What do kids growing up in the toughest parts of inner-city Baltimore need most? Ali and Atman Smith, and Andy Gonzalez returned to find out—and changed the lives and a neighborhood in the process.
As we reported in the April 2013 issue of Mindful magazine, Ali, Atman, and Andy founded the Holistic Life Foundation in 2001. Starting with 20 fifth-grade boys, the foundation’s after-school program introduced yoga, mindfulness, urban gardening, and teamwork to children in the neighborhood in an effort to revive the community through its youngest, most vulnerable members. In a city where the dropout rate for high school students is routinely higher than 50%, 19 of those first 20 boys graduated and the other got his GED. Hundreds of youngsters have now passed through the program. And researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Penn State University have begun to study the work being done by the guys at Holistic Life. They’re paying special attention to the program’s effect on children’s moods, relationships with peers and teachers, and emotional self-regulation. After more than a decade, Ali, Atman, and Andy’s work is getting noticed beyond the blocks of the Western District in Balitmore.