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Monica Marshall: Executive Director of Mahana Magic

Mahana Magic is all about bringing moments of joy to people impacted by a cancer diagnosis. The Manaha House, their new home base, is a center for kids, caregivers, and families to come together, lean on each other, have some fun, and make positive memories in an otherwise scary time. Mahana Magic has various classes and financial assistance programs that empower families going through the tribulations of a cancer diagnosis.

Can you tell me about who your programs are catered towards?

We were founded by Greg Couture, who passed away from colon cancer when his daughters were 8 and 10. Through his experience in the hospital, he realized that there were support systems in place for him, but not for his family. Greg started Mahana Magic with the mission to make sure that children, caregivers, and other family members of cancer patients can get their emotional needs met without worrying about the cost. It started off as funding a child-life specialist at the hospital who helped kids understand their parent’s diagnosis and what they may see and feel. It’s changed since then, and we now offer classes and workshops from our Mahana House. It’s our first space, and it’s a place where anybody impacted by cancer can come and get some relief, assistance, support, and empowerment.

What are some of the activities you have for kids?

There’s Tai Chi, art classes, cooking classes, and energy healing. We offer bereavement therapy and there are support groups for kids 14-19, which is the age range when kids don’t ask for help but really need it. Since Covid, we have changed our mission a bit and are thinking about our work as a way to return some magical moments to families impacted by cancer. Those magical moments can be a caregiver dropping their kids off at Mahana House so they can take a nap in the car, a parent buying a new coat for a child, or having a place to vent without judgment.

Beyond the fun memories, what are the benefits of kids being around peers who are going through similar experiences?

As adults, there’s not a person out there who doesn’t know anyone who has experienced a cancer diagnosis. For kids, that’s not always the case. They don’t understand how cancer works or how many people it impacts. When a parent sits them down to talk about cancer, the first question is always if the parent is going to die. Cancer is a scary word. A lot of kids don’t necessarily know how to express their emotions, and many will just internalize it. There’s an underlying stress for these kids, and it’s helpful for them to be able to talk about it with people who get it. It’s a magical moment when we bring these kids together. You have teenagers, tweens, and little kids all empowering each other and understanding each other.

Can you talk about some of the financial support you offer?

When Covid hit, we assessed our needs and realized there was a financial need hitting these kids that we needed to address. We started the Urgent Child Needs Fund to learn about what kids needed in Vermont from social workers and hospitals. We also have Maggie’s Memory Fund, which is a family make-a-wish. It’s for families who can do something as a group, like ski trips, sailing trips, fishing trips, or purchasing a guitar to play together. The Mahana College Fund is a scholarship we offer for students that are going onto higher education, which is college or anything beyond their high school years. There’s also a summer activity fund to help parents pay for camp or other fun activities for their kids to do in the summers.


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