From drab to fab, areas get child-friendly upgrades at Chigamik

Changing a sterile environment into a pleasing space can sometimes help lessen anxiety for children and youth visiting a medical or health facility.

To that end, Smilezones are one such way to provide children and their families with a welcoming and relaxing area. Five such spaces were unveiled by Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care and Chigamik Community Health Centre on Monday.

At a ceremony hosted by Waypoint vice-president clinical services and COO Rob Desroches, the origin of Smilezones in 2012 by founders Scott Bachly and Adam Graves was explained as a means for the duo to create a contribution further to the construction of their local hospital.

“(Bachly and Graves) envisioned creating a space where kids could temporarily escape their daily struggles; a place designed for them with the goal of bringing a smile to the childrens’ faces,” said Desroches.

In that time, more than 400 Smilezones have been established across Canada in nearly every province and territory.

“One of our strengths is flexibility,” Bachly told the celebration attendees. “We are able to provide customization to facilities; not only to hospitals but to childrens’ clinics, mental health facilities and oncology centres.

“Smilezones do not change the way our children are treated – we do not provide equipment or rehabilitation options – but we are able to change the environment that our children are treated in and it’s historically been a relatively blank space,” Bachly added.

Whereas previous zones have looked clinical with rows of aligned seats in a bright setting, the Waypoint and Chigamik Smilezone provided a welcoming area at the Hub Café of plush couches, a colourfully vibrant mural and installations on the wall for sensory input (ie touch and feel). Other locations in the facility to receive upgrades included the child and youth waiting rooms, treatment room, and youth nook.

Chigamik executive director Suzanne Marchand explained how the Smilezone would tie in to the services the facility provided for youth.

“The Smilezone is meant to uplift and make children feel like it’s a welcome environment. The youth wellness hub is a great resource in our community, especially for our youth and young adults; it gives it a feeling of welcomeness and calm, and it’s really inviting and nice to see here at the community health hub.

In addition to the ribbon cutting ceremony, the Smilezone Foundation presented a cheque for $30,000 to Waypoint.

Pediatrician and Waypoint medical director of child and youth Rob Meeder told the crowd it was during his time as a pediatrician at Orillia’s Soldier Memorial Hospital when he saw how their Smilezone transformed “what was sort of an imposing and somewhat drab, sterile medical space into an amazing child and family friendly environment.”

Desroches noted that it was Meeder who introduced Waypoint to the Smilezone Foundation, with seed funding provided by North Simcoe Rotaract and other community donations and fundraising events.

“Children are our most important resource, our most incredible resource that we have,” stated Meeder. “Study after study shows that the greatest predictor for both physical and mental health later on in life is warm relationships in childhood.”

Bachly shared that with so many facilities across the country, the Smilezones initiative could continue for a very long time. The transformation took place over the course of a few weeks, with a cost that couldn’t be disclosed.

“We fund 100 per cent internally so we raise money through private donors,” said Bachly. “It’s a community-operated thing.”

He explained that the program was suited for families, small and large corporations who want to donate locally but weren’t sure how to do so. Through the foundation, “their dollar goes a lot further.”

“To give back to the community, there’s nothing better,” added Bachly. “And we think it’s a great fit.”

Information regarding the Smilezone Foundation, including impacts and ways to help, can be found on the initiative website.

The Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care and Chigamik Community Health Centre is located at 287 Bayshore Drive in Midland.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,