BY GENNA NORDLING
After coming home from art class one day, 10-year-old Adam Avin showed his mom a picture he drew of Wuf Shanti, a dog character he had created. The pictures Avin drew of Wuf Shanti did not just hang on the refrigerator, but helped to turn Avin into an author and a founder of a non-profit organization.
After creating his character, Avin—with the help of his mother—wrote the book “My Great-Granddog was a Yoga Instructor” to honor his recently deceased great-grandfather.
“My great-grandpa passed away and I wanted to do something to honor him because he was a very mindful person, a yogi at heart, even though he really didn’t do any yoga,” Avin said. “I showed my mom the dog and she really loved it, so we took my grandpa’s mantras [and] positive messages, and wrote the first book.”
With the goal of teaching kids mindfulness and social-emotional learning, Avin continued to expand Wuf Shanti and created his non-profit organization with the same name. Through fun and games, kids can learn relaxation and happiness techniques, breathing exercises and how to treat others with kindness.
Now a sophomore, Avin and his organization have grown significantly in the past 5 years. Wuf Shanti reaches across the world to children aged 3–10 through multiple books, an app and videos that air on the local PBS station as well as the Children’s Hospital Network. While the heart and soul of Wuf Shanti is educating children, Avin decided to branch out and created a separate curriculum for teens and tweens to learn important skills as well.
In February, Avin and Wuf Shanti held the inaugural Mindful Kids Peace Summit, a five-day online summit that focuses on diversity, inclusion, communication, anti-bullying, mindfulness and social-emotional learning. Avin interviewed experts and had them speak on these topics. Avin and his organization were already working on making a curriculum for older participants, but after the events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), he felt even more determined to help those in their teenage years.
“… By [introducing] the Mindful Kids Peace Summit and reaching teens, hopefully mental health issues will not be the [main] problem they face.”
“If we can help teens, even if we can help younger kids, hopefully nothing like MSD will happen again,” Avin said. “According to the New York Times, 70 percent of teens say that mental health issues are the number one problem they face. So, by [introducing] the Mindful Kids Peace Summit and reaching teens, hopefully mental health issues will not be the [main] problem they face.”
After the success of his summit, drawing in over 7 million viewers, Avin was invited to do a TED Talk at the TEDxYouth event in Kentucky. The theme of the event was “Making a Scene” and highlighted young people that were using their voices to make a positive change in the world.
“Adam was amazing, he put his mind to learning [the presentation], practiced every day and was incredible,” Adam’s mother Marni Becker-Avin said. “I was so proud of him, and I’m happy for him that all his hard work is paying off. This was a huge opportunity because his message is reaching so many… people.”
It took Avin about six weeks to prepare for the presentation, most of which were spent memorizing what he was going to say and practicing with the Powerpoint. But when Avin’s not preparing for a TED Talk, he is still a fairly busy person, as he is trying to balance school, homework, clubs, sports and daily life with his Wuf Shanti duties which include developing an app, making videos, visiting hospitals and schools, conducting interviews and publishing books.
Even with help, Avin’s duties can become a little overwhelming. To combat the pressure and stress, Avin follows his own tips for mindfulness and mental health.
“The advice I give to everyone is if you can just try, take five minutes out of your day to just relax, do something you like and breathe,” Avin said. “You can just lie on the couch watching TV, believe in getting better.”
“Kids everywhere would benefit from our mindfulness curriculum and social-emotional learning. Talking about mental health education is very important.”
Currently, Avin and Wuf Shanti are creating a digital textbook with information from the Mindful Kids Peace Summit, as well as re-releasing the summit the week of September 23. This is the same week as Broward County Public Schools’ Peace Week and Avin is working to get as many schools in Broward County and all over the world as possible to participate.
“I think kids at our school would benefit from the peace summit,” Avin said. “I think a lot of experts that I spoke to share a lot of good information. Kids everywhere would benefit from our mindfulness curriculum and social-emotional learning. Talking about mental health education is very important.”
Mindfulness, mental health and well-being are all very important to Avin, and he hopes that by spreading this information to people while they are young, it can have a positive influence on the future.
“We want to teach these kids and teens how to be empathetic adults who solve their problems in better, more productive ways, without violence,” Avin said. “I know it’s a big issue and hopefully I’m spreading the word and other people [will] soon catch on, because if we learn to cope with our emotions now, it will help us later in life.”
Dog character or not, Avin is making a huge impact on the youth of the world through the material he produces through Wuf Shanti.
Photo courtesy of Tedx Talks