Magdala Chery and son Jonathan-David Chery enjoy a Box Joy package.

Photo courtesy of Nakia Bowling

Box Joy: Getting Families Together When They Need it Most

Trust-funded Innovation Fund program working in Opa-locka

Remember waiting for something special via mail when you were a child, the thrill of watching for your postal worker or opening your mailbox to see if it arrived. The joyful anticipation of the package often felt better than gratification that came from whatever you were waiting for. Kids today delight in much the same way through subscription boxes – recurring deliveries of specialized packages bringing them all manner of goodies or products.

In Opa-locka, there are now subscription boxes being sent out to 60 families that provides all the excitement of those same deliveries but with something even more special inside – joy! A program known as Box Joy is combining the excitement of the subscription box delivery idea with the importance of bringing together families in tough times for an even nobler cause – good mental health.

The Box Joy program was developed by the Opa-locka Community Development Center that seeks to address what is often a taboo subject in African American families – mental health – in an innovative, inclusive and fun manner. The program is funded through The Children’s Trust’s Innovation Fund.

“We wanted to tap into mental health in a way that was palatable to people of color,” said Nakia Bowling, Director of the Department of Family Service and Community for Opa-Locka Community Development Center. “Subscription boxes are huge with children; my daughter gets so excited when she gets her monthly subscription.”

Bowling said that Box Joy includes mental health activities and products that help families bond during these stressful times. “They get a box in the mail with all kinds of goodies so they can do these things with their family.” The 60 or so family participants in the Box Joy program have already received two monthly packages that spur positive interactions between family generations in interesting and fun ways. The program runs through the end of the year, with each month’s box tackling another mental health theme.

The program also involves monthly meeting with a mental health therapist to address issues within the family and discuss what the family can learn from the activities they participate in. Bowling explained that the Box Joy concept is a way to ease a therapist into difficult situations, something African American families are often hesitant to do.

“Mental health was never really talked about in our family and that’s the case with a lot of families. It isn’t talked about. You don’t tell people your dirty laundry,” she explained. “But sometimes you need professional help.” The early success of the program in bringing families together and getting them the help they need has led to plans for its expansion.

Box Joy is one of 22 programs funded last year through The Children’s Trust Innovation Grant, which focuses on innovative ways to address existing community needs.