DKWIO: Giving Kids the Tools to decrease stress, increase self-esteem and find calmness using a unique yoga and nutrition curriculum

What if every child living in poverty had the tools to decrease stress, increase self esteem and find their own calmness?

Photo of Trish Dewald
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

One morning over coffee and reading the daily news, I was struck with the grave health situation our children face, especially children living in poverty. I started to get upset with how “they” could let it get so bad and wondered aloud to my husband “Why is this OK? Why isn’t anyone doing something about this?” The look he gave me said it all. That someone is me. And that is the moment that Work It Out was born. We started by providing fitness education for kids afterschool. Shortly thereafter, we caught the attention of the Children’s Hospital of MI, who joined us by providing registered dietitians to enhance our nutrition education. The pivotal moment happened when we realized how important our pro-social behavior and regulation work is to the kids. We moved our program from after- to in-school where participation was encouraged. Childhood obesity is still a problem but the stresses of just being a kid are so heavy that we’re doubling down on this effort. We want to be sure that not only do we give the kids the tools, but that we also make sure they know how important they are in their homes, schools and communities as teachers and catalysts for being healthy, happy and strong.


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In 2012, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that nearly 60% of the children in Detroit are living in poverty. According to the 2010 State of the Detroit Child Report there is a growing body of research whose authors find poverty causes health problems through neurochemical changes in the way the brain reacts to stress. DKWIO meets children where they are and provides relevant tools to manage stress and make healthy choices. We also give children the tools so that they own their responses to stress and unhealthy choices. The children we serve drive our existence and are, quite succinctly, the future. If the children leave our program feeling empowered to be strong, happy and healthy AND translate that feeling at home, in school and in their community, we have accomplished more than just achieving our mission. We have altered the trajectory for a child, a community and the future.

What is the difference between reacting and responding? ONE BREATH. DKWIO gives children the tools that they need to respond to external forces in a positive way. Whether it’s taking a breath before reacting to a sibling, or pausing before taking an extra serving of potato chips, or taking a moment to consider the consequences to their actions, Work It Out is empowering children to make healthy choices. Using yoga to teach nutrition and wellness brings together body and mind through breath and gives children skills they can take into adulthood. Our program is delivered to groups in schools and in community centers which reminds children that while they can practice alone, that they are not alone in their efforts.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

DKWIO’s unique 10-week yoga and nutrition program is delivered in schools, community centers and parks. Each of the 10 weeks is centered on a theme: energy, strength, concentration, flexibility, awareness, peace, healing, joy, heart healthy, and gratitude. Children are led through their practice by a dedicated team of instructors. At the end of the 10 weeks, each child receives their own yoga mat and workbook that includes session outlines, pose pictures, breathing instructions as well as healthy recipes that can be made at home on a limited budget. Children leave with the skills they need to understand and manage their emotions and establish and maintain positive relationships and to make responsible decisions. This is life changing work

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2015, DKWIO served 2,350 children in 35 locations across the city of Detroit with more than 60 volunteers committing nearly 500 hours of service. 93% of the students report that yoga makes them feel better, 72 said they use breathing to reduce stress and 69% say they made healthier food choices. After one of the “strength” sessions, two children reported that they said no to pop and one girl told us that she used her strength to say not to a stranger. Here are a few quotes from our children: “One of the ways yoga has helped me is I don’t get as mad as I used to.” -Shawn, 4th grade “Taking yoga has made me be still and concentrate. I feel happy when we have yoga because yoga makes people want to do more. Our class has helped me eat healthier things and more fruit." -Jania, 3rd grade “I like how we exercise and that helps us be nice to each other and play.” -Leandre, 2nd grade

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

In 2015, the Board of Directors made a commitment to hire two new executive leaders to help further strengthen the organization’s foundation and enhance reach of the programming. One executive is committed to increasing the funding streams through a successful annual event, individual donor solicitations, foundation relationships and collaborative partnerships. In 6 months, more than $750,000 in foundation requests have been submitted.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are several organizations committed to improving access to physical education in our community. And there are some resources widely available to bring yoga to children. What makes our program unique is the 10-week commitment to meet children where they are and teach them not only about physical activity, but also provide tools for self regulation and pro-social behaviors. When we added the nutrition lessons we really set our program apart from other organizations in our commitment to overall childhood health and wellbeing. We focus on the whole child. And are poised to grow.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Children’s wellbeing is an ever-evolving topic. However, one thing will never change and that’s the need to feel safe and secure and loved. I am energized to see a focus amongst practitioners and foundations to recognize emotional wellbeing and mindfulness because it supports the work that we’re already doing. I’m hopeful that as we continue to advance children’s wellbeing, we can incorporate teachers, caregivers, coaches mentors and really work hard on a multi-generational approach to increasing the health of a generation.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Program Design Clarity

DKWIO’s unique programming is delivered in schools, community centers and gathering places across the city of Detroit over the course of a 10-week engagement. We predominantly work with children who are 7-10 years old, but occasionally include younger and older participants as well as caregivers in the activities. The yoga instruction (physical activity), pro-social behavior modeling (self-esteem and community building), breathing techniques (stress regulation), and nutrition education components are delivered by certified yoga instructors and volunteers who receive intensive training.

Community Leadership

We conduct pre-and post-program evaluations with the program participants as well as the school partners. We evaluate their feedback to improve upon the program. A full evaluation of the program was done in 2013 and changes have been bad to reflect those findings. DKWIO is always looking for ways to better serve in our community and we know that we can only do this if the community we serve is involved in program design.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12

Spread Strategies

We are excited about what this could look like but don’t know the answers. Does it start by developing open sourced curricula that can be picked up and taught by schoolteachers across the state/nation? Is it a train the trainer program? This is the specific area where we can use the Changemakers expertise to help us provide resources to scale. We know that our program is effective, but we don’t know how to expand beyond our existing resources.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Our work started to address physical needs of children but it evolved because the kids showed us how much their emotional wellbeing was being addressed through the breathing exercises and the stillness poses. We give kids the tools of breathing and self-regulating through movement (yoga) and it’s critical to their emotional growth. We also tell each child that they are now teachers and can share their skills in their homes and communities.

Leadership Story

We began with the goal to provide fitness to kids to help prevent childhood obesity. And while that was the cornerstone of our work for several years, the landscape of children’s wellbeing was changing. We modified our program to include yoga and nutrition education and through that slight modification, we realized that our children really needed the de-stressing techniques and breathing education. We also moved from programming predominantly in after school settings to meeting the children where they were already spending time – in school. Access and outcomes are the name of our game.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Melanie Gilbert


Congratulations on your selection to be a Changemaker Pioneer. All of my favorite people have been selected. So happy for you. I love your project and would also love to see it scale nationally. Yoga has transformed my life and I can imagine the impact you are having on kids in Detroit, too.

Excited to take this journey with you. Motown and Beantown rockin' it for children's wellbeing!


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