Hundreds people gathered beside Lambton Mall’s food court on a busy Sept. 27, in order to partake in a host of family-friendly activities while also learning about local resources and supports for mental health, all part of the mall’s inaugural Accept Without Exception event.
With a balloon animals being handed out, artists creating caricatures of kids and adults alike, face-painting, tile-making courtesy of Crock A Doodle Sarnia and henna art among the free activities on offer, crowds of kids – free from school during a professional development day – wailed with delight while their guardians got a chance to have casual chats with representatives from St. Clair Child and Youth Services about their outreach program.
The inaugural AWE event – which took place in cities across the country – was conceived as an enjoyable way to link families with complimentary organizations in the community in a convivial, fun setting, said mall marketing director Alexandra Kohut.
“Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services, who manage the mall, actually launched Accept Without Exception, which is a national program,” she said. “Throughout the country different malls are hosting different types of events and basically, it’s a celebration of inclusivity and diversity.
“This year, Lambton Mall chose St. Clair Child and Youth Services as our partner because they represent many of the core values of the AWE program,” Kohut added. “We’ve worked with St. Clair Child and Youth before, when we started up the Community Impact Program, and they were such a great group to work with in terms of providing volunteer support. So in terms of fit for this event, they were ideal.”
Along with the activities, there were giveaways of gift cards and a grand prize package valued at over $300.
St. Clair Child and Youth’s Virginia Allan said the event was yet another way for the agency to raise awareness about the many services it offers to the public, for children as well as caregivers.
“The beauty of this is that while we’re highlighting our outreach program here, we’ve had lovely conversations with people who now know if, say, they have a four year-old who’s really anxious, they can come in for one single session and talk about that,” Allan said. “It doesn’t have to be something that seems super-serious.”
Even very young children can suffer from mental health issues, Allan said, as part of their social and emotional development. Informing caregivers of this and providing them with resources and pertinent information can help nip many potential problems in the bud, she said.
“We talk about how little kids have big feelings and sometimes they are too big for these kids to manage and they cause problems that look like acting out or tantruming, so we encourage people to talk about it now rather than let it build up and it becomes something more later,” she said. “We also offer parenting workshops, two hour workshops that people can come to and that might be all that gets you back on track. There’s no problem that’s too big or too small.”
“Many people think that their problems have to reach a crisis point, but we know now that brain research says that the earlier you get to these difficulties, the sooner we can provide help. So earlier intervention used to be thought of as getting your ten year-old in to talk about anxiety, but we have really great services for kids who are three or four and up as well.”
The AWE event not only allowed St. Clair Child and Youth to spread their message, Allan said, but the agency’s own fun activity – providing kids with their own, inspiring takeaway tags – allowed the agency to walk the walk so to speak when it comes to providing positive messages for youth.
“Community awareness is coming but I think we have a ways to go,” she said. “It’s been really exciting today – instead of manning a booth I’ve been able to go out and start conversations with people and kids and tell them about the outreach program, which supports and encourages families to connect with each other and with services”
“So the AWE event has been a really great awareness thing for us, and on top of that, the kids who are participating in the activities we’re offering today are making a tag about something they’d like to brag about, a talent or a skill or something they’re good at,” Allan said, smiling. “It’s been wonderful to see that, it’s all about preventative mental health.”
For more information about St. Clair Child and Youth Services, call 519-377-3701 or visit www.stclairchild.ca.