Friendship In Action’s Executive Director, Gerry Mabin, has always believed in prioritizing children’s social and emotional well-being. While working at Words In Motion, an arts education organization co-founded by Mabin and Artistic Director Kathleen Payne, Mabin created programs that helped students develop skills critical to nurturing their emotional intelligence. As the demand from teachers for these programs increased, Mabin decided to form a separate organization to fulfill this need. In 2013, she incorporated Friendship In Action and registered it as a Canadian children’s charity.
Over the years, as the number of young people experiencing stress and anxiety increased, Friendship In Action adapted its services to help students learn skills for managing the social, family, and academic stressors in their lives. In 2016, Mabin and Team Leader Claire Barron developed a new program, Kids Helping Kids Manage Stress, which helps students recognize and cope with stress while developing friendship, trust and empathy among their peers. This program is now running successfully in schools throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have expanded programming to include groups for adults as well as youth. FIA believes in the ethos that 'it takes a village to raise a child' by recognizing those who are responsible for the children we usually work with. Supporting parents and caregivers as they navigate the realities and emotions of the COVID-19 pandemic, will ultimately support the children.
"To provide an opportunity for youth, their parents, caregivers, and teachers to
share with each other bravely in a positive safe environment."
“To create a safe place for young people and their caregivers to identify and share
their stress in order to support each other compassionately.”
Our Shared Values
Our Strategic Priorities
Fatemeh Alhosseini is a PhD. student in the Developmental Psychology and Education (DPE) program at University of Toronto, OISE. She received her MA in the same program and her BA in Clinical Psychology. She loves working with children and conducting practical research contributing to their resilience and wellness. As an intern at Frienship in Action, she is striving to understand the sources of stress in refugee children’s lives in Canada and develop a resilience-based, stress-reduction program for refugee children.
Charlotte Ashe graduated from the Master of Teaching program at the University of Toronto, after completing her BA (Hons) in History at Queen’s University. Charlotte has a passion for social-emotional learning, and completed her thesis on how teachers use mindfulness in the classroom to support students’ mental health, executive functioning, and academic success. She also has experience directing outdoor summer camps.
Claire Barron earned her teaching degree at Middlebury College in Vermont and her M.Ed in curriculum from OISE. Throughout Claire’s teaching career, her focus has always been in helping students develop their character and to provide them with the tools they need to navigate their emotional world. She spent the majority of her career at Upper Canada College Preparatory School and wrote the curriculum for their Life Skills Programme. She is a firm believer in support groups for students, and initiated and ran support groups for students at UCC. In addition, she has been a Department Head of both English and Guidance and was Director of a Middle School.
Simon Bugiardini is a recent graduate of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University. As the bookkeeper and administrative assistant for Friendship In Action, Simon uses his skills to make sure that the organization's internal operations are running smoothly and efficiently. Simon has a passion for working in the non-profit sector and believes that staying true to the organization’s mission is the top priority.
Beth Burrows is a veteran Human Resources professional who has turned her passion for coaching and promoting wellness in the workplace towards her recent educational pursuits in grief and bereavement counselling. Beth currently is a candidate for the Thanatology Certificate in Grief and Bereavement Studies at the University of Western Ontario, in addition to the Children’s Grief and Bereavement Certificate Program through the SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health Learning Institute. When not studying, Beth is a facilitator in training with the Philip Aziz Centre for Hospice Care and Emily’s House Children’s Hospice in Toronto. Beth believes that one of the greatest gifts in the face of change, transition and loss is finding your story, and trusting your own precious voice.
Anne Cassidy is an experienced classroom teacher who spent 25 years at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Child Study as teacher and mentor. From 2005-2010, she worked at Gambia College in West Africa, developing a literacy programme for the Ministry of Education and teaching over two thousand student teachers. She has been a member of the FIA team since her return.
Barb holds an Hons. BA in history from Queen’s University, has completed Andrea Warnick’s Certificate Program in Children’s Grief and Bereavement and has trained with Hospice Peterborough. As a former documentary filmmaker and partner with Lynx Images, Barb is well versed in building bridges of understanding and communication. Essential to her documentary work was being open to all perspectives and creating an atmosphere in which people felt comfortable to be authentic and to tell their story. As a facilitator with FIA, Barb is excited to help groups of peers develop a shared feeling of trust in which they can speak their emotional truths and listen to one another with empathy and compassion.
