Fiona Jensen

Cape Cod Life  /  Annual Life 2020 /

Writer: Elizabeth Shaw

Founder of Calmer Choice  \\  Planting seeds in a garden you may not get to see. 

Calmer Choice is a community-based nonprofit organization, focused on spreading kindness and mindfulness, started by Fiona Jensen and a group of other parents and community members concerned about their children’s well being after tragedy struck Barnstable High School. After experiencing the deaths of three classmates within six months in 2010, Jensen saw the fear and stress in her daughter and friends that spread amongst herself and other parents. Jensen recalled a stress reduction class she had taken and thought that it could help her daughter and her classmates. Jensen approached her mindfulness coach and asked if he had ever considered teaching kids. “He said, ‘as long as you can figure out a way to get them to me’,” Jensen explains. “So I said, ‘what if we put you in the school? What if somehow we could integrate this stress reduction program into the high school?’” 

Because the school and the school system were in such a devastated place, Jensen had a window in which the school agreed to bring the program into Barnstable High. But it didn’t come without a cost. “My husband and I are both roadracers, so we thought we’d organize a race to raise the money. What happened was that the community was in crisis and it quickly became so much bigger than just my idea. There were a lot of other parents who were at their wits end as well. We all banded together and created the Destress Express and raised close to $5,000 which was actually enough to fund two programs,” Jensen recalls. In an unexpected and beautiful outpouring of local support, businesses and individuals came together to help heal the community, starting with the kids.

Fiona Jensen

Calmer Choice caters their mindfulness programs to who they are teaching. Elementary students spend about 20 minutes, twice a week learning about how their emotions work, and how to focus their attention, as well as kindness and perspective. Middle schoolers and high schoolers may spend 45 minutes, once a week in the program, while busy adults may do two hours, once a week. “A lot of what we teach is about actual practice, it’s very interactive,” Jensen explains. “The beauty of what we teach is that it’s not about someone telling you to practice what we teach, it’s about the kids learning that it works so they do it for themselves.” Jensen and Calmer Choice have endless stories from principals or test proctors about seeing kids stop what they are doing on the playground or during a test, take a moment and practice breathing or other mindfulness strategies taught by Calmer Choice. “Our vision in the beginning was just to create a kinder environment. The idea is that if we are kinder to ourselves, we’ll be kinder to other people. And, if we’re kinder to ourselves, we aren’t going to be hurting ourselves.”

Calmer Choice works in three branches; one branch works with the kids in schools, one training schools to continue their work, and one working with community organizations to bring the mindfulness program to people across the Cape who aren’t in school anymore. Calmer Choice has brought mindfulness programs to women’s organizations and first responders, as well as reaching out to grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren because of the opioid epidemic. “When we started teaching mindfulness and social emotional competencies in schools, there was always this sense of, ‘what if we were able to train teachers and we could teach community members, because someday, these kids are going to graduate and become part of the community?’ So, what would it look like if we could do that on Cape Cod? How could we create a mindful, kind Cape Cod?’” Through training teachers, Jensen realized that their program was just as applicable to the greater Cape Cod community. “We really learned as we were working with teachers and parents that this is something that’s part of how to manage being human on this planet at the moment.”

Barnstable High School held its first mindfulness program in 2010 and in the 10 years since, Calmer Choice has helped over 32,000 kids in over 30 different schools. “I like to say I started a non-profit by mistake,” Jensen laughs. “But the goal is to teach the schools to teach the children themselves. Our vision for the future is to be able to teach other people to do what we’ve done. And really, my vision is that this organization continues without me eventually. As a founder, there will come a time when I’ll want to hand this over.” A legacy is planting seeds in a garden you may not get to see, and creating a kinder, more mindful world is quite a legacy to leave behind. 

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Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth Shaw is a former assistant editor, photographer & videographer for Cape Cod Life Publications. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Elizabeth spent many summers on the Cape, before she and her family moved down full time in 2016. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island as a double major in Writing & Rhetoric and Film Media, and started at Cape Cod Life the following fall. In her free time, she takes as many pictures of her dog, Watson, as possible, in between beach trips.