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Carea Community Health Centre: Oshawa’s best kept secret

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

A group that offers all kinds of help to the community is trying to change its image as the best kept secret in Oshawa.

Carea Community Health Centre is a place people can go for many programs, ranging from parenting tips to food and toys for Christmas. It’s where those from all walks of life can feel welcome.

It is an organization that hopes to provide access to high quality holistic care that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of the community. It also hopes to empower those individuals who use its services in order to enhance their well-being.

Carea became an organization three years ago this month, according to Kim LePine, the director of health promotion and community development services. Before that, Carea was the Oshawa Community Health Centre and the Ajax Youth Centre.

According to Lepine, the Oshawa Community Health Centre was around for approximately 35 years before it became Carea Community Health Centre, while the Ajax Youth Centre was around for over 20 years.

“The reason the amalgamation happened in the first place was because we were both funded by the Central East LHIN, and it was a voluntary integration that was facilitated by our funders,” explains Lepine.

She also explains that it made sense from the funders perspective because there were already two community health centres in close proximity to one another, and they were doing similar work. “Why not bring us together and make us one large organization? That way we can combine our funding and be able to put our footprint further out in the community.”

Carea can be found all over Durham Region, as they have facilities in Oshawa, Ajax, Pickering and Whitby.

While Carea may have opened in November of 2015, it did not receive its unique name until June 25, 2016, and, according to Lepine, they chose their name because they care about the area, hence, “Carea.”

According to Jeff Dart, the manager of health promotion and community development services at Carea, “A lot of the programs that we did start, they came from our needs assessments that we did in the community, or through our program surveys and evaluations. So, we’re very reactive to what the community needs.”

Dart also says that years ago Carea ran a literacy program that was recognized because the schools in South Oshawa were consistently ranking at the bottom of provincial testing. There was nothing like it in the area at the time, and it was free for those attending.

“It worked for a number of years,” says Dart. “But then schools began offering literacy programs at the same time. So kids could stay at school and work with their teacher, which made more sense. Our literacy program died.”

However, in this past year, one of Carea’s clients approached Lepine with a new type of literacy program co-facilitated with one member of staff, as well as a community volunteer.

The new program brings in 10 to 12 kids once every week says to Dart. Their goal is to teach kids reading is fun, and not necessarily something they have to do just for school.

Some of the other programs Carea provides in Oshawa includes a community kitchen, which is where people from all over Oshawa can enjoy a healthy lunch, and then provide a nutritious meal for their family.

They also have their Artscape program, which is offered to adults and parents. After registering, those who are participating are given the opportunity to explore many mediums of art. Carea intends for this to be in a fun, encouraging and positive manner. Some of the mediums include working with clay, water colours, oil pastels, face painting, poster design and fabric painting.

Carea also has programs aiming to improve the body as well as the spirit. They have Aim 2 Quit, which helps people to quit smoking. According to Dart, of the 12 people currently participating in the group, three have already quit smoking.

Another program is the positive discipline group, which is meant to provide parents and caregivers of children between six and 12 years old with resources and childcare. During this six-week program, parents will be taught about various topics, including attachment parenting, positive discipline and different parenting styles.

Carea also provides several different programs for the Indigenous population in and around Oshawa. One of these programs is the Okichitaw Indigenous Martial Arts, which teaches Cree combat methods and techniques in order to increase physical fitness, self-esteem, and overall holistic wellness. It is open to children between the ages of six and 25.

Dart says Carea runs a bi-weekly Indigenous family night that runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The community will come together for dinner, and “depending on the theme that night, we either have an elder come in to talk about traditional teachings, or there could be a craft that goes on.”

According to Dart, at the most recent family night, those in attendance built a big drum.

“We had an elder come, and the whole community was part of the big drum program. It was supposed to run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., but it ran from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. because everyone was just so involved,” Dart chuckles.

Dart also mentions that they have a women’s hand drumming group that runs once a month. One program Dart says will be starting in the New Year is the men’s drumming program, which is for the purpose of building the big drum.

Dart says Oshawa has the largest Indigenous population in Durham Region, with four or five per cent of the city’s population being Indigenous. According to Lepine, a lot of this population is centred around south Oshawa, which is why their location on Grassmere Avenue is so advantageous for them.

