In the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, a memorable moment occurred when Tom Cruise told love interest Renée Zellweger “You had me at hello.”
Years later in the University of Guelph library, a Cam’s Kids Ambassador, a candy cane gift firmly in hand, also had then first-year student Grace Hammond, at hello.
“I thought ‘man, I want to do that…I want to brighten someone’s day because that’s just so much fun,” recalls Grace, an Ottawa native now entering the fourth year of her Neuroscience program.
With that initial Cam’s Kids encounter fresh in her mind, Grace signed on to the Guelph team later that year.
“I was walking through the University Centre and the Cam’s Kids table caught my eye”, recalls Grace.
“I struggled with anxiety a lot during high school. I saw the sign that read ‘We help young people with anxiety.’ I thought about that, walked over, and wrote down my name. I still wasn’t 100 percent sure what Cam’s Kids was all about.”
“When I came to Guelph I wasn’t sure I was going to join any clubs. I focus a lot on my schoolwork. I didn’t want to get off track but I thought ‘this is something I can do. I can still focus on myself while helping others too.’”
Fast forward to the present. Grace is now co-lead of the Cam’s Kids team at the university, sharing that role with Daelyn Carroll. With some 25 members, their team is one of the largest and most active in the country.
Along with annual Candy Cane and Chocolate Heart Campaigns, the team has rolled out new anxiety-reducing initiatives that have increased Cam’s Kids footprint. Not even the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down Cam’s Kids momentum, with Grace noting new team members have come on board since March. With classes to be held online starting this September, Grace admits that presents a challenge, but notes Cam’s Kids is on it.
“‘We’ve come up with some ideas for some online things,” notes Grace.
“We’ve organized something for orientation week…a yoga session on Instagram Live with Dr. Kirstie Griffiths. We were talking about doing some peer-to-peer support as well. There will be a lot of first-year students coming in who will be scared. They’re going to be stuck in their rooms doing stuff online. They’re not going to have a normal situation where they will be able to meet a bunch of new people.”
Never far from Grace’s mind is her own struggle with anxiety during high school.
“I wish there was something like Cam’s Kids in my high school…that would have been so helpful,” she says.
“One teacher knew I was anxious all the time. He said ‘you need to walk slower in the hallways.’ I was like ‘what?’ He said ‘take a minute and think about yourself. Don’t rush…just take a minute and relax.’ He wrote that in my yearbook. It was very meaningful to me and still is.”
Speaking as someone who has walked the anxiety walk, Grace advises students new to the challenges of university life “reach out and find new things. There are tons of things on campus you can do without causing extra stress on yourself.”
Planning to attend teachers’ college after graduation next spring, Grace says she’ll move on a better person thanks in no small way, to her Cam’s Kids experience.
“I’m a lot more aware that everyone is going through something,” she says.
“It has made me into a leader as well. I’m a lot more organized and more confident as well, and I’m a better listener now. I’ve loved every minute of being a part of this team.”
Written by: Paul Rellinger