Open Minds grows as youth expand their social circle

‘It’s easier to raise strong kids than repair broken adults,’ motivated by the words of Frederick Douglass, a local teacher and yoga instructor has expanded her kids’ programs

A new youth retreat encourages kids to “open their mind and connect to their heart” this summer. 

Offered through Open Minds (OM) Youth, the Just Be YOU Retreat is for youth aged 13 and up and includes daily breath work and yoga, meditations, arts and crafts, opportunities for self-expression, nature walks, vegetarian lunch and snacks throughout the day, a pottery lesson and a mini photo shoot at the end of the week.  

“It’s a really awkward age, there isn’t much to do for kids at this stage in life,” she said. “A lot of these kids have either been online and haven’t made any friends throughout the school year.”

The first ever week-long, all-inclusive retreat ran from July 4-8 out of Studio Seventy Four, a studio and event space located downtown Collingwood. D’Aloisio said the timing of the retreat for the first week of summer was intentional. 

“This allows them to build these friendships right at the start of the summer so they have someone to connect with,” she said. “And it’s in a safe setting.”

D’Aloisio also collaborated with The Wild Stand to provide healthy, vegetarian lunches to the kids each day, and the retreat included a day at Hello Pottery where they could make their own bowls and cups. 

D’Aloisio spent the past year building out the programming for this retreat and discovering what kinds of activities would be the most beneficial to youth at this age, and she said is so relieved she was finally able to bring it to life. 

“Most of these girls just want to be heard, they just want to be seen, and just have a safe environment to share what they have been holding back,” she said.

D’Aloisio founded Open Minds in the fall of 2020 with the intention of incorporating mindfulness, meditation and movement into children’s lives at an early age, and to teach them there is more to learn beyond the classroom.

An Ontario certified teacher and yoga instructor, D’Aloisio temporarily lost her job when COVID hit, but she was determined to keep her focus on youth and teaching them the lessons she thinks are most important.  

“Most kids have been so disconnected lately, so I want to help them reconnect to their bodies and nature,” she said. 

Growing up, D’Aloisio struggled with school. She failed both the EQAO testing in elementary school and the literacy test in Grade 10, and was considered a student with disabilities throughout university, receiving additional accommodations for all of her exams.

“I never fit into the school system, and I would never want that to happen to another kid, to let that negative self-talk continue out into adolescence and adulthood,” said D’Aloisio. 

Her motivation is to make sure children today never feel that way.

“It’s a lot easier to raise strong kids than repair broken adults,” D’Aloisio said, referencing a quote by author and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Her inaugural offering was a five-week after-school program that took place in the fall of 2020 for children between the ages of four and six years old. She always enjoyed working with younger children and figured it would be a good place to start, but ultimately she wanted to be able to get her message to kids of all ages. 

“I think it was really beneficial to get those kids moving and opening their minds to this type of thing, but some of the activities and lessons and content was too advanced for the younger ones,” she said. “For this older age gap, they are able to get and receive more from the programs that I am running.” 

Her dream is to eventually run the retreat twice a summer, for two different age groups.  

She is currently in the process of creating one more retreat that she will host the week before school starts, as well as after-school programs for kids aged nine to twelve years old on Mondays and for those aged 13 years and older Thursdays in September and October. 

“The youth… They just need it,” D’Aloisio said. “Whatever the story is that they are telling themselves, I want to help them rewrite it. If we can help them regain their confidence and self-esteem, they are going to be unstoppable.”

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