Mara St. Onge graduated from the SFU CED Program 6 years ago. Since graduating she developed an award-winning YMCA program for developmentally delayed youth and adults called Friends, Fitness and Fun. She has also launched a successful social enterprise, Blingja Concepts, and has recently left her job to work on it full time.
Mara is an educator and also sell a small range of therapeutic items, all created by people with developmental disabilities and brain injuries. Her social enterprise, Blingja Concepts, short for “Bling out your inner ninja,” offers practical accessible tools for mindfulness and social and emotional learning.
Mara had been working for the Vancouver School Board for 15 years, working with kids with developmental difficulties until she had her children.
When Mara had her son, he, at the onset of being able to speak, exhibited signs of anxiety. It was extreme. She had worked with children like this and had seen where it can go. Therefore she decided to find a solution for her son.
They worked together to develop tools to help him recognize when he feels anxious and to know what to do when the feeling comes up.
She realized that the tools they came up with would be useful for children facing a range of problems, from anger, to not fitting in, to sensory issues and attention, and so Mara started Blingja.
When you are anxious, people often tell you to “take a deep breath,” but it can be hard for children to do that effectively. Mara and her son came up with what we called “Blingja breathing,” a simple visualization exercise to make the calming power of deep breathing accessible for children.
Mara offer trainings, working with educators and families. She has brought Blingja into over 30 schools so far and has left her job in order to focus all her time on this.
The reason Mara took the CED program was to find out how to bring people together and build community. She learned that stories show how you do it. Stories bind us together. Stories create community.
Hearing so many personal stories during the program– the stories of others in the class, the stories of those invited to speak – these really resonated with her.
It is not like at university when you are being lectured at. The CED program offered so many opportunities to connect.
-Written by the SFU Certificate Program for Community Economic Development
Published in July 2016