‘It’s wonderful work’

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To D’arcy Farlow, being a leader means helping others realize their potential.

The Wilfrid Laurier University professor, who works in the faculty of social work, was recognized as a finalist in the 3M Health Leadership Award, with her “leading from behind” style highly praised.

The national award is designed to promote healthy communities and acknowledge leaders within it.

According to Health Nexus — the organization that partners with 3M for the award—certain factors, called social determinants, affect health. Income, education, employment, affordable housing, built environment, food security and inclusion help to determine the general well-being of people. This award serves to recognize those who seek to improve —and inspire others to change —these determinants within their community.

“Basically the fundamental idea is that if your community around you is healthy, then you’ll be healthier,” Farlow explained.

For instance, people are more likely to walk around and be social in their neighbourhood if they believe it is a safe place, and will support their local economy if shops are accessible.

“So you start to create an environment that starts to promote healthy choices.”

Colleen Cooper, a public health nurse for Region of Waterloo Public Health, nominated Farlow for the award, along with community member Laurie Strome and former co-worker Joy Finney.

“I think it’s important to recognize people who do have that special ability to motivate and inspire other people. Because of her style where she is a very behind-the-scenes kind of person, a lot of people don’t know what a huge impact she’s made on the community,” Cooper said.

The nomination package provided by Cooper listed leadership qualities that helped influence change in conditions of health and well-being, ways that Farlow inspired others and challenges she faced as qualifications for the award.

“[D’arcy] brought concepts to our community that haven’t been brought before … things like the determinants of health,” explained Cooper. “If a person is living in poverty and they don’t have a good job or education, it’s pretty hard for people to be healthy. They’re not able to access the things they need to be healthy.”

Strome’s letter of recommendation expressed that Farlow encouraged residents of Sunnydale Place in Waterloo to take ownership of their community in the 1990s —then a high-risk neighbourhood. With her help they took control and improved the quality of life greatly, according to Strome.

“It’s just wonderful work to see a group’s vision become clear, to see the excitement that starts to happen … Regardless of what the starting point is, if you can bring an interactive, participatory process to that, it really starts to build leadership in the community,” said Farlow.

And for Farlow, being a leader means using your position to foster further growth.

“The most important aspect to me around leadership is you use your abilities to support, mentor, promote, encourage others,” she said.

“It’s not a question of whether you have authority within a hierarchical organization, it’s a question of how you as an individual choose to use that opportunity.”

Through her work as the chair on the Safe and Healthy Communities Advisory Committee and many initiatives throughout Waterloo Region, Farlow has established herself as a strong leader who encourages health in her community and recognizes the importance of individual growth and leadership.

“I don’t see leadership as an individual thing, I see it as a contribution.”

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