Lovisa Fung is a Ph.D. candidate at OISE, University of Toronto and a former elementary school teacher. She is currently an instructor at The School of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University and the Bachelor of Education program at York University. Her passion resides in heart-centred teaching, holistic education and the importance of our narratives in informing the teaching and learning process. She believes that every child has the potential to be empowered by their own stories and contribute to their surroundings with empathy and compassion.
Cam Kilgour has these degrees: B.A. (Trent), a B.Ed (U of T, LL.B (Osgoode Hall). After practising immigration law briefly, he taught for two years in Bhutan and then, in secondary schools in Toronto, for 25 years, including two exchange years in Melbourne, Australia. He continues to do literacy assessment work for the TDSB. Having taught many immigrant students, he has a special interest in the development of communication skills and emotional intelligence. He recently returned from a volunteering assignment at a buddhist monastery school in Mandalay, Myanmar where he learned the importance of compassion and gratitude in the learning environment.
Gerry Mabin is internationally recognized as a leader in the field of early childhood education and has a wealth of experience in teacher training and classroom teaching. She received her training in the UK and taught there before coming to the Institute of Child Study (ICS) in Toronto, where she taught and became principal. In 1980 she founded The Mabin School and in 1998 moved on to help open the Children’s Own Museum, where she was Education Director for three years. In 2001 she co-founded Words in Motion and first conceived of the Friendship in Action program, which she incorporated into a separate registered charity in 2013.
Leigh comes from London, England where she graduated with a degree in Business & Commerce. She successfully launched a career in private lines insurance focussing on policy change for women which she ran for 6 years before moving to Canada in 1995. Once settled in Canada Leigh worked as a consultant to small business set-up, management, organization and restructuring - with her son (then 6). She also launched "the smart hanger" which was premiered on Dragon's Den! Personal experience in the world of education, specifically the challenges faced by children with disabilities, together with further accreditation in the field of conflict resolution, led Leigh to provide advocacy, and mediation at the Human Rights Commission of Ontario as well as establishing a small not for profit school focusing on providing respite and academic support for children with disabilities. What Leigh loves most is helping youth find their voice which is what led her to FIA.
Sue-Ann has a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s of Education from Boston University. She taught in The Independent School System over the course of 20 years as a form teacher and a French teacher at Havergal College, Upper Canada College and The Sterling Hall School. After working in the financial industry as an Associate Investment Advisor for the last five years, she is glad to be reconnecting with students to help them through the FIA mission of, ‘creating a safe place where young people can identify their stress and to support each other with compassion.’
Sadaf Pour Iliaei
Sadaf Pour Iliaei is a PhD student in Developmental Psychology and Education (DPE) program at University of Toronto, OISE. Sadaf got an MA in Developmental Psychology from Concordia University, Montreal, where she worked with infants and examined their cognitive functions. She also has an MSc in Cognitive Psychology from the Institute for Cognitive Science Studies. Sadaf is currently involved in a SHHRC-founded project on studying wisdom, and is interested in incorporating wise life techniques such as emotion regulation and mindfulness training in the educational setting.
Noni acquired her B.A. and then her M.B.A.at McGill university and built a career over the next 20 years in the field of Marketing and Advertising. She worked for major corporations such as General Foods and international ad agencies such as Young and Rubicam, Saatchi and Saatchi and Bates Worldwide. In 2006 Noni went back to school and acquired a teaching degree from OISE given her keen interest in childhood learning and development. She taught for the next 12 years adding elementary a Life Coaching Certificate to further help the emotional development and well-being of youth and adult women. After retiring from teaching, Noni got involved with FIA so she could continue to be involved with young students and help them with their increasing levels of anxieties and stresses. Her favourite quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “No one can take your self-esteem away without your permission”.
