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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.

Resting & Connecting at Nonprofit Retreat Week

3 days 23 hours ago

Spending time at Omega was a true gift of space, time, and healthy food, said the staff at Global Grassroots, an organization that works to catalyze women and girls as leaders of conscious social change in their communities, reaching 35,000 survivors of war and/or gender-based violence in Rwanda and Uganda annually.

The nonprofit came to Omega Institute’s Rhinebeck campus in 2016 with an intention to provide staff, who frequently travel, the opportunity for deep restoration and connection; to provide their board with a chance to get to know each other in a year of transition; and for the whole group to finalize a strategic plan for the growth and sustainability of the organization over the next five years.

Global Grassroots was just one of the more than 30 peer organizations in the nonprofit sector to come to Omega’s campus for Nonprofit Retreat Week (formerly called Service Week) in 2016.

Each year, Omega awards self-led retreats to nonprofits who need space to both work and rest so they can return to their efforts replenished and energized.

Strengthening a Literacy Consortium

Literacy Connections came to Omega in 2016 for their third working retreat. As in past years, their staff and board re-connected and planned together. But they also used the time to work on a new issue—convening the board members of four member organizations of a regional literacy consortium, which formed when a statewide network of literacy agencies closed down.

“The retreat afforded us the opportunity for great cooperation and to explore our mutual interest in partnering and collaborating,” said Marisol Rodriguez, executive director of Literacy Connections. “When the statewide network ended, it was a change we had to accept. But now after gathering, we can see the impact we can have across the Mid-Hudson Valley by supporting one another’s efforts to promote literacy and provide English as a Second Language classes to growing immigrant communities. We are learning that change has been the best thing for all of us.”

Building Effectiveness of Multidisciplinary Child's Advocacy Team

The Westchester Institute for Human Development (WIHD) operates a children’s advocacy center that investigates, prosecutes, and treats child abuse. The many different agencies that collaborate in the center’s work also came to Omega in 2016 to strengthen the effectiveness of their multidisciplinary team.

Child Welfare Services, a different division of WIHD, had a working retreat at Omega previously, which they said helped them consolidate new experiments with mindfulness that are now incorporated into staff meetings. 

Danielle Weisberg, who works in both divisions, applied for the organization to return so they "could deepen and strengthen relationships in a way that would be nearly impossible to achieve through any other means."

After their retreat, Weisberg wrote, “Team members walked away feeling very empowered to carry the work forward. This is very important for us because we work collaboratively with many different agencies, and so having individuals take ownership of the future direction of the work is very important.”

More About Nonprofit Retreat Week

Since 2005, Nonprofit Retreat Week has welcomed to campus more than 300 organizations that work to create a more compassionate and sustainable world.

“[It] is an outstanding opportunity for nonprofits who otherwise would be unable to meet outside of the office and enjoy such wonderful amenities,” Rodriguez said.

Retreat grant applications for Nonprofit Retreat Week: Connecting a Community of Change Leaders 2017 are now available. Apply by 1/30/17. 

A Café With a Mission

1 month 1 day ago

In the town of Liverpool, New York, just north of Syracuse on Lake Onondaga, you'll find Café at 407, serving delicious, seasonal, locally produced, and handmade food. Opened in 2009, the café's main objective is to support Ophelia's Place, a nonprofit that is dedicated to changing the culture and conversation around eating disorders, body image, and body dissatisfaction.

Founded in 2002 to address an urgent need in the community, Ophelia's place seeks to redefine beauty and health at large by empowering individuals, families, and communities to address and heal all forms of eating disorders, disordered eating, and body dissatisfaction. Besides nourishing its local community directly, Ophelia's Place has become a national leader in offering support services, education, and outreach. It offers outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment programs with the Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service, supporting approximately 70 families weekly, and thousands each year.

Ophelia's Place was a participating organization at the 2014 Women Serving Women Summit, a retreat grant that supports nonprofit organizations working to positively impact the lives of women through a two-day, two-night self-led retreat, hosted by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) during Omega Service Week. In an interview with MaryEllen Clausen, founder of Ophelia's Place, she recalled that her organzition was ready to close its doors right before they came to Summit. Team members showed up in a state of exhaustion and burnout. The organization had been losing money and struggling to continue.

