ANTIGONISH – ‘My god, I never had a wreath since years ago, like when we were children. Here I am in my 90s and here I am receiving a wreath,’ a resident of the Upper Big Tracadie / Linconlville area reportedly said when the Upper Big Tracadie Seniors Action Club presented her with the seasonal gift over the Christmas holidays in 2018. That woman, and many more who were equally as touched by the Lifting Spirits project, will be the subject of a fireside chat with Catherine Hartling and Katherine Gero at a day-long event that focuses on the impact of social isolation on individuals and communities.
Hartling and Gero will give their talk as part of the SPARK a Connection event -- which is organized by Community Health Boards, Public Health, Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library and Nova Scotia Mental Health and Addictions services – that will take place both in person and via Zoom at the People’s Place Library in Antigonish on Thursday, September 17. A news release about the event says, “The event will feature local initiatives and attendees will hear directly from community members who have benefited from programming aimed at reducing social isolation…(and) will provide an overview of the health risks associated with social isolation with particular attention to older adults.”
Hartling and Gero spoke to The Journal about their experiences with the Lifting Spirits project last week.
Gero, who is 83, was born in Sunnyville and has lived in various African Nova Scotian communities since that time, currently residing in Monastery. She is well-known in the community for her contributions to the choir at the Tracadie United Baptist Church in Upper Big Tracadie. And she was a recipient of the goodwill that fueled the Lifting Spirits project.
“There was one thing I always wanted,” Gero told The Journal, “a home-made wreath.” But she added, anytime she had seen any for sale, she couldn’t afford one.
Then a few years ago, Catherine Hartling, “turns around and made me this wreath…‘This is just a gift from our ladies group,’ she said. I sat down and cried. It was something that I always longed for. It overwhelmed me. That is something that I always wanted to have and here you come and give me one. It really touched me deeply,” said Gero.
Hartling told The Journal that in the wake of the tragedy in 2017 in Upper Big Tracadie (the deaths of four community members that is now the subject of the Desmond Fatality Inquiry), people’s spirits were down. The Seniors Action Club decided to apply for some Community Health Board funding to get a few uplifting projects off the ground; to add some joy to the holidays for local elders. Those projects included learning how to make wreaths, led by Mary Ann Clyke of Sunnyville, and a cookie-making and distribution project.
“We decided to get everyone together for two weeks of making the wreaths,” said Hartling. “We had great attendance and we ended up making 20 Christmas wreaths.” The wreath makers enjoyed their work and felt some nostalgia for days of yore when many of the participants had made such wreaths as children.
“When people were receiving these wreaths, they were more or less shocked that we were giving them away. It allowed us to see that these people really enjoyed what we had done,” said Hartling, and that lifted the spirits of everyone involved; the volunteers and the recipients.
Area children helped in the cookie-making venture. Molasses cookies that brought back the elders’ memories of childhood were a favourite.
While such little things, a gift of a wreath or a box of homemade cookies, they went a long way in lifting the spirits of a community still in shock and grieving. The act of giving and the joy of receiving benefited all; and that is what making connections, and the SPARK event, is all about.
Pre-registration is required to attend the SPARK a Connection event. To pre-register email: email@example.com.
Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal