Karma for Cara Foundation awards microgrants to youths 18 years of age and younger who spearhead exceptional service projects in their communities. Microgrant recipient Jessica used meditation and yoga as a way to focus some of the sadness and stress she felt after a friend took her own life into positive energy. During that time, Jessica realized that this was something she wanted to share with others as a way to deal with difficult life events. Her project, Minds Over Mats, brought yoga and mindfulness programming to after-school programs that serve underprivileged students, and she also runs her own blog entitled Yoga 4 Youths.
- How many volunteers participated in your project? How many hours did it involve? 144 kids participated in the project with the minimal yet vital involvement of 4 adult volunteers, my sister, my mom, the Physical Education teacher, and the school principal. The project took approximately 200 hours including all volunteers.
- What did you learn from this experience? From janitors to school principals, adults whom I barely knew treated me with respect and helped me immensely in pulling off the project. Additionally the support of the community for a youth tackling a problem that is like a virulent pest that has consistently plagued the victims and their friends and families was overwhelmingly positive. Also, although I’ve taught kids yoga in the past before, teaching a large group was definitely a huge change, and there was a steep learning curve before I learned how to organize the classes and help the most people during the short hour-long classes. Also, scheduling and location was somewhat difficult over the phone, as I couldn’t reach the right people even though I reached out to 5 different schools. I ended up only being able to host one full day yoga event at an elementary school after I showed up in person and asked around. I learned that kids want to have fun and that easy yoga poses as well as difficult yoga poses bore them. Yet the entire class, ranging from 25-31 students each class, had a variety of levels in flexibility, ability to balance, strength, focus, etc. Therefore, I adjusted myself constantly to help challenge each student to the best of their ability. Thankfully, I had the help of my sister to constantly fix students who had the wrong body placement or were facing the wrong ways. We alternated leading the class and fixing students with such a big group of students. Also, I separated the classes into groups by their rows, and having each row try a new thing together made the class more manageable and easier to teach. Most importantly, I felt the joy that teaching kids brings about when I saw their smiles when they sought my approval of their yoga pose positioning and high-fives as they were leaving class. Completing this community service project was such an incredibly rewarding experience for me.
- How will your project continue having an impact in the future? I will continue my project and try to bring the traveling yoga studio to as many schools as I can. Instead of contacting the teachers individually, I have found that asking the school principal is the easiest way to make these events a reality. I also hope to bring it to the Boys and Girls Clubs, Girls and Boys Scouts, and other after-school programs that are targeted towards low-income students because they would not normally have the opportunity to try yoga. The reason I started this project was to create change in suicide prevention, so I hope to write a curriculum and speak to kids about seeking help through trusted adults or with a medical professional before even considering any permanent solutions to their problems like suicide. I believe that spreading this message that the world is a kind world, and that there are many people out there in the world who have experienced similar challenges who would be more than happy to speak with you and console you is a reality that is hard to comprehend at a younger age. It truly hurts many people when one individual decides that their life is not worth living because every human is special, valuable, and deserving to be on this Earth.
- Overall, summarize how your project was completed and how you think it went. First of all, I contacted 4-5 different schools about hosting a full day yoga event at their school through email, and I didn’t get responses, so I called the schools asking if I could talk to someone who could arrange this. In the meantime, I also tried finding other teenage volunteers to teach, but unfortunately during the middle of December, when we did this service project, people were still in school, even though I was on winter vacation. Therefore, if we were to host this event at after-school programs, we could engage more teenage yoga teachers to get involved. I really wanted my older sister, who is a Yoga Alliance RYT-200 licensed yoga teacher, to volunteer at the event and teach these kids actual yoga. Normally, she charges $20/hour for each participant in her group yoga classes, so getting her to volunteer for free was really important to the success of my project, because1.) it convinced the school to rent the room because a liable adult would be held accountable for any mistakes and 2.) she was clearly a trustworthy teacher who is certified to teach yoga. After coordinating scheduling with the school to have an empty classroom available for the event and my parent’s and sister’s schedules, I bought the necessary materials that I outlined in the submission form through the various websites. In a few weeks, everything was delivered to my house, and my house’s hallway literally looked like the storage facility of a yoga studio because there were simply so many things. Afterwards, we created the pamphlets and invented a yoga pose sequence that we believed would be simple enough to follow along for a large group of kids and planned how to talk to them about respecting themselves and their feelings. I feel like it was very successful, even though the days leading up to the event were a bit stressful. The day of the actual event was very tiring but exciting at the same time. The first class of 1stgraders had so much energy that they were literally bouncing off the walls. Then as we progressed through the day, classes were a lot more well-behaved but still hard to control as many of them had never done yoga before so they were having trouble getting in particular positions to stretch out their muscles. By the fourth class of the day, both my sister’s and my voice turned raspy from yelling so much, as I had to explain every sequence and how to do a position really loudly. By the end of the day, when we had taught all six periods of class, we had completely lost our voices, were really hungry, and our muscles went completely limp. But we had so many good memories; the little kids thanking us for class was the cutest thing ever. They also commented on how unique the class was and how fun it had been, compared to the normal physical exercise they did. In one class they had exercised their minds and their bodies, while having a great time. Hearing this from kids, I was taken aback by how smart and thoughtful they were, and it truly changed how I perceived children: not as innocent and naïve, but rather inquisitive and nice.
- How was the Karma for Cara microgrant helpful in the completion of your project? Without the Karma for Cara microgrant, none of this would’ve been possible. I donated some of my money to supplant the costs that went over the $1000 grant provided so that everyone in each class would be able to have their own mat. Public schools are really overcrowded with people, and I would’ve felt so bad if only half the class would have participated in the yoga class, so I decided to chip some money in myself. However, the microgrant provided all the basic necessities of letting the kids have their first exposure to yoga and start partnerships with schools. Without yoga mats, kids can’t really practice yoga and I saw their beaming smiles when they chose their favorite mat or accomplished a hard yoga pose, and going out the door, they all gave me high fives for the fun time that they had, and I was really pleased with the impact that this project had on their lives.