Meghan Olson is using yoga to help children boost confidence and resist violence.
Students at Nash Elementary School on the city's West Side are learning the principles and techniques of yoga through a program called Keeping the Peace, which is funded by the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority and aimed at students who have a parent who is incarcerated. Olson started the program as a way to give back from her shared experience.
"My father was incarcerated in Puerto Rico. Our family had such support around us. I had always been involved with children on the West Side of Chicago and I saw the need there," Olson said. "I see children who are shut down, mislabeled. I see children who are angry."
Shatoria Boyce admits she was one of those angry children. Her father has spent ten years in prison.
"Angry like, if somebody say something to me I'd be like, 'Uggghhh, get out my face. Or I'd just hit them," Shatoria Boyce, eighth grade, said.
Her mother says participating in the group has helped the 14-year-old manage her emotions.
"At first, I didn't really know what yoga was. So I'm like, you doing yoga to calm you down? And I'm like, show me what yoga is, and she showed me what it is and I said yeah, it can take your mind off a couple of things. It's quiet and you're doing exercise," Michelle Houston said.
Other students say the camaraderie of like-minded children and understanding adults offers invaluable support.
"I feel safer here and people can comfort you like when you feel sad and stuff. Like it was this one time when I was kind of sad then when I came in here everybody gathered around me and gave me a hug," Sania Franklin, seventh grade, said.
Students also say the program helps keeps them focused on following a different path.
"I feel that I should try to stray myself from doing anything wrong with an illegal intent and keep myself away from the gangs ? completely," Tyrone Fullilove, Jr., eighth grade, said.
Participants in Keeping the Peace also have access to individual mentoring and family counseling sessions in the evening.