By Lauren Pastrana

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Children’s Trust Innovation Fund supports unique programs aimed to improve the lives of children across Miami-Dade County. One of those programs tackles the taboo topic of mental health in African American families.

It is called Box Joy and it’s the brainchild of the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation.

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Each month a member of the OCDC brings some cheer to 55 residents in the area including Queenie Brown. A single mother of two boys aged five and seven, Brown has a hectic schedule with two jobs.

Coming home after picking the boys up from after-school care, a knock at the door brings some family fun centered around a creative theme.

Nakia Bowling is the Director of Family Services and showed CBS4 what is inside the box.

There are all the fixings to create a charcuterie board. It is an activity that is both holiday feast themed, and something that Brown has heard of but not created.

Each box contains a fun activity for all ages, specifically to engage in family bonding, and it came about during the pandemic.

Widespread pandemic-induced isolation, loss, and stress caused by uncertainty led to this program’s inception.

The grant from the Children’s Trust funds this initiative.

“It was the perfect time, the perfect storm, to talk about mental health but also bring together families in really meaningful and impactful ways,” explained Bowling. “Sitting down, engaging in family activities, and also tacking the taboo subject of mental health. Doing it in a fun way.”

The first box that arrived impressed Brown, who said keeping her smart, active boys busy is a major priority.

“We actually played a game, it was a board game called ‘Name that Phrase’,” Brown said.

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Other boxes subsequently included a s’mores box theme and there was also a little bit of gardening.

In front of the apartment is the thriving plant in a pot from a well liked project.

“The plants, that was so cool, that was super fun. I think that was the highlight, the one where they got to play in the dirt, in the mud, with the water kids, love that!” Brown said.

The program came at a critical time for her. In addition to being indoors a lot and the kids not in school, she suffered a major loss.

“The pandemic has hit a lot in my family. I lost so many individuals in my family,” she said.

Another component of the program is a therapy session, assessing any mental wellness concerns, and discussing what the family can learn from the activities they participate in.

From what Brown has said, it’s like having an aunt to connect with on her well-being.

“She would even call to just check up on us have a mental talk, ‘How’s it going? You’re super busy, did you get a chance to sleep?’,” said Brown.

After a long day at work and school, the family now opens the box and excitedly inspects all the elements for a charcuterie board. There are cheeses, meats, crackers, raisins, dried cranberries, and sparkling cider to make it festive.

The family can create the board together or while on a Zoom meeting with the program’s leads.

It was a delicious activity that came out awesome.

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For more information and how to apply for grants for innovative programs click here. 

Lauren Pastrana