This week Youth Arts Alliance is sending Jasdeep Kler, our invaluable Director of Programming and Evaluation off into the world.

Public Art

Jasdeep is a 2020 graduate of the University of Michigan School of Public Health where he earned his master’s in global health epidemiology. This fall, he’ll be donning maize and blue again as a student at U-M’s School of Medicine. He’s still deciding what type of medicine he’d like to pursue, but is leaning toward pediatrics. 

Jasdeep’s contributions to the youth artists has been immense! Jasdeep supported the training of teaching artists with more ways to integrate mindfulness into arts practices and projects. He leveraged his incredible skills and expertise in epidemiology as we navigated serving teen artists and families throughout the pandemic. Additionally, Jasdeep helped build out our Arts + Mindfulness Family Program which invites the whole family to engage in arts and mindfulness together. Jasdeep embodies values that center youths’ leadership and visions for healthier, more just communities. It is not a surprise how beloved he is by everyone he connects and collaborates with. We’re so grateful to have Jasdeep continuing to support the mission of YAA in new ways and roles, and we wish him great success during his next chapter! Thank you Jasdeep for your dedication, and being YOU!

How did you get involved with YAA?

I first encountered YAA through the Schweitzer Fellowship, which is headquartered outside of Detroit. It’s a service learning fellowship that allows fellows to implement a project with a nonprofit.

In undergrad, I’d done mindfulness research and wanted to do a mindfulness-oriented project. One of my mentors at the School of Public Health, knew of YAA through one of his friends Yusuf Lateef, one of the teaching artists. He recommended that I connect with Heather Martin, YAA’s Founding Director, who was interested in implementing a mindfulness project.

During my second year at the School of Public Health, I taught a bunch of different workshops focused on mindfulness with YAA and stayed on for another year to work part-time.

Do you have a favorite mindfulness practice?

There’s a long history of doing mindful walking, people walk across the country meditating. It’s pretty wild. One of my favorite ones, and one of the kid’s favorites is walking meditation practice.

With every step they take, they say something that they’re grateful for. They say it out loud if they’re comfortable and it’s interesting hearing the first few things that come to their minds. By the end, most youth realize that they have a lot to be grateful for.

We usually partner that activity with a writing activity or visual arts activity, like writing a letter to someone or something that they’re grateful for. Just expressing gratitude in some way. Some youth will actually write it and give it to whoever they’re grateful for, or some just like writing as a habit and reminder for themselves.

Do you have a favorite YAA memory?

There was a music studio built at Parkridge Community Center, and as the studio was under development, we got to paint the different rooms. Heather invited me to join the painting pretty early on when I had just started the workshops. 

It was nice to be a part of a community. I liked meeting everyone, getting my hands dirty and actually being involved in the process of building the space that I knew we would be using soon. It was exciting.

Any advice for people who are interested in getting involved with YAA?

To be involved in youth’s lives means so much and is hugely impactful. You get to help in personal development and to connect with diverse youth. Whatever they’re going through, it builds your capacity to be empathetic.

It’s also a great creative outlet. Before all of these workshops, my arts practice was pretty light. There were only a few things I was interested in. Working with youth who are interested in a variety of things, I learned how to do art like watercolor and oil pastels. It was an opportunity to flex those creative muscles that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

But, I think the biggest takeaway is the relationships you build with the youth. During one of my first workshops, I was at Monroe County Youth Center and the youth really loved the workshop. They opted to, on their own, write thank you notes for me and mail them over. I appreciated that so much because I had such an impact on them that they wanted to share their great experiences. They shared how they were able to be more vulnerable and to communicate with each other.

At YAA, yes, we impact youth, but we also impact the culture of an organization and of an institution to make it a little bit more humane.