Upper Grand’s Umbrella Project puts focus on mental wellness

WELLINGTON COUNTY – COVID-19 has caused a hailstorm of mental health issues for staff, students and families of the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB).

That’s why the board has opened an umbrella.

“I’m very passionate about this,” said Jenny Marino, mental health and addiction lead with UGDSB. “We hope to help build skills and enhance skills and further protect ourselves.”

In the same way an umbrella is a tool to protect from stormy weather, the board’s Umbrella Project is designed to protect individuals from mental health issues like anxiety and depression and to promote mental and physical well-being.

Marino said research is beginning to report on the impact of the lockdown on individuals and families, “but for kids, we don’t know yet. But if we as adults are patient and calm, we prime the kiddos for the most success.”

The Umbrella Project, founded by Dr. Jen Forristal specifically for Upper Grand, will have monthly themes, activities and curriculum links to support students and staff to focus on wellness.

There will also be monthly columns in school newsletters to support parents and guardians to build these skills alongside their children.

Marino said there will be themes like gratitude, empathy, mindfulness and motivation. For teachers, the Umbrella Project includes ways to work these themes into the regular curriculum.

There will also be links to resources and services available in the community.

It’s important to recognize and acknowledge that everyone has their own, individual response to COVID-19, Marino said.

“We can’t do any of this without recognizing that people experience this differently,” she said. “Everyone has their own story.”

Marino said this work dovetails with anti-racism and equity work that’s also going on at the board.

“Children need a safe space to learn and grow. Wellness, equity and learning go hand-in-hand,” she said.

Under the #UGUmbrella hashtag, people are invited to share anecdotes and experiences, and to feel connected.

“Connection is really important to wellness,” Marino said. “People are feeling pretty disconnected right now.”

Marino said staff started working on the Umbrella Project last fall in preparation for Mental Health Week in May.

“We didn’t want to focus on just one week though,” she said. “Wellness needs to wrap around the whole year.”

In the early days, there was no inkling of COVID-19 and the added importance the project would have.

“Some people are struggling; some people are dealing with it,” she said.

“I do think we’ve got this as a community. There are fantastic collaborations. We are really lucky.”