On a mitzvah mission
Jessica Cohn and her kids, Tamara and Jeremy, created the Friend Send to help others across Canada. (photo from Jessica Cohn)
Last October, Jessica Cohn, a Vaughan, Ont., mother of 10-year-old twins Tamara and Jeremy, was scrolling through Facebook when she found messages by other mothers that disturbed and saddened her.
“They were saying their kids were down because no one had come to their birthday parties,” Cohn recalled. “I told my kids and they immediately wanted to attend those parties, which was impossible because the children were located all over Canada.” Instead, the trio opted for the next best thing: to send those children birthday cards so they would feel less alone and more cared for. They got to work right away.
That initiative turned into the Friend Send, the Cohns’ personal mitzvah mission, which quickly extended beyond birthday cards to children 12 and under experiencing bullying or feeling friendless and lonely. Cohn and her children have sent 240 cards across the country.
“My kids have written on almost every card, and they love doing this,” she told the Independent. “We have a huge card box and they go through it to select a card they think a particular child would like. Once they’ve written their message, I add my own.”
When Annie Miron first heard about the idea, she was skeptical, but the Nanaimo mom was worried about her daughter, Trinity, 12, who was having a hard time making friends. “People were picking on her behind her back and she was really depressed, thinking all kids are mean,” she said. “A couple months ago, when I told Jessica what Trinity was going through, she sent a card and a letter in the mail.”
The card was deeply meaningful to her daughter, said Miron. “It told her that she mattered and that people cared about her, so she understood there are nice kids out there. After that, her attitude changed drastically and everything turned around for her at school. This positive message really does work and Jessica and her children saved our family.”
Dawn Chouinard, a Westbank, B.C., mother, has also seen a change in her 13-year-old daughter, Kate-lynn Grist, who was being bullied at school and was feeling friendless.
“She was so ecstatic when she received a card and it made such a difference to know that people were rooting for her,” Chouinard told the Independent. “The Friend Send is a really good idea because it can make a big difference to a child when a stranger gives you that boost, and it doesn’t come from mom or dad. Kate-lynn is a little more confident at school now, and I’ve noticed that, if she sees someone else struggling, she might be more inclined to offer them a word of encouragement now.”
Cohn has used Facebook to spread word of the Friend Send, and has heard some heartbreaking stories of children experiencing harrowing times. It’s her hope that the cards will give them the lift they need, the reminder that there are caring people out there offering support and encouragement, and that the bullying or isolation they are experiencing on the playground or sports field are not representative of the world at large.
“What surprised me was how many requests we get for cards for boys – way more than what we get for girls,” she said. She shared the experience of Cody, a child who started playing hockey later in life because his parents couldn’t afford the lessons. He was less skilled than the other kids and, as a result, they wouldn’t let him join their game. “It made me so sad, because he loved the game so much, and for him to be excluded because he was less skilful was heartbreaking,” Cohn said.
“I spend a long time talking with the parents on Facebook, especially the mothers, because I find they often don’t have anyone to support or understand them. People don’t understand how hard it is to see your child coming home crying every day. When their children receive some encouragement, this support means so much to them.”
If there’s one message Cohn wants to convey to parents of children who are being bullied, it’s not to be embarrassed about what is going on. “I wish I could tell every parent out there how special their children are, and how much love and respect they deserve,” Cohn said.
To find out more about the Friend Send, to request a card or to become a card-writer, visit facebook.com/thefriendsend.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.