Spreading Magic at Lawrence Heights Middle School and Havergal College

Magicana started 2014 with a special round of My Magic Hands in partnership with our friends at Havergal College and Lawrence Heights Middle School (LHMS).  James Alan led the charge, taking on 23 student magicians from LHMS, matched with 20 magic coaches from Havergal College.

Here is a guest blog from James Alan, as he reports the wonderful experience from a first-hand perspective:

Magic is a team effort. The more I perform, the more I realize that I never accomplish anything truly amazing by myself. It’s something I like being reminded of from time to time, as I was recently with the culmination of My Magic Hands at Lawrence Heights Middle School.

I just completed a seven-week program which ended with The Big Show; a presentation for a large group of younger students showcasing what they had learned. We had twenty-three young magicians performing, nearly twice the normal class size. Ordinarily a group of twelve-year-olds that size would be unmanageable.

What makes this program possible is a group of volunteers from nearby Havergal College. These volunteers travelled to Lawrence Heights every week to work with these students. In January and February, that meant travelling in the cold and snow. (Their commitment goes deeper than that. They are normally there helping with everyday homework without any magic involved.) The personalized attention makes a tremendous difference for each individual student’s ability to learn and also to create scripts and presentations tailored for them personally. Every magician in the program has a personal coach and sounding board to help push their practice to the next level.

Havergal also supplied our audience of grade three students for The Big Show. After working very hard with the staff at Havergal and Lawrence Heights to overcome some scheduling problems, we pulled off our performance to great success. In particular, I need to thank Claire Davis from Lawrence Heights for making it possible to travel off-site to Havergal College to give their performance.

Working with this group from week to week, I didn’t really appreciate the scope of the collaboration we were pulling off. It wasn’t until we we all together in the same room for The Big Show — the participants from Lawrence Heights, their teachers, the staff, audience and mentors from Havergal, and a little extra magic from Julie, the Executive Director of Magicana — that it finally hit me. Its a perfect of example of the magic that can happen when communities come together.


– James Alan



Photos Brittany Boudreau.

My Magic Hands: Magic and rehab help transform kids with disabilities

By:  News reporter, The Toronto Star
Published on Tue Dec 31 2013

Holland Bloorview hospital program provides one-on-one instruction with children in treatment.

Presto! Change-o! Magic is all about transformation.

We are mesmerized by what we cannot explain, enthralled when hands deceive our eyes.

So it was on a recent afternoon in a compact auditorium that’s part of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and was filled with an audience of 50 facility staff, clients, friends and family of the small performers who individually sat in front of the proverbial magician’s table with black cloth and fringe.

While fingers snapped, hands waved, and age-old incantations involving “hocus pocus’’ and “abracadabra’’ were employed with powerful persuasion, balls of different sorts appeared and disappeared. Cards were shuffled, picked by audience members and put back into a deck – and then pulled out with a flourish by the magician. “Wow! How did he do that?”, someone gasped. Ropes were flung and retrieved visible knots which somehow – and no one watching could figure it out – were here one minute and gone the next. Small, nimble fingers performed gyrations with colourful elasticized bands that were mind-boggling.

All eyes were on their hands, all ears attuned to the descriptions of what we were about to see. While magic took centre stage, the wheelchairs, the tubes, the bandages all faded away. Nine magicians —The Great Macsini, Blooronix, Magnificent Manushari, Sensational Salman, Just Jobelle, Abracadabra Sheldon, Mazin the Magician, The Amazing, Magical Aliyah and Magic Lucine — ages 6 to 16, remained. That’s transformation.

And that’s the whole point of a program called My Magic Hands, run by professional magician Julie Eng in collaboration with occupational therapists and speech therapists at Holland Bloorview. It’s the largest centre of its kind in Canada providing treatment for children with a wide range of disabilities including acquired brain injury, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and more.

The My Magic Hands program, now in its 10th year and sponsored wholly by the Slaight Family Foundation, runs in various formats throughout the year and provides one-on-one instruction with a child who’s getting treatment.

The idea, says Eng, who’s executive director of the registered charity and arts organization Magicana , is “to use our performing arts program” to help children reach their therapeutic goals – and also “get to have fun and be a child. Children are naturally drawn to magic.”

