Meet Alix Dunham
On a mission to teach empowerment and resilience to kids
When Alix Dunham became aware of the growing rates of anxiety and depression among youth in our community, she knew something needed to be done. She believed technology was taking a toll and shifting the culture. “Kids are plugged in too much and not connecting personally with each other in a meaningful or mindful way,” she said. “It’s one of the factors contributing to our current mental health crisis.”
Motivated by other parents and concerns for her own children, Alix developed Girls with Grit, a program aimed at building brain health and soul resilience in young girls.
How Girls with Grit started
Alix has taught Pink Petal Ballet for the past 19 years at North Vancouver Recreation & Culture (NVRC), a program that uses dance to teach girls between ages 2-8 to be kind, confident and creative.
Parents came to her asking for something to help older girls cope with stress and anxiety. Alix developed Girls with Grit to build on Pink Petal and give girls age 8-13 the “tools they need to need in order to live their life in the most authentic way and not let all the pressures of social media, friends, family, and school crowd their brain.”
Alix did extensive research. “ We talked to teachers, parents, people in the mental health industry, a neuroscientist, and many others to come up with the best approach.”
“Our goal is to prevent mental health issues before they take hold,” Alix explained. “Soul resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress and pressure. We teach them how to help their brains slow down and deal with the world.”
Collaborating with NVRC
Alix appreciates the support she’s received from NVRC and said, “We approached NVRC about doing the program and they said yes right away and jumped in. We did the first program as a pilot project for free. NVRC has really been ahead of the curve in all their diverse programming and it’s really been a wonderful thing.”
The Girls with Grit program uses yoga, meditation (which Alix calls Brain Train), crafts and conversation to teach girls the tools they need to navigate through challenging life issues. They start with a group session, talking about school, relationships, fears and anxieties. They also discuss mental health, so the girls learn that feeling anxiety, anger and sadness is normal, how to recognize if it becomes a problem, how to use tools to deal with their challenges and where to find help if needed.
“We want them to understand that these feelings are part of life,” Alix explained. “There is so much focus on physical health but brain health is just as important in raising healthy kids.”
Following the group conversations the girls move on to activities. Crafts push away anxiety and focus on creativity. Yoga and meditation help the girls make the mind/body connection, necessary for soul resilience. With these tools the girls feel calmer, stronger and more in control and they find their school and friendships improve.
“We want them to have faith,” Alix said. “To learn their experiences are part of their being human and that they will be ok.”
Since it began in 2016, Girls with Grit has helped almost 1,000 girls through programs offered at NVRC, in schools and privately in the community and there is increasing demand for the program. Alix’s future plans include taking the program to other communities and launching an all gender program - Kids with Grit.
When asked why she’s so passionate about her work, she said, “I’m very rewarded when I see these girls holding their heads up high, making it through this life and knowing they’re okay.”