Families make 'Happimess' at The Colonial

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PITTSFIELD — There's something called "Happimess," that's being hosted at The Colonial Theatre. So what is it? In a few words, it's educational, entertaining and has been developed with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Gabriela Sheehan, a licensed and certified K-12 teacher, has been a busy mother of three young children — a 3-year-old girl, and twin 1-year-old boys. Spending time with her daughter, Julie, often meant watching a movie or handing her some other technology to keep her entertained. "One day I realized I wanted to find another way to schedule in quality time with her," Sheehan said.

The mother wanted to focus on the process of creativity, sharing stories and making crafts. Realizing that she couldn't possibly be the only parent pondering how to balance work and family time, Sheehan came up with a business idea she calls, "Happimess."

"To plan an activity, buy the materials and clean up takes a long time, some times hours. Here, parents can focus on having that one hour, away from home to be with their child. They can come and everything's ready for you and you don't have to clean up. That's what working families really need," she said.

Sheehan made the same pitch on April 5, the second of three 1 Berkshire business pitch competitions, held at The Stationery Factory in Dalton. She earned second place and $300 to help seed Happimess. It was also how she connected with Berkshire Theatre Group's Artistic Director and CEO Kate Maguire, who served as a judge for the competition.

Maguire and her education department had been looking for ways to bring in an early childhood program to the theater and community event space, and felt that Happimess might just be the fit.

Sheehan and partipants in her monthly arts program have been able to utilize The Garage space, just off the theater lobby. There, Sheehan, the children, and their parents and caregivers can create a story circle and also have tables for crafting, all based on a seasonal or other theme. Each craft and story is tested and approved by Sheehan's own children.

Previously held on Sundays, Sheehan piloted her first weeknight session this past Thursday, offering two different story and craft sessions at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The first session included the story "Owl Moon" by author Jane Yolen and illustrator John Schoenherr, followed by a felt snowflake craft. The later session included the story "The Smallest Elf" by author Annie Ingle and illustrator Jerry Smith, followed by a felt Christmas tree craft.

Sheehan jumps into teacher mode, starting the story circle with a check-in with the children, asking about their days and the favorite part of it. Then she introduces the story and reads it with interactive enthusiasm. During a reading of "Owl Moon," Sheehan encouraged the kids to make owl sounds, asked them how they would feel walking through some snowy woods at night to look for owls, and telling them about how no two snowflakes look the same.

The latter was just the segue needed into the craft. Parents and caregivers talked with their children through cutting patterns into the felt, color choices for the embellishments and placements. Family moments were captured by smartphones while the handmade crafts headed home with the families, to help make this holiday season a little more glitter and glee-filled.

"I think it's a great idea, and Gabriela is awesome with the children," said Kellie Baumann, who returned for a second time with her 5-year-old daughter, Marissa. The girl is a big fan of making art and crafts and the mother felt like this was an ideal way to spend some time together and with other families.

While the Happimess sessions at The Colonial are more geared towards children up to age 5, Sheehan also offers her ideas and event organization skills to the general public, planning creative birthday parties and craft-based programs for children and adults.


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