The Umbrella Project (UP) was created by Jen Forristal to equip local youth with valuable coping skills. It is a teacher-led curriculum with the purpose of guiding teachers, students and parents. The intent, to reframe perception regarding life’s challenges, creating a more positive way to manage stress.
Her goal was to build a foundation that models an intentional style of parenting, “so that we are not relying on chance to ensure that our children will build a full complement of coping skills,” she said. And it’s not just about teaching the importance of these skills, it’s about actively practicing them - to form the confidence, and resilience, to face darker days.
“It's very clear to me that your umbrella of coping skills are a direct result of how the people around you cope with challenges,” said Forristal. She describes growing up with holes in her own ‘umbrella’ that could have inhibited her ability to become the success she is today, if she hadn’t had the fortitude to push through.
The UP curriculum is built on storytelling platforms and the power of learning from the narratives of others. Forristal says, “everyone around you is someone to look up to if you know what to look for.”
The UP Mental Health Awards & Scholarships were created to celebrate those who model positive coping skills to benefit the community. “We are constantly amazed by the stories we hear about students, teachers, and schools using their umbrella of coping skills, to weather the tough days, take on big challenges and help others do the same,” said Forristal.
When asked how she manages her own stress, she says, “most of what I now do was once outside my comfort zone - from public speaking, to writing a book, developing and researching a curriculum, to being the CEO of a growing team. I have had to stretch outside my limits on an almost daily basis.”
She finds her courage in her sense of purpose and compassion for others. She says her rewards are in the results. A recent research study through Trent University looked at over 500 students across three different school boards. The impact of using the UP curriculum resulted in significant improvements in overall emotional intelligence, adaptability, stress management and interpersonal skills across all ages and genders.
She said, a local group of third graders recently used their UP skills to form a class promise using self-compassion. They have created a nonjudgmental environment, allowing themselves to make mistakes and being kind to each other when they do.
“If only we all could have learned to prioritize self-compassion in grade 3,” she beams.
Forristal acknowledges that current trends in mental health are no longer problems we can solve alone. “My future goal is to lead the world’s most connected community of parents, health care providers and educators, dedicated to raising strong, joyful and conscious generations of children.”
She says, “by shifting the paradigm through which we are all seeing our experiences we can have a profound effect on mental health.”
She is currently working on a guide for parents, on how to upgrade parenting styles to proactively build coping skills that will help future generations thrive. Forristal is hosting a free parenting workshop on April 26th, at Functional Medicine Uptown in Waterloo.
The Umbrella Project Mental Health awards and scholarships are as follows:
● Educator Award: $1000
● School Community Award: $1000
● (2) Student Scholarship: Grade 1 - 8: $500
● (2) Student Scholarship: Grade 9 - 12: $500
Details on how to apply can be found on The Umbrella Project website.