Omega in Action

Omega in Action highlights inspiring people and organizations making meaningful change. From protecting the environment to empowering women, healing veterans, and serving nonprofits, you'll find fresh perspectives, trending news, and the latest information on noteworthy events here at Omega and around the world.

Omega Yoga Teacher Supports Tibetan Children

4 days 3 hours ago

Yin Yoga teacher Biff Mithoefer has been part of Omega's community since 2003 and he says he takes Omega's support with him in all of his work.

"I feel the intention behind Omega’s mission to be of service and to create a place for people to not only grow, but to feel part of a community with a larger purpose," he said. "It’s been a great support to me to be part of the Omega family."

Mithoefer is the founder of the Jamtse Sponsorship Project, an organization that supports, educates, and nourishes Tibetan refugee children and their families living in settlements outside of Tibet. He got the idea for the project at an audience he and his wife Amy had with the Dalai Lama.

The name comes from the Tibetan word for kindess, jamtse. In the Tibetan language, jam means care and tse means love. So the organization literally puts the practice of kindness into action.

“Jamtse is a small project, but I think it has made a difference is children’s lives,” Mithoefer said. “We’ve been consistent in supporting children through their whole school career, and I think that has been important in helping them feel secure and perhaps more at home in a world where they find themselves in exile.”

One of the first girls sponsored by the project is now at Amherst College on full scholarship.

“It is certainly her achievement, not ours, but I’m happy to have been able to be a part of it,” he said.

Mithoefer teaches yoga workshops throughout the world and is also on the advisory board of the Give Back Yoga Foundation.

Pioneering Media Literacy Activist Jean Kilbourne Is Juno Resident

1 week 6 days ago

Jean Kilbourne, internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on images of women in advertising and for her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising, recently stayed on Omega's campus as a Juno Leadership Resident with the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC). 

Kilbourne's most recent film, Killing Us Softly 4, was screened at the Ram Dass Library to a large audience of staff, participants, and local residents. The film, which explores the dehumanizing images of women in mainstream advertisements, was followed by a question and answer session.

Jean began her work in the 1960s, exploring the connection between advertising and several public health issues, including violence against women and eating disorders. She launched a movement to promote media literacy as a way to prevent these problems, an original idea at the time that is now mainstream and an integral part of most prevention programs.

Jean has transformed the way organizations and educational institutions around the world address the prevention of many public health problems including smoking, high-risk drinking, eating disorders, obesity, the sexualization of children, and violence against women.

In June, Jean was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Syracuse, New York, along with nine other inductees, including Eleanor Smeal, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Barbara Iglewski, and Martha Graham

Find out more about Jean Kilbourne

Buying Local is About Building Relationships

2 weeks 6 days ago

Omega FoodWorks, the team responsible for overseeing the food at Omega's Dining Hall and Café, is committed to using as much local produce as possible. FoodWorks executive chef Robert Turner says over the last eight years he's been able to increase the amount of local produce he uses by working with Red Barn Produce, a distributor in Highland, New York.

Prior to working with Red Barn, FoodWorks would buy directly from a number of farms, something that Turner describes as “really great, but really inefficient.” Working with Red Barn gives Omega access to many more local farms than it would otherwise be able to buy from, which has many positive effects on the regional community.

“We can buy individual cases from Red Barn that aren’t worthwhile for a single farm to drop off to us,” Turner explains. “Right now we have access to 10 farms.” Red Barn is able to meet the farmer's minimum and then distribute the produce to multiple locations. 

This arrangement has enabled FoodWorks to source locally-grown greens earlier in the season. “We normally source greens from Markristo Farm in Hillsdale, New York. But they don’t do any greenhouse growing. So in the spring, while all the local crops are still maturing in the field, we’d have to buy mesclun shipped in from wherever. But through our relationship with Red Barn, we can get local mesclun early in the season, grown in greenhouses at Sorbello and Taliaferro farms.”

Omega has also been able to help out local farmers by connecting them with Red Barn for distribution, Turner says. Both Blue Star Farm in Stuyvesant, New York, and Ironwood Farm in Ghent, New York, which supply to Omega directly, now also distribute their produce through Red Barn.

Ultimately, local produce is about building community relationships.

“At Omega, the nation’s largest holistic learning center, we believe in reciprocal relationships that benefit the community at large,” Turner says. “If we can purchase from a distributor that has local produce, everybody wins. The farmers make money, and the headache of distribution is taken off their hands. The distributor makes money. We get a good product, at a good price—one that’s fresh and that we can turn into delicious food for our guests.”

Seasonal Staff Success Story: Marc Williams

1 month 4 days ago

On a typical day you can find Marc Williams outside—identifying plants and talking with students. As an ethnobotantist, he works with almost 60 organizations throughout the year teaching students and working with colleagues to further the relationship between people and plants, and looking at how plants can be employed for food, medicine, and more.

He got his start at Omega. As a seasonal staffer in 1998-1999, he worked in the kitchen as part of the FoodWorks Team, and says he was excited by the idea of high-quality food service for large groups of people.

