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Mindful : October 2017
to live in my own body and enjoy the space and calm in there for a little while. Meditation helped me to access the same thing my writing did: my intelligence and my instincts beyond the turmoil that inhabited the forefront of my mind.” She left Alaska after earning a scholarship to a performing arts high school in Michigan her junior year. During school breaks, lacking the funds to go home, she would “hobo” around— bus, train, and hitchhike—guitar in hand, and write songs along the way. One time, she made it all the way to Mexico and back. She was 16. Following graduation, Jewel headed to San Diego. After turning down the advances of a creepy employer and subsequently losing her job, she could no longer pay rent and ended up living out of her car. She shoplifted food, struggled with agoraphobia, and suffered from chronic kidney infections. She was poor, sick, isolated, and depressed—exactly where she had determined she would never be. “I had become a statistic,” she says. “I was very disappointed in myself.” Talking about this time, Jewel recognizes that she was suffering a kind of post-traumatic stress. She was just 18 and had experienced more than many of us will in a lifetime. But lacking the resources to seek help, she relied on the mindful practices she had developed years earlier as her lifeline. She also began visiting the public library and reading about neuroscience, fascinated by the notion that she could change the way she perceived her experience. This curiosity laid a trail of breadcrumbs that would guide her back to a healthier outlook. She doubled down on observing where her mind was leading her, creating gaps in her thinking, breaking up her “habit loops,” and “curating” healthier thoughts. Each day she began noting any little thing she could feel grateful for. She practiced replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. It worked. “My anxiety began to calm down, one thought at a time,” she says. “I didn’t know what mindfulness was. Nobody did back then that I was aware of. I developed these exercises of necessity,” she explains. “ It was just, I need solutions that work so I have a better experience of life, because I was really unhappy and tremendously uncomfortable. “I realized,” she says, “ that my happiness begins and ends with me.” Hearing Jewel talk about her life, even after reading her memoir, I’m stunned. It’s difficult to fathom how far she’s come, and the road it took to get here. (“I was a junkbond kid. No one “We have a saying, ‘Find a way and get the job done,’” Ryan Wolfington is telling the two dozen or so guests at a high tea put on in their honor by the Inspiring Children Foundation (ICF), which he founded 15 years ago to help underser ved youth in Las Vegas. He’s referring to the hands-on learning at the root of the foundation’s methodol- ogy, and specifically, to a gala fundraising event held the previous night at the Palazzo Las Vegas Theater, which netted more than $850,000 to support its work. He tosses the microphone to the kids who organized and ran the event in a follow-up “victor y parade,” asking them to talk about any challenges and how they solved them. One by one they share about what they faced—like figuring out a last-minute fix for the silent auction display, straightening out duplicate tickets and seating, and interviewing big-name donors who attended. Calling itself a “psychol- ogy for life” program, ICF isn’t simply giving kids a safe place to go after school or math tutoring. Instead, they’re learning how to succeed in life far beyond what most could previously imagine. Up to 500 children par- ticipate in the foundation’s various spor ts and academic programs each year, start- ing as young as age 3 and stretching all the way through high school. Many foundation alumni still par ticipate as mentors, during breaks from college and beyond. But the core of the ICF’s work is best witnessed in its leadership development track, which kids apply to get into and counts about 100 each year. It’s an intensive commitment, especially for a teenager—meeting 5-6 days a week at the foundation office; engaging in healthy lifestyle practices, including mindful- ness, proper nutrition, and avoiding drugs and alcohol; taking responsibility for your emotions; and working to heal your relationships. They create “business plans” for their lives, with quarterly goals to strategize how to get there. They learn about the importance of possessing a healthy attitude and mental toughness in the face of adversity. They participate in regular group sharing and are mentored by leaders in the worlds of business, the ar ts, and spor ts. And they take on real projects, like the fundraising event or today’s tea, which not only teaches planning and organizational skills, it also gives them a sense of confidence rare among teenagers. “Our goal is not to tell them what to do, but to help them become aware that within them is a wisdom, an inner knowing that will guide them,” Wolfington, a longtime meditator, says. An Inspired Life This Las Vegas-based foundation for at-risk youth isn’t about helping kids simply get by. It wants them to aim for extraordinary. GIVING BACK 66 mindful October 2017 profile