We bring yoga to as many students as possible. Not after school, but right there in the classroom, where the learning happens.

About Us

Bent On Learning is a nonprofit organization committed to teaching yoga to New York City public school children. We bring yoga to as many students as possible—not after school, but right there, in the classroom, where the learning happens.

Yoga teaches children to use their body and mind to learn and live better.

By providing every child with their own mat and integrating the practice of yoga into their daily routine, Bent On Learning helps children learn to feel better about themselves, release stress, and calm their emotions— all of which makes them healthier and happier. And let’s face it: Kids need to be healthy and happy in order to learn.

Our History

Bent On Learning formed in 2001 when three yoga teachers, Anne Desmond, Jennifer Ford and Courtney McDowell, met by chance in their mutual and passionate pursuit of bringing yoga to urban youth. They began as a small, volunteer effort with a smattering of classes in a few public schools. After the events of September 11th, New Visions for Public Schools tapped Bent On Learning to coordinate a yoga program to help children to heal and to manage post-traumatic stress. As a result, their small, volunteer program immediately swelled.

Our impact is beyond measure. Our success is not.

Over the past 15 years, Bent On Learning has taught yoga to approximately 18,000 kids. Many of our students have been practicing with our yoga program throughout their time in school and enjoying the benefits yoga brings to their classroom experience and their daily lives. Additionally, as many teachers participate along with their students, they benefit personally while also learning how to integrate basic yogic techniques into their daily classes—further helping our kids to find focus and balance.

Our Founders and Staff

Anne Desmond, Executive Director

Anne has been practicing yoga since 1995 and is co-creator of Bent On Learning’s curriculum and training for middle and high school students. After many years of teaching yoga to hundreds of teens in the classroom, she currently serves as Executive Director, oversees all aspects of the organization and ensures excellence in the organization’s operations and program.

Anne received a Bachelor of Science degree from Drexel University, and, prior to Bent On Learning, worked in technology as a business analyst, project manager, and web and database developer.

Niza Disla, Director of Development

Niza joined the Bent On Learning team in April 2017.  She is a New York City native, born in the Bronx, and comes to us with 15 years experience in partnership marketing.  She previously served as the VP of Partnerships for Marvel Entertainment’s Promotions, Custom Publishing, Print and Digital global businesses and also worked for both advertising and kids entertainment licensing industries.

Niza is an avid global traveler and volunteer who is a passionate advocate for children’s education and wellness. She has seen the impact that a yoga and mindfulness practice has made in her life and lives of children.   Niza is working with us on all aspects of donor relations, fundraising, and partnership development.

She is a graduate of Penn State University and holds a B.S. in both Marketing and International Business and has minors in Management Information Systems and Management.

Jennifer Ford, Co-founder

Jennifer has been practicing and studying yoga since 1995. She received her 200-Hour Yoga Alliance Teacher Certification in 1999, and also holds teaching certificates for pre- and post-natal yoga, yoga for labor and delivery, and Yoga for the Special Child™ (focusing on yoga for children with autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome). For the past 15 years, she has supplemented her yogic studies through attending and participating in numerous yoga-related workshops and seminars.  She also attends national and local conferences and seminars that focus on autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities.

Jennifer holds a Master’s degree in Education from The New School for Social Research and for many years taught in the New York City Public School system, working with more and more “at-risk” students over the years. It was her experimentation with yoga in the classroom that convinced her that yoga was a powerful, positive tool for young people, especially those with learning disabilities.  She fully believes that yoga’s physical and philosophical framework is a natural complement to today’s conventional education system. For a dozen years she has been coordinating school yoga programs, combining her life passions: kids, yoga…and FUN!

Kristen Lalka, Director of Programs

Kristen joined the Bent On Learning staff in August 2012.  She leads of all aspects of Bent On Learning’s program including managing relationships with our school communities, overseeing teaching staff, coordinating trainings, and assessing the effectiveness of our program delivery and impact on students via Youth Development metrics. Prior to Bent On Learning, she served as the Associate Grants Manager at The Robin Hood Foundation.

