By Seth Kinker,

This summer, a free event series for high school age teens, titled “Get Woke!” will be taking place on Wednesday’s in July starting on July 10 from 4:30 p.m. – 5:45 p.m. at the Serenity Room at Breathe Yoga.

Art will be used to relieve stress, music will be used to help discover the power of connection, and yoga will address flexibility and mindfulness.

This series comes as a result of recent youth mental health discussions in the community. Mental health has been a hot topic in Chelsea after two more lives were lost in the past school year, a student and former graduate.


Since then, the community has taken action. A forum addressing youth community mental health was hosted in April by the District Wellness Committee and St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital. That forum turned into workgroups forming to come up with a substantive plan to address mental health that will be presented to the community in the fall of 2019.

At that forum were parents, students, community members, and business owners. One of them was Sue Whitmarsh, owner of Breathe Yoga in downtown Chelsea. Whitmarsh told The Sun Times her high school aged son had lost his best friend a few years ago.

“That was the first of many losses in the town,” said Whitmarsh. “Just seeing the need for teen mental health to be addressed, not just internationally, is an issue. You just see more and more stuff in the news and on social media about how much our children are struggling from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other mental health issues.”

“As a community, I think there’s a lot of hard expectations put on our youth that we’re supposed to be this certain way,” added Dianna Kause, one the instructors for Breathe Yoga. “I’d like to see that disappear. That we don’t have these judgements and these expectations, but it’s more about accepting and celebrating everybody.”

Whitmarsh said she knew there had to be something to offer kids as far as somewhere to feel safe, relaxed, and even a place to learn skills to deal with anxiety and depression. She told The Sun Times she wanted to help take away the negative stigma of addressing these issues and help kids find the tools to deal with them.

The result? The “Get Woke!” event series.

“One of the issues that we found is that, ‘All right. The cost is a barrier,’” said Whitmarsh. As a business, Whitmarsh said can’t apply for a grant for costs but had two local friends and business owners, Susan Brown and Paul Schissler, step up and cover the costs of the summer and fall programming.

After a more defined community effort with Whitmarsh and Kause attending many of those meetings, they were ready to step in and do their part and hope other businesses will continue to do the same.

Both Whitmarsh and Kause are trained to teach yoga to teenagers. One of the things that came out of the many community meetings they attended was an idea of somewhere for kids to go, especially with summer arriving and avenues of support not being as readily available as during the school year.

There are plans to do more extensive weeks of event series moving forward beginning in the fall, but Whitmarsh said they wanted to have these opportunities available now, too.

“Yoga, it’s very principled,” said Whitmarsh. “Its foundation is in non-harming and compassion and kindness, and this is what we’re going to be teaching. We’re going to be teaching positive affirmations, how to look at yourself differently, find compassion for your own self, and then you can turn that outwards. The breadth of this (event series) will touch on a lot of things on the wellness meter.”

The series has hashtags to promote itself that include #beflawsome, #getwoke, #fiercewarrior,
and #breatheyogachelsea.

“Be flawsome,” was a play on words, combining “be flawed” and “be awesome.” It’s meant to encourage attendees to be themselves.

“We just wanted to invite kids to accept themselves, flaws and all,” said Whitmarsh. “Because we’re all flawed. But we believe that we have to be perfect. We believe that we can’t have flaws. We can’t show that side of ourselves. So, this space … We want people, kids, to feel comfortable, being their best version of themselves without feeling like they have to put on a façade.”