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Meghan Olson is channeling one of the darkest times of her life to create a brighter life for children on the West Side of Chicago. She is using yoga to assist children in boosting their confidence and at the same time, resisting violence.

Students in Nash Elementary School on the city’s West Side are learning the principles and techniques of yoga through a program known as Keeping the Peace. This program is funded by the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority and is aimed at students who have a parent who is incarcerated. Meghan started this program as a way to give back from the shared experience she shared obtained over the years. “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. I see children who are shut down, mislabeled. I see children who are angry,” she said.

Shatoria Boyce, whose father spent ten years in prison, admitted she was one of those angry children. “Angry like, if somebody say something to me I’d be like, ‘Uggghhh, get out my face. Or I’d just hit them,” stated the eighth grader. According to her mother, her participation in the yoga group has helped her in controlling 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,” said Michelle Houston, her mother.

As for other students, they believe that the camaraderie of like-minded children along with 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,” stated seventh grader Sania Franklin.

Some students also mentioned that the program aids in keeping 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,” said eighth grader Tyrone Fullilove, Jr. For more of the story, do check it out here.

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