Nonprofit helps bring celebration to families

BOARDMAN — One of the most effective ways to cope with life-changing grief is to immerse oneself in volunteerism and give back.

Just ask Tiana Moore and Marissa Chryst.

“Volunteering here is one of the best ways of doing things in honor of her,” Moore, of Boardman, said.

She was referring to Zola, who was 2 days old when she died in January 2021. Specifically, Moore was dealing with her loss by volunteering for the Santa’s Winter Workshop on Saturday in Boardman Park’s Lariccia Family Community Center.

Following suit was Chryst, of Howland, whose son, Camdyn, was stillborn around 36 weeks into her pregnancy.

The women also are part of Girard-based Olivia’s Grace, a nonprofit organization established in 2016 that partnered with Boardman Park for the six-hour family- and child-oriented holiday-themed funfest.

Perhaps the biggest attraction was Santa and Mrs. Claus, who greeted attendees while sitting on a sleigh.

“We saw an opportunity to be able to collaborate with another organization to help out in the community and provide a holiday tradition,” Karen McCallum, Boardman Park’s recreation director, said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with a wonderful organization, and this kick starts our holiday activities.”

Olivia’s Grace provides no-cost bereavement and remembrance photography for families who have experienced the loss of a child through stillbirth, neonatal death or miscarriage. Also offered is a private grieving support network of other parents who have suffered a loss, Andrea Arnio, the organization’s founder and president, noted.

The 7-year-old organization also provides services to Akron Children’s Hospital, St. Elizabeth Hospital and St. Joseph Warren Hospital, she said.

“We’re close to hitting the 1,000 mark with our services for families since our inception,” Arnio added.

For her part, Chryst found comfort in volunteering at a selfie station during Saturday’s gathering. Her further holiday plans include giving a gift to an 18-month-old child whose name was on an Angel Tree from the Salvation Army, she explained, adding that the gesture also is to honor Camdyn.

A plethora of activities, arts and crafts and other treats awaited children and adults of all ages who sought to get into the holiday spirit. Some of them included using oats, cereal and environmentally-friendly glitter to make reindeer “food,” being photographed with St. Nick, making green Grinch-shaped waffles, decorating cookies and applying inked thumbprints to snowflakes as Christmas tree ornaments. Also offered was a gift basket raffle.

Overseeing the table with the necessary ingredients to make a few reindeer happy and less hungry was Beth Sich of Canfield, who volunteered to provide the oats, cereal and glitter. One of those who busied herself in the activity was Stella Kopatich, 4, of Canfield, who came Saturday with her mother, Annie Kopatich, as well as siblings Tessa Kopatich, 3, and A.J. Kopatich, 6.

The family’s pre-Christmas to-do list also will be at least one trip to White House Fruit Farm in Canfield, which will be the site of several Christmas programs and events, Annie Kopatich said.

The holidays, however, also can amplify one’s grief associated with losing a child and many other traumatic occurrences, so even though people who experience the loss of a child may never get over it, they can heal and move forward, Arnio pointed out.

She also noted that Olivia’s Grace has a virtual support group that meets at 7:30 p.m. the second Thursday of each month. For more information, call the organization at 330-881-3024, or go to www.oliviasgrace.com.

Boardman Park also will host the annual Community Christmas gathering 2 to 5 p.m. today, McCallum said.


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