For Dart, having worked at Carea for 17 years, as he also worked there when it was still the Oshawa Community Health Centre, most days working there make him feel good.

“I’ve seen a lot of families go through lots of things. There’s grandkids now coming to programs, and kids I used to work with, their kids are coming to programs,” says Dart. “We’ve had participants who became volunteers, who then became staff. So just seeing the growth in the community over that decade and a half has been unbelievable.”

Dart also says he sees a lot more pride in the Oshawa community that he was not seeing when he started. This makes him proud of the work he’s done.

“People who live in South Oshawa are very proud to live there,” says Lepine. “There is a strong sense of community here even though there is this stigma about Oshawa, particularly South Oshawa. People here don’t feel that.”

Carea is currently gearing up for Christmas, which means their toy drive is beginning to take shape.

“We pretty much run a toy store here at Christmas,” laughs Lepine. “When you get closer to the holidays, this place looks like Santa’s workshop threw up in here. There are toys everywhere.”

Lepine says they host a client dinner for kids, as well as a lunch for seniors around Christmas.

“There’s so many staff that are staying late, on their own time, just because they care,” says Lepine.

Lepine also notes that two years ago the Durham Regional Police Services (DRPS) provided Carea with so many toys they had to put out flyers telling people where they could go.

“People would come in with tears just saying ‘thank you so much’ and it just warms your heart,” says Lepine. “This is why we’re here.”

According to Dart, this year DRPS decided to use three central hubs for their toy collection, with one being Carea.

“They recognize the work that the staff here do, so they selected us as one of the choices for a hub. So, our toy shop will be even bigger this year because we’re getting a storage container,” Dart says with a laugh.

Other programs Carea will be doing for the holidays are two pancake dinners, one in Oshawa and one in Pickering, the seniors lunch, and Christmas hamper programs. “It’s going to be all hands on deck,” says Dart.

For the future, Lepine says, “I think that there’s a lot of what we do that I’d like to see expand. Certainly, while the services that we provide for the Indigenous community is important, it would be great to see more. It would be wonderful if we could be seen as a centre of excellence for Indigenous support.”

Lepine says they have a lot of work to do to get the Carea name out there, saying they’re the best kept secret in town, and they don’t want to be.

She also hopes to be able to expand on their support for the LGBTQ community around Durham.

Dart hopes to grow the volunteer base for Carea, as it is always hard for people to find time to volunteer.

According to Dart, if a potential client is feeling some trepidation about taking advantage of one of Carea’s many programs, it’s important to simply be that friendly face they can turn to.

They also have to earn people’s trust, and Dart says they do this by simply being there for them, whether that’s simply returning a phone call or listening to what they have to say.

“Just the little things in life is what it takes,” says Dart.

“We have a number of staff who are very dedicated and understanding of the community and the population that we serve,” adds Lepine.

The Oshawa location for Carea can be found at 115 Grassmere Avenue, and for more information on their programs or volunteer opportunities, visit



By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

When I started writing about Carea Community Health Centre, it was an article about a grant they won, but the more I wrote, the more interested I became.

When I first went to Carea, it was under the assumption that it was simply a health centre like any other, but the more I spoke to people like Kim Lepine and Jeff Dart, I realized that there was a lot more than meets the eye.

Their work with the Indigenous people of Oshawa and Durham Region is what inspired me to write about them in the Fourth Estate.

After getting a degree in history, the issues surrounding the Indigenous population of Canada and the rest of North America has been of concern to me. I’ve always wanted to help move past the issues created by the residential schools and the like, but what could I do?

Well, while I may not have figured out what I can do to help yet, seeing the people of Carea care so much about helping those in need warmed my heart.

It’s similar to when I wrote about Simcoe Hall Settlement House as well, I want to get to know the charities and groups that are helping out those in need in my community, and Carea is one of those groups.

Speaking to Kim and Jeff was enlightening, as I realized that there are people out there who care as much as I do about helping those in need, and they’re two of them.

When Jeff took me on a tour of the building, I was impressed with their facilities, as it was very modern and up to date, which isn’t something you always see. And when they told me about the programs they run, and how there’s a program that teaches kids that they don’t only have to read for school, I admit I got excited.

To me, reading is something that people don’t do enough of anymore. I feel like if everyone read a little more, we’d be a little more enlightened and we’d treat each other a little better.