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Programs honor memory of SSHS teen

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Jamison Novello was a kind-hearted person with a great sense of humor, a girl who lit up the room and could be depended upon by friends. The South Side High School sophomore died nearly two years ago at age 15, and her family and friends are dedicated to keeping her spirit alive through fundraisers, scholarships and educational programs.

“Jamison just shined,” her mother Kimberly McGuigan said. “We want to have a part of that goodness continue.”

Since Jamison’s death in March 2019, McGuigan has organized fundraisers and programs and began a dance scholarship in Jamison’s name. Jamison was an avid dancer, heading into Manhattan to take classes at the Broadway Dance Center five to six days a week, and more than $88,000 has been raised in total on Jamison’s behalf over the past two years.

While the scholarships are important, for McGuigan, spreading the message of kindness and how Jamison’s personality “sparkled” is an even more significant goal.

Last month, McGuigan commissioned a special program for her 9-year-old daughter’s Rockville Centre-based Girl Scout troop centered around kindness. Elizabeth Carnaval, a Rockville Centre resident who runs an art enrichment program called Matters of the HeArt, facilitated a program over Zoom for the girls that combined an art project with promoting kindness, called Shine Your Light. A former director of a preschool program that closed at the end of August, Carnaval created the enrichment program in early October, focusing on social-emotional development and using art to connect. Over the past few months, she’s held programs at Sportset, the Children’s Social Club, local libraries and for other Girl Scout troops.

For the Shine Your Light program in January, the troop members each created a lantern, demonstrating the power kind acts can have on other people.

“The focus was on using our own lights to shine through, while also lending our light to others to shine on them in the darkness,” Carnaval said. The lanterns, she said, were a tool to demonstrate “how to let kindness flow out.” Each girl was given a mason jar and supplies, and the group discussed kindness, highlighting what a caring and thoughtful person she was, always having kind words to say about others. Carnaval did not know Jamison personally, but said she has gotten to know her through the stories her mother has shared. With the Girl Scouts, she emphasized how kind Jamison was to everybody. She told them to “be the Jamison in the room,” the one who always had something nice to say about others.

“Words can be like cotton or sandpaper,” Carnaval said. “We talked about wanting to be soft with our words and not be hurtful in how we speak to others.”

The girls then had to each talk about what makes them unique, focusing on what they each have to give before they could light their lantern. They each turned off all the other lights in their homes, leaving only the lanterns on, which Carnaval said was a special moment. “It demonstrated that, in the darkness, we can shine our light, and all of us together makes a brighter light.”

The girls were told that they can only light the lantern if, at the end of the day, they can say they performed a kind act.

“I feel it’s so important, especially at this young age, to set the stage for taking care of ourselves,” she said. “It’s important to know that we have something to give to others…sometimes we just need to lend an ear and be sensitive. Our light has the potential to help others and that can have a ripple effect that we don’t always see.”

The scouts also each received a 30-Day Challenge calendar: the goal is to perform a random act of kindness each day, and to carry it beyond the 45-minute session, Carnaval said. “The hope is that it will become a ritual or practice that continues every day.”

From the feedback she has received so far, it seems like it’s working.

“It was a great session,” she said. “They got it. They all thought of something they can offer, and I received messages afterwards that some of them were working on their kindness calendars. That tells me it lasted beyond the session and made an impact and they were able to connect the dots.”

To set up a program, contact elizabeth@mattersoftheheart.love.

McGuigan has two other young children, ages 6 and 8, and she includes all of them in the Still Sparkling Campaign, a way to honor Jamison around Rockville Centre in small ways. Each week, a note with a small gift card or candy is left at a business or home in the village, with an additional card to encourage the recipient to “pay it forward” with a kind gesture of their own in Jamison’s honor.

“It’s important to me, for my daughter to know that it’s okay to talk about Jamison,” McGuigan said. “I want her to remember what a kind person she was and to carry it on.”

Jamison’s memory is also being carried on in Massachusetts, through the Creative “Jam” Project organized by a former teacher. Jazzmine Szyndler taught Jamison for about two years at the Broadway Dance Center.

“Jamison was a dream student,” Szyndler said. “She was always on time, always ready to go, and always smiling. She was just the best.”

Shortly after Jamison’s death, Szyndler moved back to her hometown of North Dartmouth, Mass., and created the early childhood gymnastics program in Jamison’s name. She teaches children ages 11 months to 5 years old, emphasizing the importance of mental health, and the connection between physical activity and mental health.

“I want to help future generations, while honoring Jamison’s memory,” she said. “It feels good to give back in her name.”

A total of $68,660 has been donated to the Jamison Novello Scholarship fund for dancers at the Broadway Dance Center. Approximately $16,000 has been donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and $4,000 was donated to the Long Island Crisis Center. Every September, the McGuigans hold a bake sale in their driveway in honor of Jamison’s birthday. The first year, the sale raised more than $8,000, and last fall it raised $11,577. Additional money has been raised through raffles, a GoFundMe account, a custom PuraVida bracelet sale, a Bonfire shirt sale, and a Zumba class. Family and friends have also participated in the Out of the Darkness walk to raise funds for AFSP.

To learn more about Jamison’s story or to donate to the fund, visit jamisonsdream.com.