Banner image: Logos of The Art of Yoga Project and the Young Women's Freedom Center at the top. Reads, "Mindful Mentors: Learn how to create Dope & Sacred Space for yourself and others." "You can take care of your body and it will low-key show you respect in turn." - SZA. Images of four young women with full, curly hair.

The Art of Yoga Project’s Mindful Mentors program is a youth development program designed to promote self-determination, self-regulation, self-awareness and self-worth in systems-involved youth, and to support these young people in pursuing careers as wellness practitioners. The Art of Yoga Project has partnered with the Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC) to offer this youth empowerment program to YWFC participants and alumni in the San Francisco Bay Area. In this innovative program, girls and gender-expansive young people who are interested in pursuing a career in wellness are paired 1-1 with specially trained, trauma-informed Mindful Mentors. Together, mentor and mentee co-create a plan for the youth to fully integrate wellness into their lifestyle, including exploring their own employment within the fields of wellness, healing, and art. The Art of Yoga Project’s Mindful Mentors uses a youth-centered, collaborative and developmental approach which emphasizes fostering relationships first as a foundation for later skill-building.

What challenges have you overcome or celebrations you would like to share and put on the table?

Ongoing trauma and loss continue to be the largest challenges facing both our mentees and our mentors, which has been amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic. By integrating more deeply with our partner organization, YWFC, we’ve been able to provide more holistic support for the youth as they need it — for example, we were able to find and connect a death doula with a youth after the loss of a family member. In turn, this has enabled the youth to then show up more fully for their jobs and mentorship relationships. Other celebrations include youth developing regular movement or breathing practices; a mentee co-facilitated a yoga class with their mentor; a youth reached out asking for coping strategies after their dog died; and pursuing professional training. After telling their mentor they were interested in film and social justice, a mentee was connected with, applied to, was accepted to, and started a filmmaking fellowship program. When sharing their first film project with their Mindful Mentor, the youth said: “I feel that our relationship is one of the most organic relationships I’ve ever had and I’m glad that I got knowledge, positive energy, and inspiration to write and create – so thank you.”  Another youth shared: “Thank you so much for all your help, and this organization for all the support I have received.”

What kind of organizations are you looking to collaborate with?

We are looking to collaborate with any organizations who could provide tangential or related services and training to the youth we work with to expand our network and pool of resources. The youth we work with often need additional support such as mental health or grief counseling, and we’d love to partner with organizations that offer or sponsor these services. In addition, organizations with employment opportunities or professional development training for youth would be very helpful to have connections at. For youth interested in becoming yoga teachers, The Art of Yoga Project will sponsor them to attend a 200H yoga teacher training. Some youth are interested in careers in fields like healthcare and social work; music, art, and film; cosmetology; etc., and we’d love to hear from organizations that may have opportunities in those fields.