There’s an added incentive to doing motor skill exercises, for instance, if it involves shuffling and handling cards for a magic trick.

Lindsay Wright, an occupational therapy assistant at Holland Bloorview, who’s worked, one on one, with many of the children in the Magic Hands program, has seen many improvements in hand motor skills from children who become very motivated to learn and perfect a magic trick.

“I’ve had kids who weren’t speaking at the beginning (of the sessions), start to speak. They want to learn. It also helps with memory. One of our kids, who’d been really shy, developed a script. He had to memorize and sequence what he was doing, so he had that practice with memory and recall,’’ she said. Learning the magic tricks targets a lot of different mental and physical rehab areas.

Caitlin Allain, another OTA who has been a coach in Magic Hands classes, marveled at the memory improvements and confidence of one young girl as she progressed from learning one trick to mastering it. In another case, a young teen who’d been very rebellious and uninterested in doing her exercises, get caught up with learning magic. “By the end she was just shining, she was so confident. She wanted to learn, to perform and she didn’t feel limited by her disability.’’

Eng demonstrates the various tricks and works with the children in small groups during the six to eight sessions in the program, along with their OTAs or other hospital staff who provide one-on-one assistance. Eng has a special perspective on children and magic as her dad, Tony Eng, was a professional magician and she became entranced with it at a very early age and worked with him as a child in his act.

The end goal of her program at the hospital is the “big show,” the culmination in the auditorium where friends and family and supporters can watch and marvel.

“I guarantee to each child, that when they go up for the show, that it will go well – their trick will work,” says Eng.

“It’s always emotional, for me, for their family…for everyone. You see these amazing transformations. There was one boy, he wouldn’t even speak that first day. He was just in a shell, like an armadillo.” But when the big show came, the boy was so confident, he had developed his own script and was even ad-libbing.’’

Presto! Change-o! That’s the power of magic.


Originally Posted The Toronto Star Dec 31, 2013


The Magic of Camp Ooch

“Brush up on your old tricks and learn some new ones as a group of real,
professional magicians reveal some tricks of the trade.
The day will end with a magic show for your friends and families,
where YOU will be the star.”
-Camp Oochigeas “Wacky World of Wizardry” brochure

On November 2, 2013, Camp Oochigeas and Magicana once again, joined forces to deliver their annual, one-day fall workshop packed with magical happenings and laughter, called, The Wacky World of Wizardry. Led by Julie Eng and assisted by magic coaches, James Alan, Joe Culpepper and Suley Fattah, participants spent the whole day learning sleight-of-hand wizardry in order to offer a magic showcase for their families and friends at the end of the day.

We were thrilled with the result! With an Alakazam here and a Hocus Pocus there, the participants put together a wonderful showcase and shared the magic of the day.

Camp Oochigeas is a privately funded, volunteer-based organization that provides year-round programs for children affected by childhood cancer, including the unique and exciting opportunity to experience the wonder of camp. Every year, Magicana teams up with Camp Oochigeas to deliver a modified My Magic Hands workshop, designed to reach out to kids using magic as a teaching vehicle to build their confidence and public speaking skills. The team at Camp Ooch is pretty amazing themselves, bringing about a wonderful partnership to support the young magicians.

Thanks to the volunteers and our My Magic Hands team, the day was full of magic and success – one that we will surely remember as it is marked by mirth, mystery and delight. We hope to share this experience with you again, next year!


Make a Difference, Volunteer!


Volunteering is an extremely rewarding and enriching experience. It’s an excellent way to further a cause, enhance and apply new skills and meet people. Most importantly, it can make a major difference in your community and in the world.

Our My Magic Hands children’s program has employed several outstanding magic coaches (aka volunteers) in our program at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital. For over nine years, it is always touching to see how many people stand up and make a difference in the lives of our young participants. But don’t take our word for it, see what a real-live magic coach thought about volunteering at the hospital here.

Just do it!

