BALTIMORE — In a small room at Fort Worthington Elementary Middle School students are finding out how to handle what’s waiting outside and what to do with what they’re holding inside.
Everything from the tapestries on the walls to the strategically placed mood lights is there to help students re-center.
“I got a little bit of anger issues,” said 6th grade student Damon Eickelberger.
He’s learned a lot in his short time learning from the Holistic Life Foundation.
“If I’m getting mad at somebody and I want to cuss them out, I’m going to sit down chill leave for a little bit. See what I actually want to do, and I wind up probably not doing something that’s dumb.”
Holding back and letting go are some of the hardest things to do for a person of any age.
Brothers Ali and Atman Smith partnered with Andres Gonzalez co-founded Holistic Life Foundation in 2001.
“Empower the kids just by listening to what’s actually going on with them,” Ali said. “Give them some practices, breath-work, some silent reflections, some mindfulness practices. In 15-20 minutes send them back to class recentered.”
Using Yoga, mindfulness, and self-care they teach them to block out the noise.
“You see how they become more compassionate, they gain more self-worth, they deal with conflicts in a peaceful manner,” Gonzalez said. “All these techniques and tools that we’re providing are just things to fill their tool box up so hopefully they can go through life much easier than I did when I was a young kid.”
The Smith brothers grew up with parents who devoted their lives to guiding children.
The destruction of community in their hometown sparked their mission.
“When we moved back to our old neighborhood in West Baltimore it was just a lot of people surviving,” Altman said. “I know one thing we wanted to bring besides the yoga, meditation, breathing was that family feeling, that village feeling back. Not only to our community but all over Baltimore, all over the nation, all over the world.”
The program is now in over 40 schools in Baltimore City, and over half of their staff are students who went through the program.
“They have years of mindfulness background practice,” Atman said. “The kids kind of see themselves in our staff.”
It doesn’t stop in the rooms or at any age level.
They help them students fill out college applications-- train them for jobs. They work with the teachers to help them with secondary trauma.
“With all the stress they have to go through they’re not getting burned out as quickly,” Ali said.
This weekend they will share their knowledge in Parkland, Florida.
In 2018, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student killed 17 people and wounded 17 others in the deadliest school shooting in American history.
They realize the pain they feel will never be fixed by breathing and yoga alone. What they plan to give is an option when the pain becomes too much.
“When you’re focusing on the past it causes anger, when you focus on the future it causes anxiety,” Gonzalez said. “What we really want them to do is get them to focus on the present moment and really appreciate every single second of their lives now.”
Something young Eickelberger is using every day.
“Let it come in for a second and stretch and just let it go,” he said.
They said every school they are in the suspension rate free falls.
Moving forward they’ve set up satellite locations in Miami and Upstate New York.
They are a non-profit that depends on donations so if you want to help click here.