Kristina Cavit takes a gentle approach to changing lives
"Being adopted, I always felt like I'd hit the jackpot growing up with so much privilege and love.
"I felt a sense of responsibility for the kids who weren't as lucky as I was. I knew I wanted to give back and do something meaningful with my time. But I never imagined dedicating my life to working with youth, volunteering full-time and living off the smell of an oily rag."
Founder of The Kindness Institute, a not-for-profit organisation that helps improve mental health and leadership capabilities through mindfulness, meditation and yoga, Kristina Cavit is very gently changing lives for the better, including those of some of our most vulnerable children.
The Kindness Institute came about through Cavit's previous work with communities in need both in New Zealand and abroad.
"Starting a not-for-profit organisation on my own, with no seed fund behind me, has had it's ups and downs."
Cavit says the biggest personal challenge is not having other people around her to inspire and push her on a day-to-day basis.
"Sometimes working from my kitchen table alone, I wonder what the hell I'm doing. It's in these times I remind myself of the amazing volunteers and friends I have backing me 100 per cent. Without them, none of this would have happened.
"I connect back to how grateful I am to be doing this work - there's nothing else I'd rather be doing with my time."
"What we do on the day-to-day at The Kindness Institute is show these kids how to get peace and love on the inside with yoga and meditation.
"If there's no love on the outside, what's going on inside is something that no one can take away from them. We teach them, through our classes, that these tools can be used to build resilience, deal with trauma, reduce stress and help develop positive relationships.
"A lot of the young people we work with live chaotic, unstable lives and face the effects of urban poverty. They are kids who most people have turned their backs on, but our work has already proven to have made a difference for vulnerable youth in Aotearoa," says Cavit.
"We make it fun from the get go - in the first class they usually have little idea what it's all about and some of them find it hard in the beginning, completely weird and out of their comfort zone.
"But once they give it a go and get into the practice they tend to resonate with it really strongly. I think it has to do with that it's a time just for them where they can be safe and don't have to worry about responsibilities or being hypervigilant.
"One of our young boys, who was known as a 'troublemaker', told me he recently taught his friends how to meditate and breathe instead of fighting and getting into trouble. He's now teaching his little brother.
"Our kids learn how to teach others during our programs and they carry this on outside the classroom. I love that this work has a ripple effect."
Looking to 2017, Cavit has equally large goals, hopes and aspirations, continuing to grow on her current work as well as running local retreats and a yoga and meditation program for orphans in the Dominican Republic.
On a personal level, she says this year has taught her she can only be supportive of others when she takes pressure off herself.
Cavit's advice for people seeking to improve their own lives in the year ahead is to take some time just for themselves, in a place without distraction, to think about what they're grateful for and what they want to do in their lives.
"We're often so busy with the rush of life that pausing to consider what we really want isn't an option. Taking the time to get still and visualise what we want can open us up to see clearly where we need to go."
People can also make positive changes to their own lives by speaking for and helping others.
"The thing that makes me happiest is giving back and volunteering my time through meaningful work. Hands down, every time.
"Volunteering is amazing and with the right organisation, can do so much good. But if money and time aren't on your side, you can still make positive change in the world from your home or work. Try to meet everyone with a sense of kindness and without judgement.
"If you can do this for an entire day - let me know! It might sound simple but it can be the most powerful shift for you and everyone around you. Think of it as your own version of inner volunteering."