Windsor-Essex Compassionate Community Initiative: Compassionate, Citizen-Driven Community Care

Pallium Canada has launched a new focus on the development of Compassionate Communities (CC) throughout Canada. This initiative was kick-started by the “Mobilizing Your Compassionate Community!” Symposium Pallium Canada hosted on October 28th, as well as an interactive online chat on September 23rd. In introducing the concept of the international CC movement, Pallium Canada will be showcasing and celebrating CC projects happening here in Canada through a series of interviews and blogs. Pallium Canada’s pilot CC profile will feature the multifaceted initiatives being undertaken in Windsor, Ontario.The Windsor-Essex project is run by a team of three. Deborah Sattler, Director of the Windsor-Essex Compassionate Community, and two Project Managers, Michael Bennett and Diane Halgbewachs.

Windsor-Essex Compassionate Community Initiative: Compassionate, Citizen-Driven Community Care

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”

Dalai Lama

 As citizens, we have the power and many of the tools to make our communities stronger and our lives better. In Windsor-Essex, the international Compassionate Community movement is being put into action to increase the happiness and connectedness of everyone in the community, raise quality of life for citizens with life-long care needs, and to reduce the inequitable outcomes experienced by their most vulnerable. In striving to create a community where everyone gets the help they need, their CC initiatives are guided by the vision of “each of us, working together, to make ourselves, our citizens, and our community more well.” The initiative extends the reach and value of the programs, services and businesses that already exist in the community by using the strengths and skills of the citizens of Windsor-Essex wisely.

CC initiatives in Windsor-Essex are supported by five pillars (or mini studies). The first pillar is known as the “Neighbourhood Study” and aims to mobilize “neighbours” and youth. The “Neighbourhood Study” examines how people who interact socially can connect to organize and support their own “neighbourhood network.” The term “neighbours” extends beyond the people living next door to various community groups, including: youth, faith, multicultural, senior, informal social networks and community volunteers. The “Neighbourhood Study” manifests as a virtual marketplace for the neighbourhood and volunteers. Using existing technology (similar to that of Uber), the “Neighbourhood Study” asks “what are some things you would like help with from your neighbours?” as well as, “what help do you offer?” and “what skills can you offer?” The Study also uses social media channels to make it easier for participants to get to know their neighbours and to watch out and care for one another. This exchange and technological support is designed to make it easier to ask for help in Windsor-Essex.

The second pillar builds off the “Neighbourhood Study” to enhance “Distress Outreach” and act as a safety net for those who are hard to reach. The “Distress Outreach” pillar aims to ensure that those who need help do not fall through the cracks. It introduces those who need help to CC initiatives through a 12 hour phone service provided by the Distress Centre of Windsor-Essex. The phone number will be available to all members of the community to use in times of need. Neighbours, families, citizens, first responders (police, fire, EMS, mental health, etc.) and service agencies are encouraged to use the Distress Centre when they become aware of a distress situation that they cannot deal with directly and it is not clear what to do next. A “situation table” or community case conference can also be organized at Family Services Windsor to determine the most appropriate course of action in response and pool community resources if needed to take the agreed upon action.

The third pillar, the “Care Model Study” involves the formation of a “Citizens’ Care Hub.” This pillar targets people in their last year of life, with dementia, or who need personal support such as help with eating, dressing and bathing – that is, people who need a high degree of social and practical help as well as medical care to live well. People and their care partners are matched with a community volunteer to get information, coaching, and feedback and to set up their own personal care team to achieve their most important goals. Coaches help participants document their goals and wishes should their condition change, and to navigate informal or volunteer resources, recreational activities, and available programs and services to address identified emotional, practical or social needs. The person owns their information, regularly reports their outcomes, and can share it with their care team through a personalised health record. People using the “Citizens’ Care Hub” will no longer enter formal supports as a “blank slate”, and all providers can work on the same page around what’s most important to the person and family. Tech savvy students are also being engaged to help out with technical support. This is extremely beneficial as it gets youth involved in CC initiatives at a young age.

The fourth pillar of CC initiatives in Windsor-Essex is known as the “Key Informant.” This undertaking involved partnering with 65-70 agencies in the Windsor area. Using a user-centred design process, human service agency partners and agency volunteers have agreed to explore how some or all of the outlined pillars can be incorporated or strengthened within their existing daily operations or across their respective sectors. The agencies have agreed to consider how the use of Windsor-Essex’s proposed 5P Pathway (predictive, preventative, personalized, participatory and population based) would work within their environments. Agencies are considered key enablers of change and are working to establish their own partnerships to make Windsor-Essex a more caring and efficient community. This CC pillar is conducting terrific qualitative research and has helped with a feasibility study.

The final pillar is “Community Governance” and involves population surveillance and partnerships with all levels of government, including: federal (Veteran’s Affairs), provincial (health, social services, education), regional (LHIN), county, and municipal involvement and support. This pillar demonstrates the setup of the “Community Trust” in Windsor-Essex. This multi-level governance structure comprises a coalition of partners that cross all aspects of civic, service and community life who want to build a better future by being a better community. The mission is to build, administer, strengthen and sustain community assets and capital on behalf of citizens to improve collective citizen and community quality of life. Windsor-Essex will aim to achieve a 5P standard of care (predictive, preventative, personalized, participatory and population-based) across the whole community, undertake population and outcome surveillance to narrow equity gap, and optimize assets to make progress on aspirational goals. This pillar is based on a simple but big idea: that communities can work smarter with what they have to improve support for aging and other priority populations and optimize cost/resource use (short-term) building high quality places where people want to live and jobs want to locate (medium-term) to catalyze human development and whole population well-being (longer-term).


If you are involved in a Compassionate Communities project in Canada and would like to be highlighted on the Pallium Canada website, please contact Jordan MacGregor by email at to set up an interview!