Jim Nininger. “Jim told me about this movement happening in Australia and the United Kingdom and that he was starting Compassionate Ottawa.”

Dr. Nininger would go on to start Compassionate Ottawa; he also started the wheels turning for Campbell. She accompanied him to the International Public Health & Palliative Care Conference in Ottawa where she met Bonnie Tompkins, Pallium Canada’s National Lead on Compassionate Communities. As she learned more about the international movement, Campbell discovered she believed in the cause and wanted to be part of it—if only Ottawa wasn’t a two-hour drive away.

“I was driving back from Ottawa when it hit me,” says Campbell. “I could start a Compassionate Community in Kingston!”

Campbell got straight to work, recruiting a steering committee of five: two members have a health care background and three are community leaders.

The committee quickly realized they needed a comprehensive resource with a clear action plan, so they downloaded Pallium’s Compassionate Community Startup Toolkit. The Toolkit provides a thorough overview of the international Compassionate Community movement, as well as best practices from around the world. “The toolkit explains the movement carefully and skillfully,” says Campbell. “If I didn’t have that foundation, we’d go madly off in all directions.” Campbell liked that the Toolkit included many practical examples and that it lent credibility to her group.

The steering committee spent many months developing a vision and mission before holding a community engagement meeting to gauge interest. They hoped for 40 participants and ended up with a waiting list of 65 people.

Using PowerPoint slides from the Compassionate Community Startup Toolkit, Campbell’s team presented their vision which was met with a lot of community interest. “Usually after a three-hour meeting, people can’t wait to leave,” says Campbell. “But people stuck around after this meeting to keep talking.”

Since the initial community engagement meeting, Compassionate Communities, Kingston is moving forward steadily. They are still early in the process, focusing on raising awareness, establishing partnerships and providing education. Today, they are working with local senior centres, Hospice Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health Unit, as well as raising awareness through public workshops and media interviews.

Campbell is frank about the set-backs the organization has experienced along the way. They have learned to take it slowly and not overwhelm the community with information. “We’re working on shifting social norms,” says Campbell. “It will take a generation to make all these changes.” Still, she is pleased to see some change at the individual level—after delivering advance care planning workshops, she reports that several Kingston residents now have an advance care plan.

A Compassionate Community can begin by providing support to individuals—actions like preparing meals or walking the dog—and can grow to encompass an action plan for better support within the community. Anybody can be a champion; and a champion needs a plan. For Florence Campbell and Compassionate Communities, Kingston, the Compassionate Community Startup Toolkit is an invaluable tool that provides a clear blueprint for achieving their vision.

The Compassionate Community Startup Toolkit provides support to community champions within Canada to start their own Compassionate Community. It includes a detailed presenter’s guide, speaking notes, useful templates and tools for holding stakeholder meetings, as well as PowerPoint slides that share key information on the movement. The Toolkit helps community champions to rally community members and other stakeholders to contribute to the Compassionate Community movement and showcases concrete ideas for getting started.

For more information on the Compassionate Community Startup Toolkit, please visit our Toolkits page.