And he was very influenced by the natural surroundings on campus.

“I went on my first official plant walk while on staff and have now led plant walks for thousands of people all over the United States and the world,” Williams said. “My time at Omega inspired me to learn more about plants and nutrition, to sing from my heart, and teach what I know.”

Williams is also the executive director of Plants and Healers International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing the vision of his late friend and colleague Frank Cook, who aimed to advance human culture in harmony with the natural world.

He hosts an annual online class that helps students understand the characteristics and classifications of plant families so they can better identify the plants around them and their uses.

He says his time at Omega “was one of the most transformational experiences in my entire life.”

“Many people I met there continue to be friends,” he said. “Many lessons I picked up there inform my life's work and philosophy.”

He also offers some advice to current seasonal staffers.

“Get to know your coworkers as well as you can,” Williams said. “They are bound to be some incredible people. The bonds made at Omega can be very special and sacred and may continue to bear fruit in various ways long after your work there is done.”

Can Spiritual Practice Heal Racism?

1 month 1 week ago

In a recent interview for the Huffington Post, Omega asked meditation teacher and author Tara Brach, "What is the path to healing for a society with such deeply rooted racism, fear, and anger?" 

Speaking about how a spiritual practice, specifically in her Buddhist sangha, can help to build unity, Tara explained, "For those of us in the dominant culture, it's challenging yet essential that we respond to the hurt and anger that has built up through generations of violence against people of color....If we can be present and kind toward our inner states, we will start seeing how we create separation from others."

Tara shared in a detailed and personal way the work that her community is doing to open communication and take action in responding to white privilege and racism. The need for connection and vulnerability is one she highlighted, noting, "Honest dialogue creates the groundwork for healing and awakening from the painful trance of separation. It can reconnect us to our sense of interconnectedness and caring." She recommended educating ourselves about history and experience as a key practice in growing our understanding. 

Ultimately, Brach feels the intersection of spirituality and social justice lay in practicing an intention of awareness and solidarity in our actions and responses as individuals, communities, and as a society. "There will be no healing until those of us in the dominant culture join in solidarity with people of color to end institutionalized racism," she said. 

For details about how her sangha is working on inclusion and self-awareness, and recommended resources, read the full Huffington Post interview 

Omega Helps Families Harvest & Cook Seasonal Lunch

1 month 1 week ago

On Saturday, May 16th, Omega FoodWorks executive chef Robert Turner supported Spring Planting Day at the Sylvia Center in Kinderhook, New York. The Sylvia Center at Katchkie Farm in Columbia County inspires young people and their families to eat well through hands-on learning experiences on the farm and in the kitchen. At the event, families did just that—planting in the Children's Learning Garden, harvesting early spring vegetables, and working with Chef Bob to create a delicious farm-fresh seasonal lunch that they all shared. 

Jenn So, writing about the event for The Dish, explained, “Everyone learned how to roll out dough properly for flatbreads that were fired off in the wood-burning oven. People lined up for their turn to cook a flatbread in the oven and watched as vegetables crisped up and cheese bubbled right before their eyes. The results were spectacular!—beautiful, charred flatbreads topped with foraged ramps, spinach from our greenhouse, our own garlic and fresh local mozzarella.”

OWLC Visits the Baskin Feminist Archives

1 month 2 weeks ago

The Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) team, including cofounder Carla Goldstein, recently visited the home of respected feminist activist, bibliophile, and collector Lisa Baskin, to view her life's work: a feminist library that spans five centuries of women's history.

The collection represents an unprecedented gathering of mainstream women’s history and literature along with lesser-known works produced by female scholars, publishers, scientists, and activists. Most items were created between the mid-15th and mid-20th centuries, such as correspondence by legendary suffragists and abolitionists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s handwritten publicity blurb for Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Highlights included the standing writing desk of Virginia Woolf—painted by her nephew Quentin Bell—and a needlework sampler by Charlotte Brontë.

The OWLC team was filled with wonder and gratitude. "Words will never be enough to honor the experience," said Lys Swan, the community outreach coordinator. "I am awash and aglow and agape—full and satiated and inspired," was how Sarah Urech described feeling in the space. Carla noted, "On our way home we each expressed the feeling that this was a Once In A Lifetime experience of great magnitude."

The team coordinated their visit in the final days before the collection was acquired by The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, where it will live as the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection as part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture within the Rubenstein Library.

The collection will become available to the public at the end of August 2015.

View a slide show of the OWLC's visit to the archives.

Read Duke's press release.


A Groundwork Hudson Valley Retreat at Omega

1 month 3 weeks ago

On May 19th–21st Omega Institute welcomed Groundwork Hudson Valley (GWHV) to our Rhinebeck campus for a board and staff retreat, as part of Omega in Service, which supports nonprofit organizations committed to improving the well-being of others and the life of the planet we share.

In 2014, GWHV was given the Omega Center for Sustainable Living Leadership in Sustainable Education Award for their decade-long work helping to transform underserved communities throughout the region into more livable and environmentally sustainable places. They do this through a variety of programs, such as their Science Barge, a prototype floating sustainable urban farm, and their Get Fresh Yonkers initiative, an umbrella program covering a farmers market, community supported agriculture, and an environmental food team.

