Elan Gepner:  Change Maker Spotlight

Elan Gepner: Change Maker Spotlight

Elan spent nearly a decade as a filmmaker, producer, performer, and director. With a service focus to his work, he founded the non-profit Building Blocks Project, which delivered transformative arts programs to youth in schools and correctional facilities across Philadelphia. Elan’s passion is alleviating stress and violence in the lives of youth. He currently serves as the Executive Director of SKY Schools (formally the Youth Empowerment Seminar), with a focus on helping youth and educators to transform their inner state, and school climate. Elan has presented nationally and internationally on the power of meditation for individual, school, and community transformation.

SKY Schools provides students, parents and school staff with a toolkit of restorative practices. Our unique whole-body approach to stress and social emotional learning combines transformative physiological techniques, including breathing and meditation, along with cognitive awareness tools. This approach supports participants’ inner states and the overall school climate, attending to the source of many chronic school concerns, including behavioral issues, absenteeism and truancy, and the all around well-being of all members of the community. Simultaneously, it uplifts qualities such as responsibility, commitment, compassion, service, and cooperation. In ten years, we’ve supported nearly 100,000 students in over 190 schools.

YD:   How did you get involved with SKY Schools?

Elan Gepner: While assisting coach the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Slam team, I learned that other teams were taking the SKY Empowerment Seminar. Our head coach then took the SKY Campus Happiness program at UPenn, loved it, and recommended it to all of us. I was already meditating and doing yoga but gave it a shot and it blew me away! Using the practices stress just fell dissolved and I had so much more energy. I knew then that this was the gift I wanted to give to youth I was working with in schools and prisons across Philadelphia. Now I get to share it across the nation.

YD: How do you stay motivated and inspired to better yourself as a leader?

EG: Keep learning. I notice that I’m the best leader when I’m the most curious student. When I’m spending more time listening and learning, exploring what the needs and opportunities are, and staying passionate and open about the possibilities, then I want to be and become a better and more inspiring leader. A great team is also the trick. No matter how passionate I am personally about a goal, and even if at times I feel I can move faster alone, there’s nothing that pushes, pulls, and inspires me like working with other passionate, visionary people who are committed to a service for the greater good.

YD: Why is it important to have a mission and intention in business?

EG: In business, so often the mission and intention is the bottom line, earnings, but this rarely draws out our highest. To produce remarkable results, whatever the product of purpose of the venture, we need an objective and mission that inspires us beyond our basic needs and greed. To take us beyond our comfort zone into innovation and growth, we need a mission and collective intention that inspires our own and a team’s best efforts and creativity. When we are clear on the WHY, we have energy and focus to tackle the What and How.

YD: What direction do you see the health/wellness industry going in 10 years?

EG: The health and wellness industry is going to keep booming, as science gives us more insight into what works and what doesn’t, and meditation will be the mechanism of the near future. If you look at the evolution of health and wellness over the last century, simple principles become dominant, from hygiene to diet and exercise. These days we take it as a given that you’re giving some thought to all of these if you’re pursuing health. The next wave of awareness is around stress, and amidst all the solutions, meditation and targeted neural-restorative practices such as breathwork will emerge as commonplace, recommended by all doctors.

YD: What is your life motto?

EG:   Festina Lente! Latin for “make haste slowly, ” for me personally it’s come to mean, slow down to go faster. In a world of rushing, of course it helps move with awareness in order to avoid mistakes. Even more so, I’ve learned that it I want to go my fastest, be most efficient and effective, to accomplish the most, I need to prioritize taking the time to stop, meditate, reset, and from there I can fly and not burnout. It’s counter intuitive in our “do more ” society, but when I’m extra busy, I make the time to meditate more, and then the stretch becomes fun!