Leslie is a graduate of the Concurrent Education Program at Queens University and has her Special Education Specialist, Guidance Part 1, and an Additional Basic Qualification in Intermediate Drama. Leslie Richardson is a deeply empathetic teacher with a passion for inner-city education. With great care and enthusiasm, she works creatively to develop community by believing in, supporting, and engaging each and every child.
John Sendim is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) and has a Master’s degree from the University of Toronto in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy. As a therapist, John understands how important it is to; give voice to the pain we hold inside, to be able to share in an open safe environment with peers. John is grateful to be part of FIA and being able to witness students flourish.
Aldonna Stremecki is a former Head of Drama at Crescent School in Toronto, where she taught grades 5 through 13 and directed theatre productions every year. While at Crescent, Aldonna collaborated on the school’s outreach initiative, bringing art and literacy programs to young people in South Africa. She uses her extensive experience in crafting role-play, literature and co-operative games that explore and develop self-awareness and empathy.
Jen holds a B.Sc. in Geography from Queen's University and held several marketing and communications roles in the finance industry prior to becoming a stay-at-home-mom almost 15 years ago. During that time, Jen has volunteered continuously, holding various positions with several non-profit organizations, including 6 years with Girl Guides of Canada and 8 years with Toronto's leading moms' group, Metro Mothers Network. Jen has more recently worked part-time, first running a local dog-walking business, followed by 2 years in the travel industry. While searching for an opportunity to get back into the non-profit sector with a keen interest in working with youth, Jen discovered FIA. As one of our newest facilitators, Jen helps middle-school students develop their emotional intelligence skills by modelling active listening and helping create a safe space in which they can be vulnerable and brave at the same time.
Sandra Webster is a retired teacher with the Toronto District School Board and has more than 25 years of experience in both the elementary and middle school system. Sandra was educated in England at the University of Sussex, and taught in both the United Kingdom and her native Barbados before moving permanently to Canada. With an expertise in special education, Sandra has worked with students of a wide range of abilities and backgrounds. She harbours a strong belief that every child is a unique individual with their own strengths and the ability to contribute meaningfully to society.
Quincy Wiele holds an MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Bradford, UK. He’s had 7 years of program management experience, primarily in Nepal where he worked with vulnerable populations to facilitate knowledge exchange between governments, nonprofits and the general public. The main focus was to strengthen the ability of groups to hold those in power accountable. He also has experience facilitating group discussions to encourage healing and growth. Quincy has recently returned to Canada and is currently working as an ESL teacher, designing lessons that encourage discussions and personal growth while adapting curriculum to the individual needs of his students.
Erin MacKay - Chair/Treasurer
Leah Switzer - Vice-Chair
Tiffaney Klein - Secretary
The following individuals have graciously provided valuable advice to the Friendship In Action organization:
Barbara Adams, former Principal, John D Parker Junior School. Past Director of FIA.
Ann Armstrong, Director, Social Enterprise Initiative, Rotman School of Management. Past FIA Director.
Ellie Avishai, Director, I-Think Initiative, Rotman School of Management.
Jo-Anne Boluk, Parent. Past Director of FIA.
Cristina Burgess, President, Augustina Boutique and Little Auggie. Past Director of FIA.
Dr. Jean Clinton, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neuroscience at McMaster University, division of Child Psychiatry.
Dr.Howard Cole, Child Psychiatrist.
Dr. Jennifer Connolly, Director, LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution.
George Dembroski, Corporate Director.
Ruth Ehrlich, Education Consultant.
Sue Griggs, Executive Coach, Educator, Psychotherapist.
Lisa Haberman, B.A., B.Ed., M.A., University of Toronto Schools.
Bonnie Hillman, President, A&C, Toronto. Past Director of FIA.
Victoria Jackman, Executive Director Hal Jackman Foundation.
Mary Ladky, Executive Director, The Children’s Book Bank.
Roger Martin, Academic Director, Martin Prosperity Institute, Rotman School of Management.
Donna Slaight, Slaight Family Foundation.
Nancy Steinhauer, Principal, The Mabin School, consultant to Ministry of Education on student achievement.
Paul Tough, Writer, Journalist, Speaker.
Heather Weir, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. Past Director of FIA.
Janet Young, Parent. Past Director of FIA.