If you’re looking to gain experience volunteering in a client-based program, helping kids with special needs participate in activities to the best of their ability such as My Magic Hands, Holland Bloorview is looking for volunteers to make a difference in a child’s life. They have opportunities for mornings, afternoons and evenings 7 days a week for applicants 17 years of age and older.

For more information, please visit http://www.hollandbloorview.ca/volunteer/.

My Magic Hands Celebrates 9 years at Holland Bloorview!

It is hard to believe that  My Magic Hands was originally launched nearly a decade ago.

Magicana applied for funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation(OTF) to develop a pilot program version of  “Magic Hands”.  In 2004, the program was designed and tested during the year in four different at-risk communities around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), including Canada’s top children’s rehabilitation hospital, now known as Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. The response to the pilot program was excellent and Trillium agreed. Magicana was then awarded a multi-year grant to expand  My Magic Hands program (and, to simultaneously develop Senior Sorcery – a program designed specifically for the senior population). My Magic Hands continued to evolved and developed through funding from private foundations and donors. Today, this program is funded solely by the Slaight Family Foundation.

All the way, My Magic Hands has been working side-by-side with Holland Bloorview, specifically in occupational therapy and speech therapy programs. The magic program is recognized and acknowledged by occupational therapists, staff and parents of clients as a unique, successful and motivating tool assisting clients to reach their therapeutic goals. Session after session, we are continuously motivated – and inspired – by the hard work our participants give to the program. It’s all about The Big Show where the children really do become magicians as they stage and star in their own production. The show never fails to marvel – never a dry eye in the house!

It’s hard to believe that we just wrapped up our 2013 summer session at Holland Bloorview marking our ninth year at the hospital!

None of this would have been possible without dedicated volunteers and hard-working staff from Holland Bloorview. The program only works because of the one-on-one attention volunteers give each client.  The communal effort between Magicana and the Holland Bloorview team is what makes our program so unique and so special.

We hope that our collaboration continues to evolve and we look forward to resuming our sessions with the hospital later this fall.

Congratulations to our latest graduates! May the magic continue in your magic hands!



Summer of Helping Hands

For the past few weeks, lead by magicienne Julie Eng, we made one of our favourite stops to Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab to bring some magic to the Helping Hands program.

Helping Hands is a modified constraint induced movement therapy (CIMT) for clients with hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the body) secondary to an acquired brain injury or stroke. Participants are required to wear a splint or cast on their non-affected hand. Activities that encourage the functional use of their hemiplegic arm, such as magic, help participants in their physical therapy.

Helping Hands aims to promote the use of each participant’s affected upper extremity through individually selected activities targeting specific movements and upper extremity function. This is where magic plays a vital part: while it challenges participants to use their hemiplegic side, it also provides them with a goal and feelings of accomplishment after performing a magical feat that warrants instant feedback, such as an audience applauding a performance.

Magic truly has a versatile effect to those who practice it, and we watched it all spring to life in our Helping Hands participants. Some of our “magicians” in this session were past participants, allowing us to dig deep into our bag of tricks and to come up with new challenges for them. We were able to further empower magicians by asking them to also to coach one another.

By the end of the session, we saw that magic built confidence, promoted control and discipline, and created great satisfaction in each magician’s individual and group accomplishments.

We hope the wonders of magic continue with each of our graduates, and may it be shared to other members of our community!

Thank you to the ever-amazing team of dedicated staff and volunteers at Holland Bloorview. It takes one-to-one support to make this sort of program successful. We are so lucky to have so many stellar coaches regularly at our sessions. Thank you, Team! It was a great one!

Coaching Kids into Life and Magic


Getting a new perspective on how our workshop affects lives inspires us to continue evolving My Magic Hands so that it can reach and benefit those who need it the most. We believe our workshop is therapeutic not only to its participants but to our volunteers as well. My Magic Hands gives magic coaches a sense of purpose and community: they have become part of great change in the lives of others, and have become crucial to their growth and development. In addition to this, My Magic Hands is an effective starting point to those who want to enter the rewarding career of Occupational Therapy, or health studies.

With mutual benefit stemming from both sides of our program, we are pleased to see the ripples of effect our program has started. We hope Aneesha’s testimonial, another committed volunteer from our past session at Holland Bloorview, will encourage our readers to volunteer and support My Magic Hands.

