Profile: Dr. Helene Cummins

Thirty families to benefit from research

Helene1When Dr. Claudio Munoz heard that Dr. Helene Cummins, a full-time faculty member at Brescia, had done seminal research on rural sociology, he contacted her to collaborate on an exciting research submission. Helene responded to his request with alacrity and a strong partnership was born.

Dr. Cummins, an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Family Studies at Brescia, wrote her PhD thesis on the attachment that men and women form with the land. She expanded that research to include children to determine where they like to play and whether or not their future goals include farming the land. This research, published in The Canadian Geographer, has been of ongoing interest to Helene. So when Dr. Munoz decided to apply for a government grant for a pilot project to enhance healthy living for low-income rural families, Dr. Cummins was a logical partner to approach.

Together they applied for and were successful in earning a grant of $49,524 from the Ministry of Health Promotion and Sports (through the Healthy Community Fund) and the Government of Ontario. This grant has enabled Dr. Munoz and Dr. Cummins to partner closely with a number of others in the area for a two-year pilot program. During the first year, the team will be devoted to working with 30 Huron East families and in the second year, they will analyze and summarize the data gained in year one.

This important community partnership also includes Lissa Berad, the Manager of the Vanastra Recreation Centre; Dianne Hahn, Executive Director of the Rural Response for Healthy Children; Joan Brady, Manager of The Seaforth and District Food Bank – Huron-Perth Farm-to-Table Project; Rebecca Blane, a dietitian with the Huron East Community Health Centre; and of course Dr. Claudio Munoz, Scientific Director of Gateway Rural Health Research Institute; and Dr. Helene Cummins.

Dr. Cummins is excited about this project for a number of reasons, including the opportunity to work within a broad community partnership, where there will be a practical and transformative focus. She says, “The 30 families we choose to take part in the project this year will visit a community kitchen, where Rebecca Blaine will help them to develop recipes and prepare healthy meals using food, which is locally produced. They will practise shopping for healthy food on a budget, will take part in the local Green Box program, and will also be counselled on parenting. Finally they will take part in an exercise program, which includes free access to the swimming pool and fitness rooms for one year at the Vanastra Recreation Centre. We know that Ontario rural residents face some of the highest rates of chronic disease, such as diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Low-income families also face the challenge of affording and finding nutritious foods, local services, facilities, and programs. We are confident that this study will help us to introduce lifestyle changes that could last a lifetime.”

The study will explore the feasibility of intervention in low-income households and, through identifying the barriers to healthy living that exist at the family level, will provide meaningful data and inspiration to effect change. Dr. Munoz explains, “We want to determine what works and what doesn’t. We hope that someday this will lead to a larger program across the province or region to help our low-income families adopt healthy living on a budget.”