Founders of the nonprofit Konscious Youth Development and Service have been teaching students, teachers and parents in the Asbury Park School district about yoga, mindfulness and meditation.

KYDS started in 2015 by Mychal Mills and Rodney Salomon when Mills was working at a local food bank and Salomon was working as a youth development specialist. Salomon said they started doing free community programs to bring people together in a holistic and expressive way.

Salomon said he saw how this was making ripples within the community so they started doing free mindfulness and meditation programs at the Kula Cafe in Asbury Park.

In 2016, the Jackson school district invited the KYDS staff to do workshops with middle school students in their gym classes. In Neptune, they did a five-week pilot program on mindfulness in the elementary schools. Salomon wanted to do more to reach children who have been impacted by difficult situations.

In 2017, KYDS got a contract with the Asbury Park school district and the program has been going strong for three years.

Salomon said there is a silent suffering among children, whether it's problems at home or school or teen issues. He said children often do not have the tools to cope and wind up turning to sex, drugs and video games.

"Back in our day, we were told to deal with it. But you're seeing now suicide rates at an all-time high. Depression and anxiety are moving at rates that were unheard of before and we realize that we need to do our job to provide the support that I wish I would have had going through my journey as a teenager and a young adult as well," Salomon said.

Asbury Park schools now have "mindful moment rooms." In the elementary schools, students are referred by the administration and study team. They learn breathing and self-awareness techniques to help connect with others through movement. In the high and middle schools, students enter the mindful moment rooms and spend about 15 minutes working with a KYDS staff member. They can take part in breathing techniques or just talk to someone.

The mindful moment rooms have cushions, bean bags, statements of affirmations on the walls and stones and crystals that create an ambiance. Every time a student enters the room, they are welcomed by a KYDS staffer. Students can draw or color or listen to music. Staff members don't provide solutions to their problems, but instead guide them to find solutions and help them connect with themselves on a deeper level. Salomon said KYDS staff are not counselors or therapists. The are just there to provide space to allow kids to release energy.

There is also a program called "Konscious Klassroom" where every student in every grade from kindergarten to 12th gets a 6- to 8-week 20- or 25-minute mindfulness, movement and social and emotional learning program.

There is also staff development with the educators. Once a month, KYDS staff work with teachers and administrators in the schools. Bi-monthly there are parent workshops available in the elementary school.

KYDS offers assemblies, workshops and other programs to students and staff at 40 schools across New Jersey including Freehold, Marlboro, Howell, Keansburg, Long Branch, Jersey City and Vineland.

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