Doing Good by Helping Youth Do Well

yogaWhen I used to live in Washington, DC, one of my favorite things to do was to drive up to Baltimore (“Balmer”) and get soft shell grabs and bad beer at a bar near the water. It was a great time, and I miss that simple pleasure. Such a different city from DC, and really a very interesting one. Baltimore has become known to millions the world over  for HBO’s “The Wire,” a series that delves deeply into the drug culture of Baltimore. But there’s a lot more to this town, and one organization is doing their best to prove just that: the Holistic Life Foundation.

According to their website,

The Holistic Life Foundation is a Baltimore-based 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities. Through a comprehensive approach which helps children develop their inner lives through yoga, mindfulness, and self-care HLF demonstrates deep commitment to learning, community, and stewardship of the environment. HLF is also committed to developing high-quality evidence based programs and curriculum to improve community well-being.

Inner Well-Being in the Inner City. In addition to the environmental health programs that the non-profit has to demonstrate the interconnectedness people have with the environment in which they live, HLF mission includes serving Baltimore’s under-served communities since 2001 with high quality programs, including, holistic health, mindfulness, sustainability, oneness, and interconnectedness. Check out their video below…

Youthful Minds, Mindful Youth. According to the group, they’ve “created, developed, and piloted a twenty-four (24) week mindfulness curriculum, based on the structure of their successful after school program.” This is amazing and wonderful news, not just because the mindfulness movement is spreading, but because it’s being shared among people who represent our future–and there’s nothing better than helping enlighten our next generation of leaders and citizens. If I’m correct about the mindfulness movement–everyone from the head of health conglomerate Aetna to urban non-profits–this “mindfulness thing” has legs (make that “wings”) to really take off. According to the site:
The curriculum empowers students with tools and skills for peaceful conflict resolution, improved focus and concentration, greater control and awareness of thoughts and emotions, improved self-regulation, as well as stress reduction and relaxation. The curriculum is based on yoga, meditation, breathing, tai-chi, centering, and other mindfulness techniques. The curriculum consists of two (2) sessions per week each lasting forty-five (45) minutes and taking place during resource periods. Sessions start with a brief centering exercise, then yoga and tai-chi exercises, followed by breathing, then a discussion on a selected topic, and ending with a meditation. Participants are given assignments between sessions to reinforce lessons. A majority of the sessions are taught with the use of yoga mats, but several sessions are taught from the chair to demonstrate practical methods of applying techniques learned while in the class room setting.
The Holistic Life Foundation has partnered with The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Prevention Research Center at Pennsylvania State University to facilitate a randomized control study on the curriculum in four Baltimore City Public Schools. This was also the first ever randomized controlled trial of a school-based mindfulness and yoga intervention for urban youth. Preliminary results a have been obtained and a scientific paper was published in the October 2010 edition of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. The curriculum is currently being studied, with the same partners, as a part of a larger, three year, federally funded trial in six Public Elementary/Middle Schools in Baltimore City.

Stress is here to stay, but we can arm young people with the tools they need to mitigate or even reverse the impacts of stressful, anxiety modern life. These young, impressionable minds have options: develop healthy habits of “good mental hygiene” or indulge in the nonstop-input world of continuous (unhealthy) distraction. And the Holistic Life Foundation aims to foster the former. Why not donate to their worthy cause and/or like them on Facebook?

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The Organization’s History: Actions backing up words. That’s what a life well-lived starts with, and the founders of HLF seem to have taken this approach to heart. Again, in their own words:

Brothers Ali and Atman Smith met Andres Gonzalez at the University of Maryland College Park. During their last semester there, the trio spent a lot of time reading books on spirituality, philosophy, modern history, religions, ancient history, politics, astronomy, and other related topics. They all saw some things wrong with the world, but it was not until Andres said, “So what are we going to do about it?”, that they all knew they had to do something. What that something was, they had no idea. During this time they also began their journey on the path of yoga practice. They began learning more yoga and developing their practice under the guidance of Ali and Atman’s godfather. As young children, Ali and Atman actually grew up with yoga in their home, with their father having them meditate every morning before school. As Atman says, “Our parents were big hippies. They were into yoga, vegetarianism, and all that kind of stuff.”

founders-aiming for the starsOne summer afternoon, after graduation, the three were sitting in Atman’s apartment watching television when they saw a Matthew Lesko’s commercial; he was selling a book telling you how to use government grant funds to help you in doing almost any type of work. They heard him say, “Doing what you want to do in life is like being on vacation every single day! Now here’s your chance to get the government to pay for it.” They knew they wanted to help people and the planet, and now a book could show them how the government could pay for it, they had the answer to their problem. They immediately went online to look for grants. They figured with Ali’s degree in Environmental Science it would be easiest for them to get a grant in the environmental field. They found a request for proposals from the Environmental Protection Agency for a ground level ozone detection system and decided that was the first grant they were going to get. Air pollution was a major problem, so why not do something to help. They printed out the grant application and started fill out, but ran into a major problem on page one. The government doesn’t give out grants to three random University of Maryland College Park graduates, you need a non-profit organization. Their Matthew Lesko inspired plans would have to be put on hold.

At the end of that summer, they moved back into the house that Ali and Atman grew up in, in West Baltimore. Ali and Atman immediately noticed that the sense of family that was present in the neighborhood when they grew up there was gone. The Smith brothers remembered when they were living there as children, the neighborhood was like one big family, and the “older guys” in the neighborhood served as mentors and big brothers to all of the younger kids. They saw that as important factor in their growth and development. They knew that they wanted to do something to help bring that feeling back to their neighborhood.

During this time they began the planning and development for the formation of a non-profit organization. They also began to delve deeper into their practice and study of yoga. After months of hard work, on December 19th, 2001, the Holistic Life Foundation was officially incorporated.

Yours in Mental Hygiene

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The Ancient Brain and Modern Mindfulness Team

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