Social entrepreneur aims to make the world stress-free with new nonprofit

     Sam Beard speaks to the Rotary Club about his nonprofit, GIFT. (Zoe Read/WHYY).

    Sam Beard speaks to the Rotary Club about his nonprofit, GIFT. (Zoe Read/WHYY).

    Sam Beard wants to spread peace with the launch of his nonprofit, the Global Investment Foundation for Tomorrow (GIFT). 

    Jennifer Tedesco stood in front of a room of about 200 guests, and asked them to stand up and do something she said Americans struggle to do – look around the room and look each other in the eye.

    “Take a minute and really look at who’s in the room with you,” said Tedesco, a psychologist. “Look at these people, and understand deeply everyone wants the same stuff.”

    Social entrepreneur, fundraiser and public servant Sam Beard invited her to speak to an audience about the benefits of mindfulness meditation.

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    During a Rotary Club of Wilmington meeting at the Hotel du Pont on Thursday, he announced the formation of a new nonprofit with roots in Delaware. The organization aims to improve the well-being of one billion people worldwide and generate $1 billion by 2030.

    Beard is working to help spread the practice of mindfulness meditation throughout Delaware, the nation and the world with the launch of GIFT.

    “There are about 10 to 15 million Americans who meditate and get the benefits of it, and that means there are 360 million that aren’t. And around the world there may be a billion people who meditate, which means there are seven billion that are not,” he said.

    “It has the opportunity to elevate human behavior, and if we look at problems — it’s about strife between countries, strife between religions — and this gives us an opportunity to be more mindful, increase our sense of compassion, increase the sense we’re all in this together and it wouldn’t be bad to try to save the planet.”

    Mindfulness is a type of meditation practice focused on awareness on the present and observing thoughts and feelings from a distance. Practitioners say mindfulness reduces stress and depression, improves empathy, compassion and creativity, and boosts concentration and awareness.

    “It’s as simple as close your eyes, breathe in and breathe out,” Beard said.

    Tedesco said unlike other forms of meditation, practitioners do no try to achieve anything in particular, other than have awareness of the present. When their mind wanders off, they learn how to refocus their thoughts to the present.

    Tedesco, a health behavior coordinator for Wilmington Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, said Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has helped veterans suffering from PTSD tremendously.

    “Let’s say you want to run the New York Marathon. In order to run all those miles you have to train so the architecture of your body can endure something like that,” she said. 

    “Mindfulness practices changing the shape and architecture of your brain so you are better able to live in fulfillment of your truest intentions. Most people’s intentions are based around compassion, loving kindness, feeling safe, being okay and being happy. But in order for your brain to cash that check you have to have enough in the bank account.”

    Beard said thousands of businesses, schools and other agencies across the nation are already participating in mindfulness practice.

    On Thursday, Beard asked Eric Anderson, vice president of the Charter School of Wilmington, to discuss how mindfulness changed his life, and his work to bring mindfulness into Delaware’s schools.

    Anderson said he and some of his teachers meet biweekly to practice mindfulness meditation. He said having voluntary meditation sessions can be beneficial to educators and their influence on students.

    “Even if a student has a bad experience one day you can’t write that student off. You have to let that hard feeling go — they’re a kid and they need to grow. You have to take it as, ‘This day is going to be better,’ and not judge the current day from the previous day,” Anderson said. “It changes relationships within the building as far as administration and the teachers, and gives a common ground to approach each other with respect and compassion.”

    Work in Delaware has already started to introduce mindfulness in schools, hospitals, business and government, but said he would like to help incorporate it in even more schools and businesses to help students and employees eliminate stress and increase productivity; and into hospitals to help those facing mental illness and trauma.

    He said he’s already trying to get the practice into Boys and Girls Clubs and community associations in Delaware, and asking the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to train health professionals in mindfulness to help their clients.

    Beard said he’s also got various chambers of commerce to agree to sending 10,000 emails to executives and employees to offer free mindful training.

    Tedesco said there aren’t enough skilled mindfulness meditation teachers in Delaware, and would like GIFT to fund and facilitate greater teacher education. She said even if one person practices mindfulness meditation, it can benefit everyone around them.

    “I want you to imagine a very still pond and I want you to imagine taking a big rock and hurling it into the still pond, and now you have all these ripples. This is the way I think mindfulness is of the greatest benefit for Delawareans,” Tedesco said. “What leads to suffering for human beings is other people’s suffering and our own suffering. So if I’m not as stressed as tensed and suffering, I am then not going to be as nasty and unpleasant to other people I touch in my world and it literally ripples out.”

    Beard’s goal is to get 100,000 Delawareans involved in the practice within five years; and within three to eight years, he wants to increase funding for research and programming by $150 million per year nationwide; and increase funding for programming to $200 to $300 million per year.

    The money raised could be used to spread mindfulness in any capacity, or even fund other charitable organizations, Beard said. He said he may also use the money to fund already successful charities that help those in need.

    “It’s a question if you get to your tombstone as a businessperson you can say, ‘Well I met payroll every Tuesday, and took in this much money and had this many employees,’ but that’s not what you want on your tombstone,” Beard said. “The tombstone is about values and about, ‘I made a difference in the world,’ so that’s the appeal.”

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