St. James students spread messages of hope using handmade ornaments

This story is part of a series by CBC Manitoba about acts of kindness in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was possible in part thanks to Manitobans who filled out CBC’s survey about acts of kindness they have initiated or experienced. 

Hanging in the trees along Sturgeon Creek Walkway, you’ll find some small, colourful ornaments containing messages of hope. 

They’re the work of Grade 6 and 7 students at Bruce Middle School nearby.

Their teacher, Erin Acorn, said she’s noticed how much the pandemic has affected her students’ mental health.

The project was a way for students to boost their own well-being by spreading positive messages in the community at a time when people are giving up so much, she said. 

Acorn and her students hope the ornaments spread some positivity in the community. (Submitted by Erin Acorn)

“We just wanted this to be this little beacon of light and hope that the people will find in random places when they’re maybe not even looking for it, just to spread kind of well wishes and be able to take these gifts home,” she said.

Made from salt dough, the ornaments are painted in with simple messages such as “we love you,” “don’t be afraid” and “you are loved.”

The ornaments are made from salt dough and were hand painted by Acorn’s students. (Submitted by Erin Acorn)

Acorn and her students went out and hung the ornaments in trees along the Sturgeon Creek walkway last week. After posting about it on Facebook, she said she’s been receiving messages and pictures from people delighted to find the small treasures. 

“A few people posted the pictures of the ornaments they had found that have now made their way onto their Christmas trees or into their home, and just thanking us for promoting this positivity in the community and helping them to see that these kids really do have beautiful hearts and and wanted to do act with kindness,” she said.

Because of pandemic restrictions, even making the ornaments was a bit challenging. 

“We were so restricted as to where the kids can be in the school and what groupings they can have,” she said.

Acorn said she’s been getting messages from people who found the ornaments and loved how they made them feel. (Submitted by Erin Acorn)

So some teachers and other adults had to chip in to make the ornaments, while the students painted and decorated them. 

In spite of how challenging 2020 has been, Acorn said she’s in awe of her students’ resilience. 

“When I try to place myself in in their shoes and I think of what I felt like as a 12-year-old kid, if someone suddenly told me I wasn’t allowed to hang out with my friends and I had to wear a mask and, you know, you couldn’t be anywhere within two metres of people, I feel like I would be completely devastated,” she said. 

“But these kids are so resilient and their empathy for others is really incredible.”