Falk Students equip Syracuse youth with mindfulness skills

Falk students Mabin, Hollie, and Reid
From left to right: Mabin, Hollie, and Reid. Photo credit Jelilat Williams. Courtesy of Calm Connections.

Three doctoral students are on a mission to bring simple mindfulness techniques to children and teens in the Syracuse area to help them manage big feelings. Last year, Staceyann Reid, Aysha Mabin, and Brandon Hollie of Falk College co-founded Calm Connections, a Syracuse-based nonprofit organization that teaches youth mindfulness exercises and yoga techniques such as breathing, attention training, relaxation and stretching, which they can use as tools to help manage emotions at home and at school.

By facilitating mentoring and mindfulness instruction, Calm Connections encourages systemic change by teaching compassion and empathy for one’s self and others to reduce traumatic responses such as anxiety, social isolation, and headaches, and promote healthy responses such as self-awareness and resilience, ultimately building more connected communities. The co-founders intend to expand their presence in the community over time with a specific goal of providing weekly programming in the Syracuse City School District.

The idea for Calm Connections was inspired by a meeting with campus guest speaker, Andres Gonzalez, co-founder of the Holistic Life Foundation, Inc., hosted by Syracuse University’s Contemplative Collaborative and local school teachers, which explored systematic methods of integrating mindfulness education and practice into Syracuse area classrooms.

The Contemplative Collaborative supports Syracuse students, faculty and staff engaged in mindfulness and contemplative research, teaching, and practice. Rachel Razza, Ph.D., associate professor in Falk College’s Department of Human Development and Family Science (HDFS), is the associate director of the Contemplative Collaborative and one of its founding members. “The goal of the Collaborative is to provide a mechanism for promoting contemplative-based work across the campus and within the community,” says Razza. “Calm Connections reflects this goal by addressing the critical need for evidence-based and trauma-informed programming for at-risk youth in the city of Syracuse.”

Razza’s research in the benefits of mindfulness programming in schools is what drew Reid to Syracuse University. “I always had a passion for working with children and adolescents, which I have done in different capacities over the years–most recently as a mental health counselor,” says Reid, who serves as the executive director of Calm Connections. From Queens, New York, she earned an M.S. in clinical mental health counseling from Long Island University Post. “I always knew that I wanted to do more, and I felt that delving into my research interests, which are social-emotional development and mindfulness, would be just what I needed to elevate my career and be able to make a greater impact.”

Fellow HDFS Ph.D. candidate, Mabin, is Calm Connections’ fundraising director. She is from Los Angeles, California where she earned a B.A. in psychology from California State University, Fullerton. “Through my experiences working in the public school system, I became more interested in the influences on youth academic achievement. The Syracuse University HDFS program provided a great opportunity to obtain my Ph.D. with support for my research goals.”

Hollie is pursuing his Ph.D. in Falk College’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy. “I selected the marriage and family therapy program at Syracuse because of the renowned faculty, commitment to social justice, and their excellence in the field,” he says. “I did a lot of community work and wanted to be in a place where faculty would continue to support me in trying to bring services to the community. Syracuse was the perfect fit for this.” Hollie is from Chicago, but raised in Iowa. While earning a M.A. in marriage and family therapy from Mount Mercy University, he co-founded Recess, which delivered mindfulness training to help relieve stress among undergraduate students. Now, Hollie serves as the marketing director for Calm Connections.

Falk College is rich in mindfulness and contemplative work across several disciplines, including human development and family science, marriage and family therapy, as well as public health, social work, food studies, and nutrition. The College’s Research Center supports an active community of faculty and student researchers, both graduate and undergraduate. To learn more about Calm Connections, visit calmconnectionsinc.org.