Creating Change Through Yoga and Mindfulness for Flint Youth

What if we taught children to just breathe, be aware, and focus on the present moment?

Photo of Sandra Sellers
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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.

The Crim has been a catalyst for healthy behaviors in Flint for 40 years. This includes in-school support within a school district and city facing many challenges. The Crim supports Physical Activity promotion as well as nutrition education through SNAP-Ed programs and school gardens. Physical activity and nutrition are traditional health programs that didn’t seem to go “deep” enough. Nearly 5 years ago, the Crim's Mindfulness program was started as a way to address the core issues and challenges facing out students. Mindfulness has helped students quiet their minds, find calm in often times uncertain environments in which they live, and connect better with others. This mind-body connection helps place students in a more receptive position to work towards better health and futures.


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]

Flint & Genesee County, Michigan

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Initially, mindfulness was introduced to give students a tool for calming, focus and an opportunity to better relationships with teachers, parents and peers. Before the Flint Water Crisis, Flint residents faced many challenges including the effects of toxic stress. With the Flint Water Crisis, additional challenges including cognitive and behavioral effects of lead and trauma are now facing Flint residents, especially children who are most at-risk. Mindfulness has been found to help children deal more constructively with difficult emotions and stress. Of interest, mindfulness positively impacts many of the areas of the brain that lead negatively affects. We see our programming as a tool for coping, a proactive approach to trauma, and a catalyst for long-term community change.

As mentioned, the Crim Fitness Foundation has been teaching mindfulness within Flint Community Schools (FCS) for nearly 5 years. Due to the devastating effects of the Flint Water Crisis, a need to ensure that Flint students grow up with a strong sense of self, purpose, and belonging is a priority. Mindfulness including yoga is the solution we believe will best help the challenges facing FCS students. Mindfulness is the ability to focus with more awareness and purpose. Practicing mindfulness has been found to help with focus which helps influence things like grades, music, art, and sports, all of which are important for a strong sense of self. Mindfulness teaches one to be able to constructively handle difficult emotions like stress, which also helps with a sense of self. Mindfulness has been found to increase resiliency in that students are not bothered by small things, but can successfully keep their mind focused on the larger picture. Mindfulness also encourages interconnectedness with lessons on loving kindness, empathy, and gratitude. Yoga offers many of the same benefits, but has the additional benefit of encouraging physical activity. Traditionally, Crim Mindfulness programming has offered in-classroom lessons to FCS students on concepts like, breath awareness, loving kindness, gratitude, empathy, mindful senses (tasting, seeing, hearing), test taking, etc. The expanded program will be more comprehensive offering several mindfulness interventions including additional yoga and mindfulness opportunities both during and after school.  Offering different versions of mindfulness programming will hopefully help students find a practice that resonates with them.  We believe expanding on our current mindfulness programming will help to reach every child in Flint.

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

  • Low-income communities
  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

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

A new daily after school program focusing on mindfulness and yoga will be offered. This program that will find support in this grant will include learning breathing techniques, yoga practice, and mindfulness concepts. Breathing will help teach use of breath in different situations. Yoga will offer an opportunity to increase internal awareness and encourage physical activity. Mindfulness concepts will promote focus, interconnectedness, and positive feelings. This program is unique in that it has the ability to be a consistent source of mindfulness practice, which is key to success. Daily practice will give students an opportunity for mentoring with role models. With all of these various programs offered to students, it is our hope that every

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

The quantitative impact: 75% of students reported mindfulness helped them focus in the classroom 60% of students reported mindfulness helped them calm down when they were upset 74% of students reported mindfulness helped them make better decisions 75% of students reported that they think the entire school should have mindful lessons 55% of students reported mindfulness helped them avoid fights more easily Qualitative data: " To me mindfulness is a calming voice in my head that calms me every time I get angry"- Trenton, age 10 "Mindfulness makes me feel happy like I've never been before." -Mariyah, age 9 "Mindfulness is a moment of peace and makes me feel good about myself and have feelings for others..." -LaMya, age 10 We will measure additional areas. Statistics surpassing other programs due to program comprehensiveness.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

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

Our work is supported by several foundations such as the 1440 Foundation, Charles Stuart Mott Foundation, Ruth Mott Foundation and Community Foundation of Greater Flint and a small amount of revenue from teacher trainings. We will support our program through grants. Ultimately, the programs will be built into the culture of each school, driven by school staff, students and administration.

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?

Yoga and mindfulness in children has been a growing trend over the past 10-15 years. There are other mindfulness programs being utilized. However, what makes our program unique is our approach. No other group is offering such a comprehensive mindfulness program, which is community based. We offer mindfulness and yoga in various interventions from just mindfulness lessons to just yoga lessons to hybrid classes with the hope that every child is reached and also finds a lifelong niche with the practice. Mindfulness will reach students, parents, and the community.

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?

Mindful Community: Using the social-ecological model, the program will go from students to parents to the community. Students of the afterschool program will become the teachers. Providing purpose, job experience, and a trade. It creates needed community role models. It would address high unemployment. Mindfulness will help students to be more prepared for futures in the work force or college, influencing low college rates and the school to prison pipeline. Proactive mental health approach. Stress and lead alter the brain. Mindfulness may be proven to be a useful intervention for trauma.

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 Woods Johnson Foundation


Join the conversation:

Photo of Christine Mason

Mindfulness is such a crucial skill for success in all areas of life and learning.  Your program sounds like a good start for these kids, and hopefully the benefits will be measurable enough to move many of these ideas into the school day itself.  Good luck and best wishes!

Photo of Sandra Sellers

Thank you very much for your comments.  We have just secured a researcher to help us with the  evaluation and research of our program.  The ability to show progress will help us to continue our current day programs as well as our new after-school opportunities. 

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