Allison Paradise recently founded a youth organization focused on advancing the mental health of children and young people.
Paradise, founder and former CEO of the nonprofit My Green Lab, a sustainable scientific research company, brought her youth organization The Epicenter to Grand Haven this summer for three five-day educational sessions July 11-29.
She founded The Epicenter in 2021 and stepped away from her work in sustainability to reconnect with what she found most important, which is empowering young people to connect with their purpose and self.
“I started asking people questions, why do you do things the way you do them,” Paradise said, describing her initial interest in exploring human identity. “Almost always, if you dig deep enough, the answer is, ‘Oh, it’s just a habit I’ve developed,’ or ‘I don’t think about it, it’s something I’ve always done.'”
For her, Epicenter began with the recognition that many adults worked or engaged in their social circles out of habit rather than authenticity.
With this realization, Epicenter’s first seeds were planted as Paradise began working with adults to help them discover their true motivations and interests and challenge the norm of a cookie-cutter lifestyle.
In November 2020 she had the idea for a children’s book which was finally published in December 2021. The book “The Mistake” outlined for the readers the process of self-discovery and self-exploration. When the idea for The Mistake came up, Paradise realized that while she wanted to continue working with adults, she really wanted to focus the majority of her work on raising children.
She said helping children break the patterns of self-doubt and helping them cultivate the freedom and empowerment needed to live authentically and thrive without mental limitations is a key element in empowering a new generation of Creating adults who live as their true selves.
Although Paradise is not a certified therapist, she holds a master’s degree in neuroscience from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in applied science in neuroscience and Spanish literature from Brown University, where she graduated magna cum laude.
Paradise does not describe their work as therapy or expect it to function as such.
“I have no expectations or plans going into this matter,” she said. “I just keep space for people.”
For Paradise, holding space is the process of challenging and encouraging the self-exploration of the clients she works with. For children, the process often involves creating artworks creatively with materials like finger paints or just being in nature.
The Epicenter is based in Santa Cruz, California, where Paradise holds classes and one-to-one sessions. Her first session of the summer recently concluded after running a series of Monday to Thursday courses from May 29th to June 17th. The courses focused on the 7 to 11 year old age group exploring nature and their own creative interests The Guidance of Paradise.
She originally 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.
Their July session series at this Grand Haven location (exact location is not being disclosed at this time due to privacy concerns) will begin on July 11 and will continue through July 30. from 18 years). The site has running water, toilets and access to forest and lake areas for a variety of activities.
Classes are held over five consecutive days, at the end of which Paradise hopes to achieve visible empowerment and confidence in their students.
For her younger students, Epicenter’s summer session consists primarily of guided exploration of nature and spirit, which often takes the form of writing, discussions, hands-on artistic activities, walks in the woods, and time for quiet mindfulness.
Older students follow the same structure but focus more on self-reflection and meditation.
She keeps her classes free of 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 that can accommodate up to 12 children.
“Some of the work will be all together in a group, and some of it will involve individual one-on-one time,” Paradise said. “There is a natural rhythm that forms throughout the day as students move between outward expression and inward reflection, and we simply follow that rhythm to provide them with a group for outward expression and an individual room for reflection support.”
Paradise said she often chooses to begin classes with young students with a central question to guide them.
“The question I really like is that kids start writing a story about what the word ‘strong’ means,” Paradise said. “That’s an interesting question, and a lot of kids that age (7-10) are starting to feel weak about themselves.
“From then on, I usually just see what’s happening. I usually just follow where the kids want to go. Eventually one of these days they’re going to have a writing session about (the questions) ‘Who are you?’ “How do people see you?” ‘How do you see yourself?’”
Paradise said she refuses to ask children who they want to be when they grow up, instead focusing on who they see themselves as now and helping them lay a solid emotional foundation for their formative years .
Her lessons are more open-ended and geared towards the needs of the children who arrive and their individual personality. Paradise also said she works closely with parents and creates more structured class times for parents who value a structured learning environment for their children.
“We prefer that the parents not be present throughout the session simply because we find that children tend to please their parents and therefore hold back or censor themselves or try to get their parents’ attention, often without it knowing when their parents are around,” she says.
“Of course, parents are an important part of our community. We involve parents at the end of the sessions and in follow-up discussions, where we share our observations and offer support where needed. We also usually ask the parents to stay for the first 10 minutes of the first session just so they have an idea of who we are and what our vision is for the week.”
If their outing to West Michigan this summer proves successful, Paradise plans to expand further in the state in hopes of building an all-ages retreat center that will provide year-round space for people to grow food, an area for cooking and spaces for art, music, dance and other creative pursuits.