Helping to raise a smile

4th November 2020

Families struggling to cope with life-threatening or long-term illnesses have had smiles brought back into their lives through the unique work of an award-winning organisation.

Grant a Smile, a not-for-profit community enterprise, was set up five years ago by former teacher Joyce Obaseki, who lives in Loughton.

The organisation, which had the accolade of a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service last year, has been given a grant of £11,540 from Essex Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Programme.

The funding has given Grant a Smile’s work a vital boost in its quest to help families in need.

Joyce launched the organisation after discovering that no support was available for children like one of her pupils, who came to school in a dirty uniform because his mother, who had cancer, was too ill to provide him with clean clothes. The boy was being bullied at school because of his unkempt appearance and Joyce became determined to give youngsters like him the help they need.

Grant a Smile gives free practical support for eligible families whose home life is affected by serious illness. The organisation also aims to grant special wishes for children and has set its sights on expanding its work to help vulnerable and elderly people.

“The help we give can be life-changing, particularly for children who have had to become young carers because they have a parent who is seriously ill,” said Joyce.

“We go into the home and help with all kinds of chores, including cleaning, washing, ironing and gardening. This sort of support has a magical effect, once the house is in order it allows families to have less stressful lives with more time together, without the worry of all the jobs that need to be done.

“We have given this type of valuable help to a Mum who has cancer. One of her three children, a 10-year-old girl, who had been lively and bright as a button, had become mute and was missing out on school. The house was deteriorating, and the Mum was struggling to cope.

“As well as giving practical support in the home, we help with life skills too. We worked closely with the family and one of our volunteers, a mental health specialist and a life coach, gave psychological support.

“The 10-year-old started talking again and her school attendance improved. She doesn’t feel alone anymore and knows that people understand what she is going through. Although her Mum’s health may not get any better, we have been able to teach her how to handle things and she is not overwhelmed anymore.

“We are very grateful for the grant from Essex Community Foundation. There are so many families who need the type of help we can provide which is impossible to find elsewhere.”

The Coronavirus pandemic has meant that Grant a Smile, which has 36 volunteers, has had to prioritise its work to help the families in greatest need. They have been distributing food parcels throughout the pandemic and report a significant rise in referrals.

Joyce and her team of volunteers are tackling the current challenges and the future, with the knowledge that they are making a huge difference to people’s lives and that their work is needed more than ever.