“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world... All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” - L.R. Knost
I’m always reminding myself that raising a child with disabilities and going through the intricacies of the life challenges it comes with requires a happy soul that shines, and radiants to everyone around. A few years ago, I started following a rad-mom blogger that I’ve recently had the opportunity to meet and work with over the summer. Tara started the Happy Soul Project (HSP) to share her story raising her 3 beautiful children, one who happens to be one of the lucky few with down syndrome. Her words always bring a sense of play, delight, awe and enthusiasm. Her blog sheds light that no matter what life brings, you can always find a way to smile when you keep an open heart.
This past summer, Petie, Bella and Kadence were invited by the Holland Bloorview ambassador program to be part of the the Happy Soul Project 2020 #DifferentIsBeautiful calendar photoshoot. For today’s blog post, I will be featuring an exclusive interview with the founder of the Happy Soul Project Toronto chapter, Maeghan James.
MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: Can you tell me about your organization, and how you became part of the Happy Soul Project?
MAEGHAN: Throughout my undergraduate degree I was involved in multiple different programs dedicated to inclusive sport and physical activity. I became immersed in the field and decided to pursue graduate studies in the field of child health, motor development and physical activity at the University of Toronto. I am surrounded everyday by the research showing how beneficial physical activity and sport is for the physical and psychosocial development of children. At the same time I see how children with disabilities are often not provided with the same opportunities to be physically active compared to their peers. Given this, I wanted to start an advocacy group on campus to bring the research to light and to make U of T and the broader GTA a more inclusive place. I reached out to Tara, whom I had been following on Instagram for many years, and explained to her my vision. Together we decided that it would be a good fit to start a chapter of Happy Soul Project at U of T. HSP-UofT started with myself (President) and Matthew Renaud (Vice-President). After the formation of the club and going through the logistical processes we got to work on forming the HSP-UofT executive team. It didn’t take long to establish an amazing, passionate team of eight executive members that all come from a background of kinesiology and/or sport and recreation. The UofT chapter works under the mission statement of Happy Soul Project which is to advocate for the beauty in differences and to promote the importance of inclusion. What makes the UofT chapter unique is its focus on inclusive physical activity and sport opportunities for children and youth.
MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: You started the Happy Soul Project UofT chapter recently, can you share how this organization is doing so far? What events and activities have you done in your community?
MAEGHAN: Things have been going really well since we first launched back in February 2019! Not long after we obtained official UofT club status we formed a partnership with Christine Hill and the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. This partnership was intentionally formed for the 2020 #DifferentIsBeautiful calendar. We teamed up with the #DearEverybody campaign in order to make an even larger impact in the GTA. The photoshoot took place in May of 2019 where we had ~30 families take part. The day was a huge success and every child left with a smile on their face! Following this, we hosted a HSP-themed football game in partnership with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. The children in the calendar decorated socks for the football players to wear during the game. The socks represented the differences among all individuals and were a means of advocacy for inclusion within sport. Most recently, we received a grant from the UofT Athletics and Recreation - Diversity Moves Us fund and this grant will be used to run the Play Day and Calendar Launch.
MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: I met you and your HSP UofT team over the summer at the Holland Bloorview #DearEverybody campaign as a supporter of the Happy Soul Project #DifferentIsBeautiful 2020 calendar photoshoot. I wanted to formally thank you for being so accommodating to Bella, Kadence and Petie. They really enjoyed being pampered behind the scenes for hair and makeup, and Bella loved how you played her favourite song during the photoshoot!
Can you tell me what your organization’s vision and goals are with the launch of the calendar?
MAEGHAN: The calendar is actually a part of a larger project that we are working on implementing in schools across the city. We call it the “Classroom Calendar Project.” Essentially, we will be travelling to schools in the months following the launch to distribute the calendar and host interactive workshops. These workshops will be focused on explaining the importance of inclusion and providing a setting in which misconceptions about disability can be discussed. Check out the behind the scenes footage of the calendar photoshoot...
MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: On Sunday, November 24th UofT will be hosting a Play Day with the Happy Soul Project. Can you tell me more about this event and what you hope to achieve?
MAEGHAN: We are SO excited for this event! Play Day is actually a bit of a double whammy. We are launching the 2020 calendar by featuring a gallery with images of each of our awesome HB ambassadors along with their bios. The idea is to place an emphasis on these amazing kids and provide them with a platform to share something about themselves. We’ll also be premiering the behind-the-scenes video from the calendar shoot on the big screen! The other main feature of the Play Day relates to inclusive physical activity. We and our partners will be hosting a variety of inclusive games (boccia, dance, soccer, wheelchair basketball) and activities throughout the event. We’ll also have areas dedicated to arts and crafts, and cookie decorating with our UofT club partners Big Spoon Little Spoon for everyone's enjoyment! Importantly, each of our partners will have individual booths set up for the duration of the event. We encourage parents and children to speak with the program representatives about the many inclusive opportunities available across the city. We’re extremely excited for everything to come together!
MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: I am happy to share my #MomBehindTheLabel platform with you and your organization. If there are readers who are families with children with disabilities, or caregivers and advocates who want to support your organization, what can you share with them?
MAEGHAN: If they would like to support Happy Soul Project they go visit the larger organization's website to purchase a calendar for school here, shop our apparel, and/or make a donation to the Happy Soul Project. If you would like to learn more about what HSP-UofT organization is doing around the GTA, follow us on our Instagram page here!
Thank you Maeghan for taking the time to share the amazing work you and your HSP UofT team are doing to support families with disabilities and their communities thrive. Petie, Bella and Kadence are excited to join the HSP family on Sunday, November 24th at the Play Day and calendar launch.
I am also grateful for your personal invite on this day! I'm looking forward to speaking about the importance of inclusive play for all children of all abilities, and my journey as the #MomBehindTheLabel! Will see you and your team very soon :)