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FHS student part of team knitting together art, mental wellness, advocacy, community
by Sharon Mah
The Faculty of Health Sciences is profiling FHS students whose projects received funding from the 2022 SFU Student-Community Engaged Competition. Puneet’s story is the second of a three-part series.
Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) Bachelor of Sciences student Puneet Chhina is one of four founding members of Finding Present, a team that won a $2,000 grant in the 2022 SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition.
The group – which also includes SFU Geography student Gabrielle Wong, UBC student Anisha Biswas, and high school student Catherine Wong – will use their funding to launch Crafting Circles, an initiative that will provide youth ages 12-24 with free, two hour semi-guided art sessions in transit-accessible parts of Langley.
“Art is a critical component of addressing the mental health crisis facing youth,” notes the Langley-based group, pointing out that artistic expression is a healthy outlet for coping with anxieties of daily life. Crafting Circles aims to reduce financial and social barriers preventing youth in Langley from participating in art, while also providing a safe and relaxing space and social experience that allows participants to talk about art and their lives, build relationships, and receive mentoring.
“We founded our group during the [COVID-19] pandemic, when loneliness was at a peak. We noticed that especially youth in our community are really isolated from each other,” says Chhina. “We thought art, being a fun hobby, was a really great way to connect everyone together and allow for personal expression, stress relaxation, and just overall fun.”
For Crafting Circles, the Finding Present team is partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Langley and the Langley Youth Hub, a continuation of a collaboration that began with the group’s first project in 2020. These partnerships benefit all three community organizations in multiple ways: the Crafting Circles will provide potential activities for matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters, while the Langley Youth Hub will be providing space for several of the Circle sessions, allowing their constituents to access these free art activities, and exposing participants unfamiliar with the Hub to its many youth-centered resources and programs.
“We also want to make sure we’re engaging with our local community, so when we provide snacks and art supplies [for the Circles], we want to try and source from local small businesses,” says Chhina.
The members of Finding Present will be talking about issues of sustainability, advocacy, and social justice during their Crafting Circle sessions, but plan to do so in ways that allow participants to have control over and their choice of what they want to do during the sessions. The team will be using reclaimed materials as part of their art supplies, and will support participants wanting to engage in advocacy by guiding them in the production of art projects and facilitating discussion of issues. Every session will consist of distinctive crafts including journal-making, doodling, map-making, thank-you cards and air-dry clay sculptures. Participants will explore a wide range of themes through these activities, such as climate change, mental health, and animal protection.
“One thing I really like about [Crafting Circles] is that none of us are professionals,” observes Chhina. “It’s a hobby [the team leads] all really enjoy and we want to share it with others. It’s really such a gratifying experience for all of us together to learn something new.” Chhina points out that taking this approach to creating art challenges the barrier and mistaken perception that only naturally talented artists should be making art. “We want to make sure that everyone can at least try [an art skill], and even if they’re not perfect at it, it’s still an enjoyable experience.”
Even at an individual level, Chhina continues to use creative outlets to alleviate the stress of being a first year university student. She is passionate about advocating for the use of art to improve mental wellness and build community, because – despite all of the research linking the practice with better mental health outcomes – art is frequently the least likely to be supported with funding, both in school and community resource settings. “Even though I’m a science student, it’s still upsetting to know that people aren’t getting access to equally valuable [art] resources,” she says. “We want to make sure that everyone has access to [art] which is why the Crafting Circles are free, everything [Finding Present offers] on Instagram is free. We want to make sure that everyone has access to creative expression, everyone has a hobby they can enjoy, and just make the world a little bit of a better place.”