A former CEO takes an interest in children’s mental health


Allison Paradise recently launched a youth organization focused on promoting mental health in children and youth.

Allison Paradise. Courtesy of Epicenter

Paradise, founder and former CEO of non-profit organization My Green Lab, a sustainable science research enterprise, brought her youth organization, The Epicenter, to Grand Haven this summer for three five-day class sessions from 11 to July 29.

She founded The Epicenter in 2021, stepping back from her sustainability work to reconnect with what she found most important, empowering young people to connect with their purpose and themselves.

“I started asking people questions, why do you do things the way you do,” Paradise said, describing her initial interest in exploring human identity. “Almost always the answer when you dig deep enough is, ‘Oh, it’s just a habit I developed’ or ‘I don’t think about it, it’s something I’ve always done. “”

For her, the start of Epicenter was in the realization that many adults in her social circle were working or engaging out of habit rather than authenticity.

With this realization, the first seeds of Epicenter were planted when Paradise began working with adults to help them discover their true motivations and interests, defying the norm of a cookie-cutter lifestyle. .

In November 2020, she came up with the idea for a children’s book which was eventually published in December 2021. The book, “The Mistake”, took readers through the process of self-discovery and exploration. When the idea for “The Mistake” was born, Paradise realized that while she wanted to continue working with adults, she really wanted the bulk of her work to focus on raising children. .

She said helping children break patterns of self-doubt and cultivate the freedom and empowerment needed to live authentically and grow without mental limits is key to creating a new generation of adults who live like themselves.

Paradise, although not a certified therapist, has a master’s degree in neuroscience from Harvard University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in applied science in neuroscience and Spanish literature from Brown University, where she graduated magna cum laude.

Paradise does not call his work therapy and does not expect it to function as such.

“I don’t have any expectations or plans on this,” she said. “I just save space for people.”

Maintaining space, for Paradise, is the process of challenging and encouraging the self-exploration of the clients she works with. For children, the process often involves hands-on creation of art with materials such as finger paint or simply being in nature.

The epicenter is based in Santa Cruz, California, where Paradise runs classes and one-on-one sessions. His first session of the summer recently came to an end, having taken a series of classes from Monday to Thursday from May 29 to June 17. Classes focused on the 7-11 year old age group, who explored nature and their own creative interests under Advice from Heaven.

She first came up with the idea of ​​bringing The Epicenter to West Michigan after visiting Grand Haven and was encouraged by Jake Wisner, senior vice president of Haven Innovation Company HotLogic.

Its series of July sessions at this Grand Haven location (exact location currently undisclosed for privacy reasons) will begin on July 11 and run through July 30. 18 and over). The location has running water, toilets and access to forest and lake areas for a variety of activities.

Classes will run for five consecutive days, by the end of which Paradise hopes to achieve visible empowerment and self-confidence in its students.

For its young students, Epicenter’s summer session consists mainly of a guided exploration of nature and the spirit together, which often involves writing, discussions, hands-on art activities, walks in the wood and time for a quiet mindfulness.

Older students follow the same structure but focus more on self-reflection and meditation.

She keeps her classes without electronic devices to give students of all ages the freedom to step away from social media and just focus on themselves.

Paradise and an assistant lead classes, which can accommodate up to 12 children.

“Some of the work will be done all together in a group, and some of it will involve one-on-one time,” Paradise said. “There is a natural rhythm that forms during the day as students move from outward expression to inner reflection, and we simply follow that rhythm to support them with a group for outward expression and individual space for reflection. reflection.”

Paradise said she often chooses to start classes with young students with a central question to guide them.

“The question I tend to really like is for kids to start by writing a story about what the word ‘strong’ means,” Paradise said. “It’s an interesting question, and a lot of kids this age (7-10) are starting to feel weak.

“From there, I usually see what happens. Usually I’m right where the kids want to go. Eventually, they’re going to have a writing session one of these days on (the questions) ‘Who are you?’ “How do people see you? ‘How do you see yourself?’

Paradise said she shy away from asking children who they want to be when they grow up, instead focusing on who they see themselves now and helping them build a strong emotional foundation for their formative years.

Her classes tend to follow an open format and are based on the needs of incoming children and their individual personalities. Paradise also said it works closely with parents, creating more structured lesson times for parents who value a structured learning environment for their children.

“We prefer that the parents are not present throughout the session simply because we find that children tend to want to please their parents and will therefore hold back or censor themselves, or try to attract attention of their parents, often without realizing it, if their parents are nearby,” she said.

“However, of course, parents are an essential part of our community. We involve parents at the end of sessions and in follow-up conversations, where we share what we have observed and provide support where needed. We also usually ask parents to stay for the first 10 minutes of the first session, just so they get a sense of who we are and our vision for the week.

If its foray into West Michigan this summer proves successful, Paradise plans to continue expanding across the state in hopes of building an all-ages retreat center with space for people stay year round, places to grow food, space to cook, spaces for art, music, dance and other creative pursuits.

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