Jocelyn Umengan said she created what she calls Giggles4Health after introducing “fun and silly activities” to her workplace during breaks. She noticed that the activities lifted the office mood so she expanded the concept into a larger community initiative, eventually forming a local meetup group, also called Giggles4Health.

That initiative was awarded February’s Awesome Ottawa grant. 

“I’ve always loved making people smile and laugh. It keeps me happy and wonderfully, it makes other people happy too,” said Umengan.

Every month in Ottawa, about 10 individuals virtually gather, each quietly yet eagerly surrendering $100 from their pockets to pool a total of $1,000, which funds an “awesome” project. 

Since 2010, the Ottawa chapter of the Awesome Foundation has awarded $173,000 through monthly grants to applicants who have pitched projects encompassing community development, grassroots initiatives and more. 

As part of her community initiative, Umengan hosts a variety of monthly community events, including “Silly Dad Joke Sessions,” “Speed Friending with a Twist,” and “Minute to Win It Games.”

“Speed friending was my attempt to address the epidemic of loneliness that has been going on for decades,” said Umengan. “When I asked participants […] why they came to my events, every single one of them said it was because they found it hard to meet people and form connections. They all admitted they were feeling lonely.” 

“I felt I needed to do something about it and that’s when I came up with the twist on speed friending. I named the event Giggle Mingle.”

Umengan explained that she prepares for Giggle Mingle by printing off joke sheets and pairing individuals into teams of two. She allows 10 minutes for each pair to share jokes before they engage with another individual.

Umengan said she hosts Giggle Mingle every other Monday at the Wise Town Cafe on Elgin Street. She added the Awesome grant has helped her continue hosting these events. 

As for the future of Giggles4Health, Umengan said she is currently developing an app to promote “daily laughter and silliness.” She said she hopes the app will help people consistently nurture their mental wellness daily. 

“It’s incredibly rewarding to help those who are struggling with loneliness, stress, depression and anxiety,” said Umengan. “Do it within your own community and if you can, do it globally, which is what I hope to do with an app.”

Other winners

Lindsay Machinski and her husband, Jason Machinski, won Awesome Ottawa’s grant in January to support the production of their new podcast, Did You Know? Unearthing Urban Creatives, aiming to spotlight emerging artists in Ottawa. 

Lindsay and Jason Machinski, January winners of Awesome Ottawa’s grant for their new podcast. [Photo © The Awesome Foundation Ottawa]

As co-founders of the Hintonburg gallery space, Urban Art Collective (UAC), the couple said the podcast will be an “extension” of their work showcasing various artists. The pair is currently building the podcast’s set, with filmed episodes expected to release within the coming months.  

“We want to step back in the podcast and let the people who were interviewed really shine and talk about what they’re doing,” said Jason Machinski. “We meet so many interesting people and more people need to know about them.”

Vibrant murals adorn the Urban Art Collective gallery space entrance. [Photo © Lindsay and Jason Machinski]

Lindsay Machinski said Disrupt, UAC’s upcoming street art project in collaboration with the National Capital Commission, will be featured in an initial podcast episode in a discussion alongside this year’s project’s three lead artists, Mique Michelle, Kalkidan Assefa, and Jimmy Baptiste

The walls of the Urban Art Collective decorated by captivating murals, reflecting the diverse talents of local artists.  [Photo © Lindsay and Jason Machinski]

“We really want to showcase them first and talk about Disrupt and share their stories. They’re fabulous artists who have amazing stories of their careers in the city and they can talk about some of the challenges they face with some of our bylaws,” said Lindsay Machinski.

The Awesome Foundation is a global organization with chapters worldwide. Each autonomous chapter often selects small-scale initiatives pitched by individuals and groups to receive support through microgrants, usually distributed monthly. The chapter’s trustees finance these grants, typically valued at $1,000. 

Margaret Lavictoire, a trustee at the Awesome Ottawa chapter, said she became involved in the foundation because she’s always been interested in the community. 

“I really think that most of the things that happen in the city are coming from grassroots groups and volunteers, or at least start in that way,” she said.