There are many reasons to tackle mental health issues, trauma, violence, isolation, and disconnection in our society. How we treat others in our culture illustrates our level of consciousness, and more importantly, our capacity for empathy. If we don’t take action to raise our communities’ emotional and social intelligence, violence, separation, and suffering will likely only continue to permeate. When we make true connections with one another, we thrive. When we work together to creatively solve problems, we collectively build our resiliency. In doing so, we effect long-term positive change amidst our culture, societal conditions, perspectives, and belief systems.
The idea for True Connection was birthed in 2009 when two best friends from Detroit, MI traveled to Africa to teach creative arts and healing modalities to 50 orphaned youth in Sierra Leone. These two women wanted to cultivate meaningful and inspiring connections to children who had experienced war, were abandoned, and dealing with hardships. Thus, Founder Nadine Heimann and social worker, Kayana Sessoms, developed a two-week healing arts program to educate these children on trauma and PTSD, introducing mind-body connection practices and providing skills to help them navigate life’s traumas and challenges. Nadine, Kayana and a small team taught creative arts, mindfulness, meditation, and lessons on self-empowerment. The two women knew that with the right tools, the orphaned youth of Sierra Leone could begin to turn their biggest obstacles into their greatest opportunities for further growth, resiliency, and creativity. This experience left such a lasting impact that Nadine and Kayana decided to expand the program and returned to Sierra Leone two years later.
As Kayana came home and devoted her life to youth empowerment services (she is currently managing community organizations in Detroit), Nadine brought the healing arts program to Los Angeles and founded True Connection 501c3 in 2012. Leaders and volunteers in education, mental health, and wellness came together to further develop and enhance the curriculum. Character development became a focal aspect, as well as digging into core values, beliefs, and goals. For five years, Mia Eden, Healing Arts Program Director, served youth in afterschool and community programs throughout LA, Compton, and Watts. Volunteers served The Children’s Institute; YMCA; The Mar Vista Family Center; The Salvation Army; Grand View Elementary; and The Mauli Ola Foundation, and they collaborated with the Boxberry School in Oxford, Maine. They also trained teachers in Honduras with the help of the Humanity & Hope United Foundation to serve three schools in rural communities.
At the end of 2015, True Connection advanced its goals and joined the SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) movement in education. For over two years, Nadine Heimann, Tenley Hardin, and Armen Ohannessian—along with many other dedicated hearts—worked diligently to conceive “HiEQ,” a SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) curriculum for adolescents.
The HiEQ Pilot Program launched in 2018 with numerous homeschool families, schools, and community organizations in LA and the United States. True Connection continues to equip kids with the necessary tools to manage long-term traumatic stress symptoms and balance emotional regulation. HiEQ not only helps prevent mental health issues, violence, and isolation, but also empowers students to set clear goals, which instill a sense of purpose. The ultimate aim of HiEQ is to facilitate emotional and mental growth in youth, helping them gain greater awareness about their emotions, so that they can creatively and empathetically solve problems, within themselves, their families, communities, and the world.
Created by a student at The All As One Orphanage during our Healing Arts Program in Freetown, Sierra Leone circa 2011.