Thursday, April 17, 2014

Activate Good

Two weeks ago, class was with the Raleigh Girls Club in Raleigh, NC. I was very lucky that Janelle Vadnais of local organization Activate Good came out to class to photograph and interview me afterwards. Check out the interview we did together if you're curious of the Who/What/When/Where/Why/How's of the ProjectSPACE bike tour!

Here is the link:

Or read the story below:

"After a line of traffic passes north on Raleigh Boulevard, suddenly you can see her: a lone, female cyclist dressed simply in a pair of black spandex and a short-sleeve, white t-shirt with a navy bandana tied loosely around her neck. She squints into the sun as she comes closer into focus, turning her hand outward to signal her intent to turn into the Raleigh Girls Club.

Looking at her, you’d never assume she was a yoga instructor.

Looking at her, you’d never guess that she had spent the last 18 days riding her bicycle all the way to Raleigh from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Looking at her, you’d never estimate that she still had at least 800 miles left to ride to get from Raleigh, North Carolina to Miami, Florida.
Volunteering to Bring Yoga to Unconventional Spaces Along the East Coast

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, from different backgrounds, education levels and with different life experiences, but they are all similar in one regard: their belief in doing good and giving back to their community. Volunteering is neither boastful nor loud, but rather- it takes its place among the quiet, humbling acts of service performed by everyday people who recognize a need and give a few minutes to a few hours of their time to help someone, asking nothing in return.

Kristen Sylvester is an ordinary yoga instructor who is using her passion and skills in an extraordinary way. She is volunteering her time and expertise to travel, by bicycle, down the East Coast, stopping in major cities to teach yoga to those who are underprivileged, underserved or who may have otherwise never had an opportunity to experience the healing benefits of yoga – both on the mind and the body.

On Thursday, April 3, 2014, Sylvester stopped in at the Raleigh Girls Club to teach two yoga classes to young girls. This is her volunteer story.

Philadelphia to Miami: 1,600 Miles, 52 Days, 1 Mission

My name is Kristen Sylvester, and I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I am a certified yoga instructor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I came up with the idea for ProjectSPACE because I believe in bringing yoga to different spaces.

I believe that yoga can be practiced anywhere by anyone; and in its current state, yoga is not accessible to everybody. So, I designed a tour from Philadelphia to Miami over the span of the majority of the east coast; and along the way, over the course of two months, I’m stopping at a lot of the major cities, and doing drop-in-yoga programs with different youth-in-crisis or at-risk populations. Facilities include: community centers, rehabilitation centers, domestic violence centers, juvenile detention centers, etc.

How were you inspired to start ProjectSPACE?

Part of the work I was doing while I was living in Philly was contacting different schools and different homeless shelters and such, and doing yoga programs there. I think that yoga is a really valuable tool for youth. It gives them practical tools to be able to appropriately cope – skills that are not taught to them in schools because our whole schooling system…we’re very rarely taught to verify and look within, so especially youth who are carrying trauma with them – they often don’t have the resources to be able to regulate their emotions.

Have you seen a difference in the way that yoga is taught and the way that kids have behaved afterwards?

Absolutely. [Yoga] is something that I think – just like therapy – or just like any kind of rehabilitative skill like that – it’s something that requires doing continuously. But I think that one time has an effect, and you can give a kid an experience of their own breath and empower them to draw attention to that and make a connection to that…there’s something there.

So, how does it work? Do you bike for a certain amount of hours and then stop? How do you find people to stay with? How do you go about planning a trip of this scale?

Yeah. It took a lot of work. I’ve been working on this for a year [to plan it]. So, I started first by targeting the major cities, and when I say “major cities,” I mean – for instance – Wilmington, Baltimore, Raleigh – cities like that. And then I thought about how long it would take me to get to each city and as far as how long it would take me to bike there. And then I designed on the calendar when I thought I could be in each city.

Then I did some research about each city to see what kind of different nonprofits or facilities were working with youth in those cities and then I started contacting them via phone and email and coordinating classes. So, then I had my schedule about when all of the classes would be, and then I kind of just needed to find places to sleep…[laughing] because sometimes it takes me 4 days to get to the next class – because there’s a lot of mileage. Like, after Raleigh, my next class is in Columbia [SC], and I’m not going to do that in a day; I’m going to do it in 4 days [laughing].

Have you ever done anything like this before?

No. Before the tour, I had never done a bike tour before, and I wasn’t a cyclist. It’s all new for me. It’s very organized, but in that respect, I’m kind of making it up as I go along.

What’s the plan once you get to Florida? Are you going to bike back up, or hop on a plane?

I’m probably going to do maybe a week’s worth of classes there. There’s an organization there called “Yoga Gangsters” who also work with youth-in-crisis doing different outreach yoga programs, and that’s part of the reason I picked Miami to begin with. I had done a certification with them a year ago, and I thought it would be good to connect with them, having biked there. And then I will ship the bike back and either fly back or take the train – whatever is the most affordable.

How would you sum up this volunteer experience so far? And not only that, but at the end of the day, what do you hope the takeaway is for those who are actually involved in the yoga classes?

If I could sum it up, it’s…it’s been challenging. Even in the beginning, there was really bad weather, and it was really hard to bike through…and some..I think – two classes – were cancelled, and it was really difficult because…you know…I biked there…so that was kind of hard to let go. It’s been a practice of surrendering. It’s also been challenging because I’m doing something that’s very new for me. Like, I’ve never ridden 90 miles in a day, but now I have that under my belt. And it’s been challenging to fix things on a bike where I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m learning..and I’m much better now…so, it’s been challenging, but rewarding.

The thing I’m hoping to accomplish is to empower the people I’m working with to create a community among themselves….to see that you don’t need a yoga mat to do yoga, and you don’t need to be wealthy to do yoga, or flexible, or thin, or you don’t need to go to a yoga studio…that these are real-life tools…just sitting there in a chair, prepping for a test when you’re nervous and you can use your yoga…or lying in bed at night, having a struggle to fall asleep – you can use your yoga – or just any scenario.

One of the students after this class [laughs] came up to me and said, “Excuse me, Miss- do you know that you can do yoga, even when you’re walking?” And she’s right [laughs] because I just don’t say it to be…kind of light in my approach about yoga, but it is really true that you can do it anywhere, and that is important for people to know…because even if they don’t like yoga, or they don’t like the physical aspect – that’s ok. They don’t need to. You don’t need to like it, but everybody needs a tool to be able to cope with and regulate their own emotions – to be able to be in control of their own emotions.

That’s one of the most powerful results of practicing yoga – is just being able to be in your body.

About Kristen Sylvester & ProjectSPACE

Kristen Sylvester is a certified yoga instructor in Philadelphia, PA. Sylvester founded ProjectSPACE as a means of transforming unconventional spaces into yoga studios to assist individuals struggling with trauma, abuse, addiction, homelessness and poverty.

At its core, ProjectSPACE aims to help students engage in the practice of yoga and self-care principles as well as connect to the untapped potential within themselves. Like Project Space on Facebook. You can also read about Kristen’s yoga travels and work at her blog: ProjectSPACE.

About the Boys & Girls Club
The mission of Boys & Girls Clubs is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Check out some of the currentvolunteer opportunities with the Boys & Girls Clubs, available through Activate Good! We also encourage you to find out more information on becoming a nonprofit partner with Activate Good.

*All photos taken were published with the permission of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County. Copying of or reproducing these photos in any way is not permitted and may be subject to legal action. All Rights Reserved. "

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