Personal awareness classes teach students to become aware of their dreams, desires and uncertainties and ultimately learn the best way to process these thoughts.
AS AMERICAN ADULTS, many of us feel we lead some of the most stressful lives. Getting bills paid, shuttling kids back and forth to sports and activities, planning holidays, keeping organized, all while balancing professional and family life. We often wish to go back to those carefree days of youth when stress was not a word in our expanding vocabulary, and we enjoyed time with friends and the simple things in life. According to local nonprofit founder Lindy Lewis, those carefree days today aren’t exactly what they seem.
“The number one concern I hear from kids is about their future,” explained Lewis. “These kids are missing the here and now because they are so concerned about what’s happening next.” Lewis founded UndergroundKindness as an organization to help local teens manage stress and anxiety and ultimately lead happier lives.
Lewis’s own life experiences are what got her on a path to helping others. A self-admitted alpha woman, Lewis held a number of positions in corporate settings, including fundraising and sponsorships. A series of events, including divorce and a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis, changed her outlook on what is ultimately important in life. Suddenly a single mother of three battling MS, Lewis realized she needed to reprioritize her life.
“My life went sideways very quickly, and I made the decision to take care of myself,” said Lewis. She began taking yoga classes. She noticed improvement in her health and well being, and after hearing such stress from local teens, decided to help. way to get rid of added stress, help her sleep and help her body heal itself. What started as a supplement to physical education classes, Underground Kindness now provides classes featuring multiple levels of personal well being at local schools. Underground Kindness introduces local young people to yoga and meditation alongside programs that focus on both physical and mental well being.
Lewis has been living with MS for 11 years now and credits the skills she has learned in helping her deal with the disease. “I’ve done very well living with MS. I choose to slow down, practice movements, relax, and not worry so much about the external that I can’t control,” said Lewis.
These are the core practices taught through Underground Kindness. In physical activities such as yoga and meditation, students stay after school when many would otherwise go home and be sedentary. The physical activity encourages weight loss and builds strength while decreasing stress and anxiety. Personal awareness classes teach students to become aware of their dreams, desires and uncertainties and ultimately learn the best way to process these thoughts. In emotional health, students are taught to slow down and focus on the present and learn skills to eliminate anxiety whether from an upcoming test, dealing with bullying, or planning for their future.
Over the past four years many in the Sandpoint community have become aware of this unique organization helping kids and there are now volunteers from all kinds of backgrounds. These “compassionists” help spread the message and also work directly within our local schools. Their backgrounds and specialties include therapy, nutrition, chiropractic, artistic, personal training, physical therapy and more. These compassionists also get to work firsthand with local teachers and see the relatively new challenges they face today with technology, social media and the continued pressures of good grades. With so many local professionals working within the group, students get a well rounded look at health and learn many different ways to cope with stress and anxiety. As the organization continues to expand, Lewis was recently able to hire a director to run the day-today operations of Underground Kindness. Since joining, Kate Lyster has seen firsthand the effects these classes have on our local young people.
“As I settled in my new position and began sitting in on Underground Kindness classes inside the middle and high schools, I realized not only Underground Kindness’ impact, but the world that our children live in,” said Lyster. “Our children need to learn the coping skills required to navigate their young lives, and I believe Underground Kindness is working to bridge the gap among teachers, community and students.”
Like with most teenagers, getting a group to open up about their feelings and try new things can initially be a challenge, but Underground Kindness has found that once the ice is broken just about everyone who has taken a class would recommend it to a friend.
“With sharing comes the realization that they might not be alone in their struggles and that other students are experiencing their own challenges,” said Lyster. “I love seeing how well they develop and build coping methods and how much a young person can change so quickly,” adds Lewis.
While the program was just recently introduced to 7th and 8th graders, Lewis hopes to soon expand Underground Kindness into local elementary schools as well. The organization is working within the Clark Fork schools and Lewis hopes to see other regional communities develop as well.
“It’s a very easy program to drop into any community, and it would be wonderful to see other communities work together to support each other,” said Lewis.
A fundraiser for Underground Kindness is coming up on July 22nd. The Shangri La on the Lake features a barbecue dinner provided by Ivano’s Ristorante as well as drinks along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. There is live music and dancing as well as live and silent auctions and the event is family friendly. Proceeds from the event will go toward expanding into other districts, elementary schools and the Juvenile Justice Center. Last school year Underground Kindness taught 370 classes and hopes to continue expanding these options. One of those recent expansions was launched in March as a parent connection class. These classes invited parents to come in and experience what their sons and daughters are learning as well.
“The parent engagement and participation has been refreshing, and we are working hard to bring value to the parents and children of this community with quality guest speakers and workshops that actually provide real-world answers and tools that parents can apply in their own daily lives,” said Lyster.
Stress and anxiety are not just adult problems; both internal and external pressures placed on teens today can lead to poor well being. It is the goal of Underground Kindness to teach kids what is important in life, to slow down and enjoy the moment, and to eliminate anxiety through physical and emotional wellbeing.
“I remember having a lot of fun in high school, and I don’t see that in kids today. We want them to enjoy this special time in their lives and not be so concerned with the future,” said Lewis. “Through Underground Kindness students learn small easy techniques to help them cope and enjoy life without so much anxiety.”
For more information or if you would like to get involved visit www.undergroundkindness.org.