Founding her own startup, empowering New York City’s youth and now on target to bring free yoga to 2,000 students this fall, Nicole Cardoza is a steadfast and inspiring entrepreneur –our kind of Saltie lady! A role model, not only for the kids she works with, but for anyone with a dream and the big idea to chase after it, Nicole is working hard to make a difference. We caught up with her in the midst of Yoga Foster’s fundraising and awareness campaign to chat about her mission to bring the benefits of more free yoga to even more kids for their biggest year yet.
SALTED SPOTLIGHT: Nicole Cardoza
So, what do you do for a living?
I’m the founder of Yoga Foster, a nonprofit that provides free yoga training and curriculum to schools to increase creativity in youth.
When did you start Yoga Foster? Why were you drawn to working with youth?
I started Yoga Foster two years ago after volunteering in schools as a yoga instructor for years prior. I’ve always loved working with youth – I started teaching piano to kids when I was 15. My family didn’t have much, but they always made sure I had access to the arts, and I learned to appreciate them – and share – at a young age. So, starting YF, which makes play and movement accessible for kids like me and our grownup instructors, is just a natural progression.
What is it about yoga you feel is important to offer students today?
The chance to play. Play is one of the most underrated and under-represented aspects of childhood development that transforms not just how kids feel physically, but how they act, learn and develop over time. Children’s yoga is a beautiful invitation to play that I feel every child should be introduced to so they can be more creative, on and off the mat.
What’s been the toughest part of your job? And the most rewarding?
The toughest part for me is saying no, and I feel many founders run into this frequently. It’s really important to me that our partnerships and programming truly represent our company’s values and approach. There’s amazing opportunities, and then there’s the right opportunities. The trick is knowing the difference. The rewarding part is watching both our grownups and kids grow as a result!
What does work/life balance mean to you and how do you manage it?
I prefer to think of it as a work/life smoothie – because I strive for an enjoyable blend. I try to maximize my output when I know I can be most productive, and put aside time I get drained or tired for phone chats, networking or simply relaxing. People think I’m always working, but I simply give what I can, when I can. Cupcakes help, too.
If a parent, teacher, school or institution wanted to integrate your yoga program how would you recommend they go about doing it? Same question for someone wanting to get involved as a volunteer or yoga teacher.
We aim to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved. We ask for our program partners to make a pledge to provide our resources for free, then pair them with a volunteer who we’ve trained, or train a representative from their organization. The first step is to contact us via our website.
You were just recently invited to join a NYC incubator, what’s that been like so far and is there added pressure to grow at a quicker rate?
I’m so grateful to be a part of Beespace. I’m blessed to be surrounded by such inspiring, smart people committed to making social change. There’s definitely no pressure, just a strong, supportive foundation that’s committed to our success.
What’s the ultimate goal for Yoga Foster?
To empower people with the tools they need to make transformative change in their communities, and have everyone grow creatively as a result!
And finally, you work really hard…when Friday afternoon comes around do you a) go to restorative yoga, b) take a power yoga class, c) take a power nap, c) go to a well-deserved happy hour?
The happy hour – or at least, out with friends and colleagues. I tend to get my yoga sessions done in the mornings, so at the end of a long week I just want to surround myself with people that inspire me. Also, I’m terrible at power naps – I’d just sleep the whole night away!
Nicole launched her non-profit after her volunteer initiative as a yoga teacher in schools made her realize first-hand the importance of quality, accessible programs that increase creative aptitude. She studied International Business Management and Marketing at Pace University, and has pursued her passion in creativity and education through courses at Stanford. She has trained with Om Schooled, Cosmic Kids Yoga and Mindful Schools, and is a former piano teacher. She’s a regular contributor to Mind Body Green and Do You Yoga, a GOOD Local leader in NYC, a 2014 PHA Innovation finalist, and has been noted as one of the “Top 10 Millennials Who Are Changing the World” by ABC and featured on NBC’s primetime show “School Pride” for her volunteer initiatives. Twitter: @YogaFoster, facebook: www.facebook.com/yogafoster, online: www.yogafoster.org.