Over the three day retreat, Groundwork Hudson Valley developed a greater understanding of their current programs and brainstormed ways to further the impact of their already impressive work in the region.

Of their time spent on campus, Rick Magder, executive director of Groundwork Hudson Valley, said, “It was a wonderful few days for us. It will improve our work in the community going forward for sure.” 

Omega in Service was established in 2005 to support fellow nonprofit organizations by providing the use of Omega’s facilities, access to campus amenities, and room and board for meetings and retreats. As part of Omega in Service, a large number of nonprofits apply to participate in a Service Week working retreat each May, to engage in planning and dialog that requires greater time and space, build and strengthen relationships, and become part of a community of change leaders that Omega supports through other programs and initiatives. 

Past Service Week participants include well over 300 organizations, such as Anderson Center for Autism, Center for the Contemplative Mind Society, Human Rights Watch, New Harlem Renaissance Work Group, Sakhi for South Asian Women, Sustainable South Bronx, the United Nations Development Program, and more.

Omega Receives 2015 Beacon Peace Award

2 months 2 days ago

Omega was one of 11 organizations to receive the 2015 Beacon Peace Award from the Center for Bringing About Peace. The Beacon Peace Award is granted annually to celebrate organizations that bring about harmony and peace through their work.

On May 24 in the City of Beacon, New York, chief executive officer Robert "Skip" Backus accepted the Beacon Peace Award on behalf of Omega Institute. Along with Omega, other organizations honored by the Center for Bringing About Peace included Spirit of Beacon Day, Clearwater, Fareground Community Cafe, Beacon Free Press, Menla Mountain Retreat, Zero-to-Go, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, The World Peace Prayer Society, Friends of Peace Pilgrim, and Vigil for International Peace & Ecology.

Chelsea Roff Uses Yoga Service to Help People with Eating Disorders

2 months 1 week ago

Since speaking at the first Yoga Service Conference (in 2012), Chelsea Roff has raised more than $100,000 to start her own nonprofit Eat Breathe Thrive™. Her organization works to help individuals prevent and fully recover from disordered eating and negative body image through evidence-based programs that integrate yoga, community, and service.

Before the conference, Roff was in transition—working as a managing editor for an online magazine and taking a break from her research in neuroscience. She was teaching yoga on a volunteer basis at a juvenile detention center and an eating disorder treatment center.

“My passion was serving people with eating disorders, but I figured it could never be a full-time job,” she said. “Apparently I was wrong.”

Roff attended the conference, and was asked to speak about her own experiences healing her eating disorder through yoga.

“I had never done a public speaking engagement prior to that,” Roff said. “I remember standing behind the podium, reading my talk off a piece of paper, knees shaking, voice quivering. But the reception and support from attendees was so encouraging. Now I do speaking engagements at universities and conferences frequently, and I look back on that first conference as my start.”

About a year later, she left her job and decided to raise $50,000 to start her yoga nonprofit.

“I reached out to Rob Schware, whon I'd met at the conference and I knew ran the Give Back Yoga Foundation,” she said. “I asked if he would partner with me. I wanted to start the nonprofit under the umbrella of an established organization that knew what they were doing. I'm a big fan of collaboration over competition, and I knew Give Back had helped a number of other exceptional yoga service organizations get their start.”

“Rob told me he'd make me a deal. If I could raise the $50,000, Give Back would take on my nonprofit. I don't think he thought I would actually do it. He tells me now that it was then he learned I was 'the good kind of crazy.'”

Raising the money wasn’t easy, Roff admits. She started with an Indiegogo campaign, and 44 days into it she had only raised $19,000.

“I knew something drastic had to be done and that I needed to reach a bigger audience and create a sense of urgency in the final days of the campaign,” she said.

So she climbed onto a roof on Main Street in Santa Monica, laid down a yoga mat, and pledged not to get off the mat until the funds were raised.

“I quickly pulled together a website, promotional video, banner, shade structure, team of volunteers, and high-tech set up so I could live stream it online 24/7,” she said. “I invited a number of visitors—from yoga teachers to authors to eating disorder professionals—to come up and talk on the live stream about the work they were doing. I ate on that mat, slept on that mat, and even set up a privacy curtain so I could go to the bathroom without getting off the mat.”

Word spread quickly and even CBS News covered her story. The press helped her surpass her goal, raising $51,000. Two years later, her organization now has four staffers and more than 50 facilitators, and the program is in more than 20 yoga studios, treatment centers, universities, and community centers throughout the country.

She credits much of her success to that first conference at Omega and continues to get support from the growing community.

“The conference brings together an incredible community of professionals working to make yoga-based practices available to individuals in all sectors of society,” Roff said. “The people I've met at the conference have become more than colleagues—they've become friends, mentors, and a network of support.”

Module 1 of her Eat Breathe Thrive™ Facilitator Training will be taught at Omega, June 21-26.

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