Grief and trauma are never easy to deal with—healing takes time, no matter who you are. In our own grief, it can be easy to forget that children often don’t have the coping mechanisms that adults do. And in areas where losing loved ones to violence and happenstance seems like an all too common thing, grief can build on top of grief for youths, seemingly without end. That’s where the Sunshine Box comes in.

A project started by youth mentor Dracin Williams, the Sunshine Box is meant to help students in need of help, healing and reassurance. Here’s a little more about this wonderfully human project.

What prompted you to create the Sunshine Box?

The summer after finishing my first year of mentoring, I found out that one of my students was fatally shot. Malik was his name. The overwhelming grief that I felt lasted for weeks, and I realized that this is what so many students on the west side feel daily. As I devoted my time to self-care and processing my feelings over Malik’s death, I decided that my second year of service would be dedicated to making a change within our schools.

When did you start the program?

In Summer 2016.

Could you tell us a little about the Sunshine Box and the problem it addresses?

With 12 of our mental health service providers being consolidated into 6, more and more youths who experience trauma don’t have the necessary help and resources they need to process and heal. It’s important that Chicago youth learn to prioritize their feelings and work through things. The Sunshine Box, full of items meant for expression and self-care, reminds those kids that they deserve to heal.

What’s usually found inside a Sunshine Box?

A blanket, books and journals, lip balm, coloring books and supplies, fidget toys, warm and fuzzy socks, face masks, lotion and nail polish, play dough, silly putty, soap, and stuffed animals.

Who’s a recipient of a Sunshine Box, and how are they selected?

Sunshine Boxes are given to students that have lost loved ones to violence or deportation. When schools in high-crime areas or immigrant communities contact us about students who have suffered loss, we’ll drop a box off at their school specifically for them.

Can you tell us a little about someone who received a Sunshine Box?

Over the past two and a half years, I’ve worked as a tutor and mentor to students living in Chicago’s West Side. Many of the students I encountered were working hard to process and heal from the trauma of their loved ones being killed. In my second year, I started working at a high school with the best friend of a former student who was killed over the summer. He was having a hard time dealing with the stress of school and processing the death of his best friend. My team and I built a shrine in our room with pictures of his best friend and his classmates loved ones.

We focused our efforts on creating a space for the healing of our students. I gathered items like pencils with slogans, stress balls, head massagers, lotions, body wash and crafting supplies, to assemble self-care bags. All our students received a bag, but it was especially important for this particular student to have one. I let him know that he was doing great and reminded him that the times he didn’t feel great were okay too. Hopefully, the items would help him find some peace in difficult moments.

Once they’ve received a Sunshine Box, does their outlook change?

The most important change that takes place with our students is their relationship with me. I’ve made it a point to prioritize healing for the students, and remind them of the importance of not only working to heal themselves, but also working to build a community that can heal.

How can others help support the Sunshine Box? What form of donations do you accept?

Anyone can help by creating self-care packages for youths having difficulty in their own communities.  Specifically, they can help our cause by donating to the items we put in Sunshine Boxes. We accept product donations or gift cards that we can use to buy those products. We don’t accept other monetary forms of donations.

What inspires you to continue this cause?

It’s close to my heart. During my time as a tutor/mentor to middle school students, it was job to teach them literacy skills. However, it was difficult to tell a child that we must focus on punctuation when their sibling or cousin or friend was shot just days before. And that because of budget cuts, there are no counsellors or support system to help them process.

I’m inspired by my students. That even with all the systemic injustices they face, they still hold tight to their dreams.

What’s the biggest challenge the Sunshine Box is facing right now?

Getting donations to our cause. Many people tend to focus their donations on organizations with 501c3 status, but I’m just an individual running this program.

How has The Packaging Company’s contribution helped the Sunshine Box program?

Thanks to your donation of 250 new boxes, we can seal them up properly to prevent others from seeing inside or going through them. It’s important that the Sunshine Box is discreet, because many youths don’t want to draw attention to themselves while dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Would you like to share anything else about the program?

Recently, we were selected to a part of Kind Causes with the Kind Foundation. It allows people to vote for projects that spread kindness. The winner receives $10,000 to help bring their project to reality. We’d like everyone who believes that youth affected by trauma deserve the chance to heal, to visit the Kind Foundation website and vote for our project.