The Friend Send creator Jessica Cohn wearing blue shirt with son and daughter

Photography By Thomas Bollmann

How one GTA mom and her twins are helping bullied kids

They’ve mailed hundreds of cards to kids who are having a tough time. And it’s making a difference

Ask Vaughn, Ont.’s Jessica Cohn about The Friend Send, a volunteer group she founded, and her excitement will have you fumbling for the volume button on your phone. But her enthusiasm quickly becomes contagious.

The mum of 10-year-old twins Jeremy and Tamara, Cohn is an avid participant in Facebook parenting groups. In October 2017, she realized she’d been reading post after post about children who had no one come to their birthday parties. “It made me really sad to think of all these kids feeling so alone and miserable on what should be a happy day,” she says. She told her “twin team” about it, and they tried to think of ways they could help — maybe send a few birthday cards to these kids to let them know someone cared?

Jessica Cohn working on birthday cards with her sonFast-forward five months, and that small idea has become a big (and growing!) volunteer organization. To date, The Friend Send’s 200+ active members have mailed more than 190 cards full of good wishes to kids aged 12 and under who are facing tough times, from birthday party no-shows to severe bullying. Some volunteers are parents with school-age kids, but “there are grandparents in the group who do this with their grandkids, and aunts and uncles who do this with their nieces and nephews,” says Cohn. “There are also teachers in the group who have Friend Send clubs at their schools,” she says. “A ton of students will make cards for a single kid, who will get a whole envelope full—anywhere from 10 to 60 cards, which is pretty amazing!”

One thing Jessica knew she had to prioritize: privacy. The Friend Send has worked with York Regional Police’s internet safety officer to ensure they follow best practices to keep recipients’ identities concealed. All requests for cards go directly to Cohn, who only passes on a first name, an age and bit about the situation the child has been facing to volunteers, so they can personalize their loving messages and offer the right words of encouragement. Volunteers then send cards to her via a post office box—so she’s the only one who knows the addresses and identities of the people involved.

Writing a Friend Send birthday message in purple markerThe group gets plenty of positive feedback, which spurs them on. “One lady said her daughter keeps her card on her bedside table and whenever she’s feeling low, she reads it and it makes her smile,” says Cohn. “Another said her child took the card to school to show everybody what her mysterious friends out there in the world sent.” Parents often share pictures of the cards their kids have received on the group’s private Facebook page, to everyone’s delight. And some of the volunteers’ own kids have received good wishes through The Friend Send, which made them want to pay it forward to other kids who are in the same situation.

Cohn’s twins Tamara and Jeremy happily write card after card with their mum, adding stickers and personalized messages of encouragement. “I feel amazing because I’m sending people happiness,” says Tamara. Jeremy takes a more philosophical view: “It feels great to know that we’re helping kids across Canada who are bullied,” he says. “We can’t exactly stop bullying but why not make victims more positive about themselves and make them more courageous?”

Get involved: Ready to fire up your crayons and send a heartfelt message to a kid in need? Visit The Friend Send Facebook page, or check out their website.