Healthy by Nature

October 24, 2018

By: Mira Williamson, Project Learning Tree Canada

Location: BC Parks
Featured: Gillian Spencer, Community Engagement Specialist, BC Parks Foundation
Gillian’s position was supported in part by PLT Canada’s Green Jobs in Green Spaces program, funded by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy.

This summer, the BC Parks Foundation launched their Healthy by Nature initiative with a physicians’ walk in British Columbia parks.

Looking for a student to support in research, program planning, social media, and writing among other things, the BC Parks Foundation found Kamloops local Gillian Spencer.

“Recently, in this last year of school, I felt like the best thing that somebody can do is to educate people about nature and being outside,” said Spencer. “I just think it would be a really neat job to create programs, educate people about everything to do with nature. But then when I started the job, and I was reading all these articles about the benefits, it just like really sunk in with me: I think that this is probably something that I’m going to end up pursuing.”

Spencer helped the Healthy by Nature projects as a community engagement specialist.
They named the physicians’ walk Outside & Unplugged, and she reached out to different people and clinics to generate interest in the event. After, they sent out a survey to gauge interest in a second project—a parks prescription program, or prescribing time outdoors in green spaces as an alternative to some medication.

“There’s a lot of good examples of parks prescriptions in the US, and just being outside in the green space, looking at natural scenery for any amount of time,” said Spencer. “It just benefits in so many ways—like it lowers anxiety and depression…honestly the data to support it is just overwhelming, and it’s just so beneficial for people.”

She would also visit parks in Kamloops twice a week to collect data on where kids played and ask questions about what people look for in an outdoor experience for the Discovery Trail; the BC Parks Foundation wanted to create a trail network throughout the parks with “play pockets” for kids.

When speaking with parents, she would educate them about the health benefits of getting outside, and some moms would join Healthy by Nature’s “mom tribe.”

“Every time someone joins the mom tribe, they complete a survey for us. It’s just kind of to get an idea of what kind of struggles moms go through, how we can overcome these struggles to try to get them to bring their kids into parks and outdoors,” said Spencer.

“Because nowadays they just spend so much time on their phones and on the TV—it’s just easier to put your kid in front of the TV. We’re trying to eliminate those barriers or reduce them in some way by collecting information on that.”

Spencer worked from home all summer, which was hard at the beginning, but she believes her self-motivating and multitasking skills have become her greatest asset.

“I think what really drew me to this job was the fact that it’s all about getting people in British Columbia outside,” she said. “I’m so passionate about the health benefits of being outside in nature.”

Spencer has always been outdoorsy, taking part in activities like rock climbing, skiing, and backpacking. She just entered her third year of her undergraduate degree in Natural Resource Sciences at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. Her program focuses on conservation and resource management in British Columbia. Spencer heard about the program from her brother, who recently graduated from it. The program is small, only about 40 or 60 people in each year, so she gets to know the professors and students really well.

“It’s really nice to be in all the same classes as people and study with them and get different ideas from them,” said Spencer. “And then eventually we’re all going to be working together, so it’s kind of cool to have that networking.”

Her time with the BC Parks Foundation was rewarding, and she said one of the best parts was working on something she believed in.

“I think it’s really helped me to realize, like maybe not change the direction of my future but have a better idea of what I want to do in the future,” said Spencer. “I think it’s educating people about the benefits of being outside and showing that being out in nature is pretty cool.”

Spencer would like to travel in South America and volunteer or continue research in natural resources, perhaps in fish or watersheds. She may pursue a Master’s, but she hasn’t decided yet.

She also wants to pursue mountaineering eventually, and part-time, she may look into organizing educational outdoor trips for kids and young women. Until then, she’ll get her guiding certs for rock climbing or skiing and try to get outside and experience as much as she can.

Visit https://www.healthybynature.ca/ to see what events they have coming up.