MOLINE, IL – After three years of steady growth, the Quad Cities Yoga Foundation, founded by alumni of Western Illinois University’s School of Education, seeks to expand their professional development and classroom yoga services in the Quad Cities for those who would benefit from yoga and need these services, such as those coming out of prisons, drug rehab centers and those who cannot afford to pay for yoga classes.
The QC Yoga Foundation was founded to bring life skills and yoga to underserved Quebec citizens of all ages, and believes in the power of yoga to transform lives physically and mentally. This transformation has already been seen in current work with children in schools and adults working for a better life in prisons, drug and alcohol treatment centers and through drug therapy. yoga. Many people can benefit from deep breathing and movement, which is why yoga instructors reach out to the community to make yoga easier to access.
The QC Yoga Foundation is a non-profit organization co-founded in 2018 by former WIU Ashley Ehrecke, who graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and graduated in 2018 with a Masters in Educational Studies. The president of the organization is Rebecca Sebastian, who has a background in non-profit work and has been teaching yoga for 20 years, helped Ehrecke with the necessary legal steps. Through inspiration and a collective effort from other people Ehrecke knows, she created the non-profit organization, which now operates through grants and partnerships to help the community. In addition, Lindsay Meeker, teacher and alumnus, graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in special education and graduated in 2008 and 2012 with a master’s degree in bilingual education and pedagogical leadership, is the executive director; and WIU Education Professor Andrea Hyde is a member of the Board of Trustees.
Ehrecke is also one of the leading yoga instructors for school populations in the Quebec region. All three volunteered at educational and service events, and all three were behind the 2017 Mindfulness for Teachers and Student Personnel training at WIU’s Quad Cities Campus.
The idea for the Yoga Foundation arose out of a mentoring relationship between Hyde and Ehrecke. Ehrecke met Hyde during a YMCA yoga class she taught, and later Ehrecke enrolled as a graduate student and assistant, working with Hyde on the WIU campus in Quebec.
Ehrecke also works as an early childhood teacher in West Liberty, IA. Her role as a senior yoga teacher includes modeling for schools. Prior to establishing the QC Yoga Foundation, she attended programs at Filmore and Garfield Elementary, where she helped students address concerns of counselors or teachers, such as anxiety or outbursts.
Ehrecke began to work with small groups; then the foundation allowed him to visit all classes and all students equally, once the whole school was involved. The 10 to 20 minute yoga classes include breathing, movement, mindfulness and relaxation techniques. These techniques allow students to apply them in the classroom. For example, Ehrecke has five students in his class who speak only Spanish. English as a second language (ESL) preschool students can benefit from yoga through the connection of movement and breathing when it is difficult for them to speak or express themselves.
“I find it gratifying to see the students find their place in this new school experience,” she said. “The aim is also to help teachers learn how it is accessible to their students. “
While there has been a shift from in-person yoga to virtual yoga, the foundation has always been able to adapt to this change by rethinking computer modeling and finding accessible ways to reach large groups of people.
Just before the start of the pandemic, the Yoga Foundation contacted apartment complexes that have a large number of reports to the Illinois Department of Social Services (IDHS) in hopes of providing free mindfulness / yoga to children and families in community centers, with the help of grant funding. There has also been a yoga project in prison for over 15 years across the United States.
The foundation visited Scott County Jail once a week to work with male inmates and once a week for inmates. Bringing yoga to prisons is a tool to help people create a positive mindset.
Meeker, director of the Early Learning Center in West Liberty, IA, and instructor at WIU-QC, works alongside Ehrecke in professional development. Their roles include working with teachers to troubleshoot and correct any issues. Meeker works with the administration of different districts to organize school work related to yoga. This includes professional development for teachers, modeling in classrooms and coordinating schedules to have a sustainable yoga practice for Davenport schools. The first year of teaching yoga in schools involves training everyone and making sure it is sustainable. From the second year, the emphasis is on training new teachers, counselors, special education, etc.
Meeker writes grant applications, solicits funds, and connects with other organizations that work with underserved populations. Recently, she wrote grants for Moline Public Schools as part of a possible fall partnership and for schools in West Liberty, as well as a grant from the QC Community Foundation.
Meeker and Ehrecke will train teachers this summer and also set up basic children’s yoga training for people who are already in the field teaching yoga. Meeker and Hyde will continue to train teachers in classrooms to support yoga and be accessible, even if their school is not committed to the full curriculum.
Meeker, who is also a Hyde alumnus, used her own ESL class for action-based research on conscious classroom management. She remembers how the connections over time evolved into something bigger.
“Ashley and I were in contact with Andrea at an academic level and then we started doing it in schools, which spread to the community level,” Meeker said.
Hyde worked with an organization in Pittsburgh, Pa. Called Yoga In Schools, which helped develop district-wide training and program evaluation in the area. Her scholarship focuses on mindfulness and yoga in schools, and she is the lead author and editor of the recent book, “Stories of Yoga School Yoga,” of which Meeker is also a contributor.
Hyde teaches students how to use yoga-based exercises for self-care, calming, and stress reduction, to help students prepare for learning. She also pointed out that while Zoom classes help reconnect with others, people still need to move their bodies to relieve stress, heal trauma, and express the body’s healing mechanisms. Mindfulness is linked to social / emotional learning, which is a state standard for Illinois schools. Schools value mindful movements and breathing exercises for their staff and students in order to manage stress, create an inclusive environment, and help new immigrants and linguistic minority students feel more comfortable and more confident in their commitment.
In the spring of 2021, Hyde taught a Mindfulness Fundamentals course via Zoom at Centennial Honors College, for students in Macomb and QC. She said she would like to see these classes extended to anyone dealing with stress.
Hyde said some of the benefits of teaching mindfulness through Zoom are that it has more engagement than in a classroom setting. Students who are reluctant to make some movement in a crowd can feel safe in their own environment by turning off their device’s camera and can practice to the best of their ability.
Hyde said the idea of creating a foundation originated in WIU-QC and has spread to the community. Hyde, Meeker, and Ehrecke began by offering mindfulness and yoga workshops to local educators. Together they have developed and taught mindfulness training for educators and school staff through distance education on the QC campus. They said the training places filled easily and the training was well received.
“I got the idea that the QC should have a non-profit organization that can screen grants and organize researchers, community developers, educators, yoga teachers and social workers into an organization that supports the yoga, ”Hyde said. “This is how the University partners with the community to connect ideas through our academic and research lens, and then link them with our desire to improve the community and uphold the core values of the University. “
The QC Yoga Foundation is now doing free community yoga in parks and roundtables for different yoga topics that get people from all over the country, such as researchers and practitioners, to talk about yoga therapy and yoga. children’s therapy to a QC audience. It all started with action research, classroom yoga, and teachers like Hyde making useful connections with community members.
Plans are underway for another training event on the QC campus for local educators, taking into account COVID-19 safety protocols.
From March 3-5, 2022, at the River Center in downtown Davenport, IA, the QC Yoga Foundation will host YogaCon 2022. The goal is to have people from the community and other communities help spread the mission of this type of non- enjoy yoga work and offer yoga classes. This conference will create a space where yoga instructors can connect.
For more information on future events, visit the Yoga Foundation’s Facebook page at bit.ly/2RTWLib.
To donate or show interest in teaching, visit the foundation’s website at bit.ly/3nulFko.
For more information on the QC Yoga Foundation, email Lindsay Dennison at [email protected]
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has written professionally since his debut at the age of 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. A graduate with honors from the University of Southern California’s master’s program, he has written more than 50 books, including best-selling books The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone, and We Are All Characters.