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Welcome to the next installment in our “Who Gives a Chip?” series, which celebrates the everyday heroes in our community. Their passion, and commitment to ‘giving a chip,’ inspires us, and we hope it will do the same for you.
Kids HUGS is an organization out of Guilford, CT whose mission is to help “families facing serious illness.” They focus on nurturing children whose parents are afflicted. We spoke with Amy Fenollosa, the founder of Kids HUGS, about what inspired her to start the organization, what she does every day to further its mission, and how you can help!
What inspired you to start Kids HUGS?
In 2011, when my husband Nat was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, our world turned upside down in an instant. One day he was training for a 200-mile bike ride to raise money for cancer research, and then next day he was a cancer patient. We went from celebrating the end of the school year with our boys to helping Nat recover from surgery.
When Nat was diagnosed with cancer, our boys were 5 and 7 years old and our whole lives changed; it was overwhelming for all of us to try to make sense of our new world. We looked for resources to help our young children through the difficult times and we were disappointed to learn that there weren’t any programs available for children with a critically ill parent on the shoreline.
After Nat died, I was inspired to create something in his memory that would help support other children who are experiencing similar challenges in life.
That’s where Kids HUGS came in. We provide a caring environment where kids can feel safe exploring their emotions and learning to express themselves through the creative arts and play. We’re a community where children can meet other kids like them who are going through extraordinarily challenging times. Together they can learn and grow. They’ll discover it’s ok to ask questions, it’s healthy to laugh, and it’s good to meet new people. We’ll teach them coping skills that they can rely on throughout their lives.
What kinds of things do you do each day, and how do those things contribute to the organization’s overall goals?
Kids HUGS offers children’s support groups with a creative focus to help kids explore their emotions and have fun. Parents have an opportunity to meet separately and talk to other parents who are facing similar challenges. Our groups meet monthly, but we are constantly working. We work to spread the word, so that as many families as possible can benefit from the program. Our volunteers collaborate between sessions to develop creative new programming and invite visiting artists to work with the children. And, of course we fundraise. All in an effort to help children discover how to express their emotions through creative arts, music, movement and play, and learn that they are not alone as they navigate the many questions and challenges they face living with a sick parent.
What is the hardest part of what you do?
Running a non-profit takes dedication and there are times that the administration or fundraising can be challenging. But when we see the difference we’re making, we know it’s worth it.
What makes it all worth it to you?
Every time I meet new families or spend time working with the children in our program, I know we are making a difference. Kids HUGS helps people feel like they’re not alone as they navigate a difficult time in life. Introducing families to one another, or introducing children to new ways of thinking are the most rewarding parts of my work with Kids HUGS.
What would you tell someone who is looking to make a difference in their community?
Have courage! If you have an idea or see a need, don’t be afraid to try it. With passion and determination, you can do it! With the support of a community, you can make a difference in people’s lives.
Want to help Kids HUGS? Register for the Kids HUGS 3rd Annual Kids Ride for Kids! Sunday, May 1, 2016, at 10:00 AM at Jacobs Beach, Guilford, CT. Registration at www.kidshugs.org