How JOYMOB is Creating a Much-Needed Platform for Human Connection

Earlier this spring, as I pedaled my way down one of the many foothill trails east of downtown, I came upon a young mother with a toddler in a backpack carrier. As I stopped to let them pass, the mother smiled and said, “Have a nice day,” which was immediately repeated in her baby’s tiny but strong voice. I made eye contact with the mother and we both giggled. She then turned, waved, and continued on up the mountain. I waved back and hopped back on my bike, basking in the warm glow of the interaction all the way to the trailhead.

I’d never met the woman nor her child before and may never cross paths with either of them again, but the happiness that radiated between us that morning was so tangible, could almost see it in the air. Moments like those are, of course, not that unusual. They happen, for example, when someone lets you cut in front of them in the checkout queue, stops to help you change a flat tire or picks up something you’ve dropped. Though commonplace, it’s those unexpected moments of joy, shared between complete strangers, that can make the difference between having a good day and a bad one. And they are what Bahaa Chmait aims to harness and cultivate with JOYMOB.

Chmait began his quest to foster human connection in 2018 when he signed up on Facebook as an event organizer for World Dance Day. “I have no formal dance training, but I think dance is one of the rawest forms of expression. It’s actually scientifically proven that when people move together in rhythm they create a community,” Chmait says. “And, of course, if there’s music playing, I’m going to boogie.” More than 50 people showed up at Library Square for Chmait’s pop-up party, which he held in a “silent disco” format: everyone listens simultaneously to a playlist with headphones. “It looked quite silly but it was so amazing to be a part of a tribe like that for an hour, especially when people started sharing their headphones with other people we’d come across,” Chmait says.

Buoyed by the positive reception for his dance party, Chmait formed Culture Collective Events (precursor for JOYMOB) and hosted a second gathering where he invited strangers to share a full minute of eye contact on the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. “It’s all about creating a safe place for people to lean into their vulnerability,” Chmait says. Street karaoke sign-a-longs, laughter yoga and writing love letters to leave in random public places are a few of the other Culture Collective Events that followed. “Everything we do is to create positive mental health,” he says.

But then when the pandemic began in early 2020, Chmait hit the pause button to focus both on his own mental health and refine his organization’s mission. “My heritage is Lebanese but I grew up in Canada, living this duality of being raised with Old World values within a modern society. As a result, I often felt I lacked community. It made me really consider what shapes belonging and how I can allow people to express themselves in their own unique ways,” he says.

Chmait relaunched his labor of love earlier this year at the Living Traditions Festival as JOYMOB. There, he hosted a give-one, leave-one writing event and a variation on his eye contact events that involved asking pairs of strangers to draw portraits of one another without lifting their pen from the paper or breaking eye contact. And then in June, Chmait debuted his latest JOYMOB project, Kindness Kits, at Downtown SLC Open Streets. (Downtown’s spacious Main Street corridor is closed to vehicular traffic and open to strolling, sidewalk dining, buskers, and art performances from Exchange Place to City Creek Center on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays nights, 6 to 10 p.m., through Labor Day Weekend.) “I noticed that many of my artist friends were suffering during the pandemic, both financially and with finding a sense of purpose,” he says. Chmait used funds he received through a Salt Lake City Arts, Culture and Events (ACE) Grant to commission local artists to make a line drawing in the theme of kindness. He then compiled the drawings into a booklet, packaged each with colored pencils and now distributes them for free at the Gallivan Center (239 S. Main Street) during Open Streets. “I wholeheartedly believe that being creative is a core part of positive mental health,” Chmait says. “At Open Streets we have a place where people can sit and color. Or they can take a Kindness Kit home with them to color later.” The JOYMOB’s Kindness Kits project returns to Gallivan Center on July 10 and 31, 2021.

In addition to public events, JOYMOB also hosts group and company teambuilding activities. “I’m sure people will have a little anxiety about going back into the workplace after the pandemic and so we help organizations reestablish that sense of community that may have diminished after their staff has been apart for so long,” he says. Find out more about JOYMOB Events on Facebook and Instagram.

Written by Melissa Fields