September 20, 2019
Smilezones Come to Woodview
By Michelle Bake-Murphy, Communications | Fundraising
It all started with wanting to do something about ‘that corner’.
The awkward spot in the hallway bend leading to the admin offices at our head office were an assortment of single chairs, an end table, and a borrowed house plant was used as a waiting area.
This was the spot where parents waited while their child or teen was in session with a support worker. This was also the main area where staff, parents, caregivers, agency partners, students, and board members would congregate before heading into the Boardroom for a meeting or workshop.
Those waiting didn’t have much to look at –bland walls with a smattering of old posters and plaques.
Don’t get me wrong, we tried to beautify the space as best we could. The green stripe was painted over; the old misshapen plaque posters were replaced by a framed series of paintings by the amazing artist Pamela Button, whose larger works are show cased in our Boardroom.
We even created a special feature that we call the Wall of Hope, a beautiful 3 x 8 foot collage of painted ceramic tiles with handwritten messages of hope. The Wall of Hope was a project that involved staff, children, and youth and whose meaningful messages inspire anyone who walks by.
But it wasn’t enough.
We envisioned a welcoming physical space for clients and family members to feel comfortable and at ease, but being located in a school built in the 50’s with features of the era such as interior walls of cinder blocks, had its limitations.We considered a shopping spree at a home décor store and even reached out to a real estate staging company. However, these options wouldn’t truly transform the space.
We needed a complete revamp, an original approach – something fresh that wouldn’t be too costly. Did any funding opportunities exist that could make this dream a reality?
Discovering the Smilezone Foundation
In researching possibilities, I came upon a tweet that celebrated the grand opening of a hospital’s children’s waiting area makeover by an organization called the Smilezone Foundation.
Was it too good to be true? Could we have our space magically transformed with beautiful murals and cheerful colours to tie it all together? I reached out to local agency partners that had received Smilezones to get the 411 on this Foundation and what it was like to work with them.
Every single person I spoke with had only glowing reports. I couldn’t’ wait to present this opportunity to our Executive Director. We submitted an application in August 2018.
We talked about the main entrance waiting area and it’s spill-over into ‘that corner’ and how we imagined a place where young students from the Woodview Learning Centre, the alternative school-placement program for kids with autism, could feel calmed and comfortable in a kid-friendly space while they waited at the front to be picked up at the end of the school day.
We wanted the worried parent or caregiver, who is waiting for their teen to finish their counselling appointment, to feel at ease in their surroundings, that they could sink into comfy seating and perhaps make themselves a coffee while they waited.
We envisioned an inclusive and accessible space for the children, youth, and families that come to Woodview to receive autism/ mental health services and supports to feel relief that they will finally get the help that they need, and to put a smile on their faces.
We have been serving the community since 1960. We really wanted our head office waiting area to be updated to serve the needs of the kids, youth, and families of today.
We were not disappointed.
Creating Hubs to Benefit Clients and Families
What we soon learned about the Smilezone team is that they are professional, super-friendly, and great to work with. They visited us to learn more about what we do and to check out the space. Soon after, we received the exciting news that our application had been approved!
The next step in the process was to prepare for an on-site design meeting with the whole Smilezone crew including Andre Lofters, VP of Operations, Emily Kerr, and Linda Holmes, the artist who creates the murals.
Our preparation began by creating a consultant team of front line staff whose autism and mental health expertise informed the wish-list for the design. [This same consulting team would be instrumental in the creation of the new Sensory Room that was made possible by a legacy gift from Jeanne Durant. Another key contributor was Roslyn Van Patter, one of the front office admin, who provided excellent insights for the waiting areas.
Soon we met with the Smilezone team and finalized the scope of work for the project.
You’re Not Getting Just One – But Four Smilezones!
The final plan was set to create four “hubs” or Smilezones: the main entrance / waiting area, the adult and youth area (formerly known as ‘that corner’), the hallway, and to our absolute delight –the Family Room!
As spring time came so did the promise that soon these spaces would be transformed from awkward and unattractive to beautiful and functional. Excitement grew as the sketches for the murals were drafted. The Smilezone team really listened to feedback and made tweaks when requested.
The Foundation is pretty busy transforming spaces through the province –and now the country too. So when we received notice that the installation date was booked for August 12-14 we were delighted. The makeover would be completed just in time before the kiddos went back to school!
It was hard to believe that a year had passed from the time of application to installation. Did we mention that Smilezone has completed over 250 of these projects in the short seven years that they’ve been around?
Smilezone transformed our head office over the span of two days! Children that were attending Camp Care and staff that work on-site through the summer were the first to enjoy the big reveal.
What was most rewarding was when seven year old Tommy*, who has autism and is generally non-verbal, exclaim “Wow!” upon seeing the murals and bright colours for the first time with a twinkle in his eye and a huge grin on his face.
Or when Frank*, one of the adults with autism that participate in Woodview programs, stopped short of the murals in the adult and youth hub because he was so glad to see a variety of painted birds. Frank shared with us his love of birds and identified the various species depicted.
We also shared an exclusive sneak peek staff across the agency through our internal communications tool and immediately the positive comments starting coming in.
You just couldn’t help smiling as you walked through the halls.
*Names have been changed due to client confidentiality.
(L-R): Scott Bachly (Co-Founder, Smilezone), Adam Graves (Co-Founder, Smilezone), Vic Hadfield (Donor), Ron Ellis (Donor), Cindy I’Anson (Executive Director, Woodview), Lee Helmer (Board Chair, Woodview), Sheryn Posen (Donor), Councillor Kelvin Galbraith (Ward 1, Burlington), Megan Bozak (Smilezone celebrity ambassador and American hockey player)
Smilezone kindly agreed to our request to combine the official grand opening of our four new Smilezones with our Annual General Meeting. What better way to showcase the transformed space to the community?
The Smilezone Grand Opening and Woodview AGM took place at our head office on September 17, 2019 and it was a great party! Over 100 guests from the community attended including MP Karina Gould and Councillor Kelvin Galbraith who spoke at the event.
Special guests included the Smilezone Foundation Co-Founders Scott Bachly and Adam Graves, hockey great Vic Hadfield who represented the Vic Hadfield Table Hockey Challenge-one of the generous donors that made this project happen. It was also a great opportunity to meet Michael Henry from the Rotary Club of Oakville whose generous support made the transformation of the Family Room possible.
A touching moment was when Smilezone celebrity ambassador and Professional American Hockey player Megan Bozek, spent some time away from the cameras meeting the students in the Learning Centre classroom.
Making a Positive Impact
Often children and youth receive mental health or autism services,and other therapies,in clinical environments. At Woodview,we’re always looking for ways to improve the client and family experience by making our environment as warm and welcoming as possible because children and youth thrive when their environment is in tune with their needs. These renovations have done exactly that. As a long-time staff member recently remarked upon seeing the new look, she said, “Now, THIS is being client-centred!”
Discovering the Smilezone Foundation has been amazing for Woodview. What Smilezone did for us was more than we could have hoped for. Thank you Smilezone!