Former Gael baseball player and classroom teacher JG Larochette '02 started a nonprofit during one of the worst economic downturns in U.S. history. In fact, he refused to write a business plan, knowing that the hard facts in black and white would only convince him to wait for better times. And there was no time to waste.
So, fueled by optimism, a passion to help struggling kids, and the generosity of donors, Larochette's Mindful Life Project in Richmond raised enough money to complete its first year. The program's seven-member team uses mindfulness, yoga, therapeutic art and hip-hop/performing arts to teach at-risk elementary school students in south Richmond the potentially lifesaving tools of self-awareness, impulse control, confidence and resiliency. Larochette thinks they're making progress.
Consider, for example, the third-grade girl—living with her grandfather while her mom was in rehab—who threw tantrums when things went wrong. "We focused on helping her do mindful breathing to calm her body down when she started to get upset," Larochette explained. Now, when she starts to get frustrated, she asks her teacher for what she calls her "mindful minute," time in a quiet corner to collect herself.
Larochette had many such stories from the program's first year, which yielded a 40–65 percent drop in suspensions for Mindful Life students. Meanwhile, it is slated for a second year in the Richmond elementary schools and is expanding to after-school programs for Richmond and San Pablo middle schools. "As we all know, middle school can be a tough time," he said.
Larochette, who is busy raising money for his "very low budget" program, as he put it, said, "It was a weird time to start this, I guess. But it was the right time. It was a total leap of faith."