This past year saw a significant change in the way recreational and therapeutic programming was delivered at Emily’s House. With help from a dedicated and flexible team of volunteers, we were able to adapt and respond quickly to the changing public health situation and deliver ongoing, meaningful programing to our children and families. While on-site, one-on-one recreational and therapeutic play sessions continued, the number of regularly scheduled virtual programming events offered increased significantly, up to 40 per month. Group sessions included storytelling, music, games, and activities such as virtual visits to parks, museums, and the Toronto aquarium; plus, weekly sing-alongs and virtual visits from therapy dogs.

For families who could not visit Emily’s House for events, the special events went to the families! The year’s Halloween and winter holiday parties were also held virtually, with songs, games, and craft packages that were delivered to the families by volunteers in advance.  In addition to regularly scheduled programing and seasonal events, special virtual sessions were held, such as a four-week Zumba class for kids, a magic show, and a virtual family campfire. Legacy and memory making activities continued to be offered to families throughout the year, providing them with treasured keepsakes, such as hand castings and fingerprint charms.

Also from home, children and families participated in a tile mosaic art mural.  Eighteen families Zoomed and mosaiced together for this therapeutic community project.  Guided by an artist, each family created their own, unique mosaic tile contribution. Sessions proved expressive, social, and engaging, with beautiful results. One family inscribed the back of their tile: “Thanks Emily’s House for all your helping hands that pour love on so many friends.”

Special thanks to the lead funder of Emily’s House Daily Play and Art Therapies Program, The Lillian Meighen and Don Wright Foundation, which makes it possible to offer daily recreation and therapeutic fun.

Client Impact – Recreation:  Recreational play and fun that adds joy and quality to life continues:  in-person at Emily’s House, at home, by group video events, and in every conceivable combination of locations as best supports each child and family.  Video / Zoom events embraced during our COVID-19 pivot will be continuing as peer-group and peer-family events, to support children who are restricted in their travel or by geography, and to extend new peer family / group programming (i.e., community tile mosaic art, virtual family campfire).  One family’s review of the Emily’s House Virtual Campfire: “What a great night and program! We had so much fun at camp night!  It was easy to access. The “guides” were fabulous. Loved their energy and excitement towards the kids. They also really engaged all those taking part. A few of the kids were non-verbal, but I really felt like they were fully included. It was a great mix of songs, games, and interaction.”

Client Impact – Music Therapy:  For one family with three children, drumming parade parties ensued in the backyard of their home, with the neighbors peeking over the fence. Each week the children would ask our Music Therapist with excitement, “What new instruments do you have today?!” They were excited to share every new sensory experience:  to express and create new soundscapes, as they blasted out their feelings and processed their world, while being supported by the therapy of music. As we integrate COVID program key learnings and look forward to increased flexibility and inclusivity in 2022, our team is anticipating more virtual groups for children and families who are not able to travel to participate in therapeutic and recreational hospice programming. At the same time, socially-distanced group music therapy and sing-alongs are again taking place inside Emily’s House, filling the building and children with song.