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Hospice invests over 500 hours in their Youth Legacy Project to make it magical

Hospice’s Youth Legacy Project is running in its seventh year to provide support for youth in the community who are experiencing the loss of a loved one or struggling with the life-limiting illness of a loved one
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Art therapist Nicole Fantin at Hospice Wellington. Anam Khan/GuelphToday

Hospice’ Wellington's Youth Legacy Project is running in its seventh year to provide support for youth in the community who are experiencing the loss of a loved one or struggling with the life-limiting illness of a loved one.

The event will take place on May 25 and is free of cost. It includes 30 children from the community between the ages of six to 13 where they engage in activities aimed to foster and develop a sense of community, explore creativity, and minimize the feelings of isolation that comes with grief through art.

“I chose to work with this program because the ages six to 12 are pivotal in the child’s existence based on development,” says art therapist Nicole Fantin.

“This is the age that's critical for a child if they encounter a loss so I decided to respond to that need by creating programming that's specifically designed for them.”

Fantin says it took over 500 volunteer hours to go into the design and creation of this one-day event.

“People laugh because they're like ‘500 hours’? And I’m like ‘yeah, it is 500 hours because we want to invest a place that makes it like magic,’” says Fantin.  

By creating a new program every year, Fantin says she is able to keep the spirit of the program fresh. And while the activities change every year, she says the goals of the group remain the same.

Fantin says one of the reasons she feels that the program is important reflects back to the community fold saying that there are children who may have lost their mom, dad, brother or sister and may be the only ones in their community- their school- who lost someone in that school year.

“So the community that holds them so naturally, doesn't have the support system for it to be a relational experience,” says Fantin.

“Our response to that was to create a program for children all over the community who are bound by a common experience.”

This year, the group will be spending time in the arboretum to engage in a sensory experience that's based on emotional, mental and physical well being. Examples of activities include spending time on a farm to dig into the earth and participating in a Buddhist tea ceremony with a trained expert where the children will learn the mindful activity of creating a very special cup of tea.

By participating in mind regulation exercises, they're able to understand how an emotion sits within the body so they can discover and bring meaning to the experiences of loss the children feel.

“We build a day that allows them to complete a formidable project at the end but then being an individual, and it being their own story is the core of the program. It is not to dislocate their individual experience with the loss or the significance of their relationship and that's really the belief, that even though the physical body is gone the relationship hasn't ended,” says Fantin.

With individual and collaborative projects, the program allows the children to build stepping stones for the child to be comfortable first and then branch out and meet new people.

Fantin says it is natural for parents to worry for their children and wonder ‘are they going to hurt that day’?

“The mechanics of this is the most gentle intervention that you could have because it's bound by arts and creativity. It provides a really gentle space where they can unpack at their own autonomy what they would like to share,” says Fantin.

She says for children who are apprehensive and unsure, one of the most beautiful things is when they are able to partner with other children and have a conversation with their families after the event.

“One of the greatest comments that I heard back was ‘my child was so nervous to come and now they can’t stop talking about this,’” says Fantin.

“We have shown notable decreases in depression, or depressive symptoms, lessened symptoms of anxiety, increased confidence, increased community connectivity and the ability to verbalize.”

Registration for youth has to be done directly with Hospice Wellington by phone at (519) 836-3921 or by emailing info@hospicewellington.org with the subject line Youth Legacy Project Inquiry.