Kristen discovered yoga during her senior year of high school and believes strongly in yoga as an essential tool for building patience, self-regulation and strength. She received her 200-Hour Yoga Alliance certification from Ishta Yoga in January 2011 and completed Bent On Learning’s training in 2012. She is a graduate of NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education with a concentration in Speech Communications and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Board of Directors

Adrienne Burke

Adrienne’s background includes 25 years of experience helping companies in the financial, technology, consumer goods, staffing and wellness industries successfully expand in product offerings and grow in revenue. She has held strategic roles in marketing, sales, management and compliance. She is currently the chief marketing officer of Gerstein Fisher, an investment management and advisory firm. Adrienne is also a long time yoga practitioner (30+years), and a teacher since 1993. She has led and developed teaching and teacher training programs for a wide variety of students and special needs. Prior to joining Gerstein Fisher she was the general manager of the New York office of Artisan, a creative staffing company. She began her career in banking, working for the US Treasury Department, Comptroller of the Currency, and as a vice president of Republic National Bank. Adrienne graduated from New York University with a BS in finance and international business.

Bailey Gimbel, Board Chair

Bailey has been practicing yoga since 2000.  In an environment of contracting resources for kids, he believes that Bent on Learning is a critically important program and is dedicated to increasing the number of schools and students BOL reaches.  Bailey has been a futures trader for 25 years.

Panagiota Mahendru, Board Treasurer

Panagiota Mahendru is the Vice President of Finance and Controller of Housing Works Inc. She is co-responsible for the financial stewardship of the organization’s multi-revenue stream, which encompasses Health services, Pharmacy, Housing, Property Development, Thrifts shops, Bookstore and Food services, and the preparation and management of the organizations $75 million annual budget and alignment of its resources.

Panagiota is a driven finance and accounting executive with over 15 years of global hands-on experience in Finance, Accounting, Treasury, and Risk Management. She has held senior management roles in Finance and Accounting in companies ranging from manufacturing, to retail and services. Panagiota discovered yoga during her trip to India and since then pursued yoga for its wholesome benefits.

Panagiota has a Bachelors Degree (B.Sc.) in Accounting and Finance from American College of Greece, and a Masters degree (M.A.) with distinction in Accounting and Finance from University of Leeds, England. She has continuously earned CPE credits in Auditing, Taxation, and Non-Profit Accounting and currently pursuing her CPA qualification.

Eda Ozman

Eda completed teacher training in the Baptiste style at Down Dog Yoga in Washington, D.C. She immediately knew she wanted to share the practice with children. Eda has since completed children’s yoga training programs at YoKid in Washington, D.C., as well as Karma Kids Yoga and Little Flower Yoga in Manhattan. Eda has extensive experience working with 4-H, which is the nation’s largest positive youth development and youth mentoring organization, empowering six million young people in the U.S. She can’t wait to share the benefits of yoga and mindfulness to children, and empower Den Cubs to be happy, healthy, and strong.

Robb Fishman, Director Emeritus

With a background in finance and design thinking, Robb helps organizations transform their systems and processes for the digital world. Formerly the Chief Financial Officer of private equity firm Elion Partners, and a Managing Director at Deloitte, Robb currently leads a digital engagement program at Salesforce, a fast-growing enterprise software firm. Robb is a CPA, licensed in the State of New York and the District of Columbia. He served as Bent On Learning’s Treasurer until 2014 and continues to support the organization as an ambassador and advisor.

Bob O’Leary, Director Emeritus

Bob is the EVP, Brand Strategist at PIMCO and formerly worked as Head of Global Marketing for Citi’s Global Consumer business. In this role, Bob and his team were responsible for executing key marketing priorities to support the needs of the business globally. Additionally Bob, in partnership with the businesses, regions and markets, was responsible for ensuring creative excellence, effectiveness and consistency in all customer/client-facing communications. Prior to this appointment, Bob was Managing Director, Global Advertising.   In 2007, Bob’s launched the first integrated global advertising campaign for Citi, introducing the new company name ‘Citi’ and it’s brand purpose of driving financial success for its clients. He actively served on Bent On Learning’s Board of Directors from August 2013 through July 2016 and continues to support the organization as an ambassador and advisor.

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Bent On Learning appreciates all of its generous supporters, partners and volunteers who have contributed to the success of our program. Learn more about how you can support us.