Aneesha states:

“Magic is, believing in yourself.  If you can do that, you can make anything happen.”

These words by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe echo when I look back on the wonderful weeks at Magicana’s workshop and one-on-one sessions.

After the ‘My Magic Hands’ workshop at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital ended in March, our team of ‘magic coaches’ embarked on yet another journey, of one-on-one magic sessions, in April. With the leadership of Julie Eng, our multi-faceted magic instructor and Salma Kassam, our exceptional occupational therapist, we ventured into comfortable zones of therapy, to help the kids develop their magic skills, with the intention of developing their fine motor, speech and cognitive skills. Therapy, usually described as ‘boring’ by the kids, became fun and exciting.

During the one-on-one sessions, while the kids were thrilled about the magic tricks, our team focused on trying to achieve individual goals, as well as improve their sense of social interactions and growth. The team leaders, working in unison, aim to unlock each child’s true potential and help them create a future of possibilities. Each session comprised of working on one or two magic tricks with practise and attention to detail. Every one-on-one session ended with a little magic performance that allowed the participants to showcase their developed skills. Witnessing the transformation of a child (who in normal circumstances would shy away from displaying his abilities) into a confident performer was remarkable.

When I first joined the program I did not know what to expect. But after the completion of these sessions I have come to experience senses beyond description. Laughter, mischief, innocence, friendships all became important elements in every session.  With our team leaders, other members of the hospital’s staff and Aletheia,  a wonderful co-volunteer (and friend), I truly had a remarkable experience and wonderful memories to look back on. Thank you. I look forward to future interactions with Magicana and their work. I started this testimonial with a quote and would like to end with one too.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting, for our senses to grow sharper”- W. B. Yeats




From a Magic Coach’s Perspective

Teamwork makes it happen. L to R: Salma Kassam, OT, Volunteers Aneesha Nair and Aletheia Chiang and magic instructor, Julie Eng.


We have just finished two amazing sessions with Holland Bloorview, with the help of the hospital’s staff and two incredible volunteers, Aletheia and Aneesha. Magic Coaches are truly the essential element that contributes to the success of our workshops. The mentorship and encouragement participants receive during their sessions are certain to endure beyond the performance of their Big Show. These are relationships both participants and magic coaches carry  as they continue their journeys in life and magic.

We had the pleasure of learning about the experience of two magic coaches, Aletheia and Aneesha, summed up in a blog entry. We are proud to share Aletheia’s writing and hope it inspires others into volunteering.

Aletheia writes:

Following the success of Magicana’s 4-week My Magic Hands workshop at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in March, our team of “Magic Coaches”, program leader, and Occupational Therapy staff, continued with another set of 4-week one-to-one sessions in April. Our aim was to provide individual one-to-one support to a smaller group of young participants–(some new, some returning!)–as they learn new magic routines and tricks, and in the process, develop and apply many fine motor, cognitive, speech, and interpersonal skills.

In these one-to-one sessions, participants learned the various components of new magic routines at a comfortable pace customized to their skill level and ability. Our team worked to create a quieter, more focused environment where more attention was paid to each participant’s developmental and therapeutic progress in the learning and performance of the magic routines. Furthermore, they developed interpersonal growth through peer-to-peer interaction, group support, and mutual encouragement.

At the end of each session, our young magicians had the opportunity to perform the magic trick of their choice to a warm audience that consisted mostly of family members and fellow peers. The art of performance is an important component of magic, and touches on key life skills such as self-confidence building and public speaking. For some of these participants, who would otherwise shy away from public performance in a larger group, these one-to-one sessions gave them the chance to perform for those closest to them, in an intimate and small setting they could be comfortable in.

With many new, young magicians of April’s one-to-one sessions now becoming graduates of our program, we look forward to the next opportunity to share the wonder of magic within the community! Many, many thanks to the special tutelage of the program’s lead instructor, Julie Eng, and Salma Kassam, Occupational Therapist staff at Holland-Bloorview, as well as to the focused coaching of dedicated volunteers, for making this unique opportunity possible for our friends and family at Holland-Bloorview!