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 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

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 in a former life, worked in technology as a business analyst, project manager, and web and database developer.

Jennifer Ford

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

Kristen joined the Bent On Learning staff in August 2012 after completing BOL’s 100-Hour training in the Spring of that year. She 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. In addition to scheduling Bent On Learning classes during the school year, Kristen has been a part of the volunteer effort to bring free outdoor yoga to the Elizabeth Street Garden in Nolita.

Kristen previously held a position at the Robin Hood Foundation as the Associate Grants Manager. 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.

Jessie Freschl

Jessie Freschl is a personal stylist whose business, Freschstyle, combines philanthropy and fashion to benefit charities worldwide. Jessie began practicing yoga in the late 90s, but it was in the fall of 2009 that she was introduced to the ashtanga method and has since been practicing its series daily. Jessie lives on the Upper West Side with her husband, three daughters, and havenese, Leo. She credits her practice with providing her the perfect balance needed to juggle work and family in New York City.

Bailey Gimbel

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.

Rachel Jacobs

Rachel has over 20 years of marketing, branding and events experience for banking and private equity firms and premier NYC cultural institutions. Currently, Rachel markets and sells real estate with Douglas Elliman in NYC. In her work with BOL, she draws upon her business acumen coupled with her long-time, continuous practice of yoga and meditation. Enjoying the life-changing benefits of yoga herself, she feels moved to share yoga with the young people of NYC. Rachel would like to thank all of her teachers from the past to the present, they inspire her to be of service to others.

Lauren Liles

Lauren is the HR & Finance Director of Good Sense & Company, an event production company based in Dumbo. Before joining the business world, Lauren studied exercise physiology and sports medicine, focusing on the mind-body connection which inevitably led to a 15+ year yoga practice. Lauren currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. She wishes to thank all of her past and current yoga teachers, especially Kula Yoga where she has found a second home.

Panagiota Mahendru

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.

Bob O’Leary

Bob was named Head of Global Marketing for Citi’s Global Consumer business in November 2010.  In this role, Bob and his team are responsible for executing key marketing priorities to support the needs of the business globally. Additionally Bob, in partnership with the businesses, regions and markets, is 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 the organization, introducing the new company name ‘Citi’ and it’s brand purpose of driving financial success for its clients.

Bob graduated from Boston College.  He has lived in Manhattan for more than 20 years. He is a proud Bent on Learning Board member and a yoga student. He’s an active member of the Associate Council at the Museum of Modern Art [MOMA]. And, he’s an Alfred Hitchcock movie buff.  Bob enjoys traveling the world – meeting interesting people; learning the local customs; and visiting art museums and other historic landmarks.

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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.