During the retreat, the team did yoga, walked, and meditated. MaryEllen met other organizational leaders and founders who gave her a sense of community, support, and wisdom.

When the team returned home, they invited a representative from The New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON), whom they had met at Omega, for a site visit. With NYCON's help, they restructured some staffing and by 2015 the Café at 407 began supplying 35% of the organizational budget.

MaryEllen emphasized how impactful Summit was and how grateful her team was for having had that opportunity, stating that Ophelia's Place could not have gotten where they are today without the experience.

Regional Nonprofit Women Leaders Enjoy Downtime

1 month 2 weeks ago

Omega’s 250-acre Rhinebeck, New York, campus offers rest and rejuvenation not just to workshop participants, but also to nonprofit leaders. In September 2016, the Dyson Foundation invited a group of leaders who were past participants of the New York Council of Nonprofits's executive director training to a "Day of Respite" at Omega.

Alumna Casandra Beam, executive director of Ulster Literacy Association, initiated the idea of gathering with her peers for much-needed time away to converse, connect, and rest.

Nine alumnae arrived on a beautiful September day and began their retreat with activities designed to foster reflection and dialogue. The activities were created and facilitated by Beam and Susan Grove, Omega’s community engagement manager and former NYCON training participant.

"Susan and I designed activities intended to establish trust, allowing the group a chance to share from a more vulnerable place, rather than from the more typical leadership role," Beam said. "As it turned out, our group responded beautifully, with heartfelt sharing about the immense stresses executive directors experience, regardless of what phase their agency is moving through." 

In the afternoon, participants chose from a list of activities available on campus, from kayaking on Long Pond Lake or reading in the Ram Dass Library to enjoying ice cream in the Café or meditating at the Sanctuary. Each participant was invited to structure her own downtime to be most supportive to her. Each leader chose her own balance of spending more time with others or withdrawing into some rare solo time to reconnect with herself.

“The day was extremely nourishing,” said Elise Gold, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Orange County. “There was a balance of concrete, how-to support and emotional connection, and the freedom of the afternoon also allowed us space to give to ourselves in ways that we typically don’t do. I was grateful to be able to walk to the Sanctuary and just sit by the little pond.”

Beam echoed Gold's positive experience adding that her day enabled her to have new insights about what true success feels like, describing a more internal space of confidence, belief, and surrender.

"I returned the next day to my office with a refreshed sense of purpose and belonging," she said.

Attendees pictured:
Back Row (left to right): Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt, Spark Media Project; Caren Fairweather, Maternal Infant Services-Network; Cynthia Fiore, Taconic Resources for Independence; Ava Bynum, Hudson Valley Seed; Elise Gold, Jewish Family Service of Orange County.
Front Row (left to right): Elizabeth Waldstein-Hart, Walkway Over the Hudson; Casandra Beam, Ulster Literacy Association; Kellyann Kostyal, Safe Homes of Orange County; Lisa Silverstone, Safe Harbors of the Hudson.

Connected by the Fabric of Love

2 months 4 days ago

The message of love is a timeless one. This year it was the theme of the Omega Peace Quilt, an annual collaborative art project created at our Rhinebeck, New York, campus.

Since 2005, fabric artist Helema Kadir has led seasonal community members and staff through the process of creating the quilt. It is an opportunity for creative expression and the chance to participate in a community-building experience focused on an uplifting theme.

The inspiration for this year’s subject came from an art project created by local artist Regina Cosio, who made a set of postcards each simply printed with the word Love, followed by a period. Kadir says she loved the art project and spoke with Cosio to apply it into this year's Peace Quilt.

The 2016 Love. quilt reflects the diversity of Omega's seasonal community members and staff with the word "love" represented in Greek, Russian, Gaelic, Swahili, American Sign Language, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Arabic, and even Morse code.

Along with quilts from previous years, the Love. quilt will be on display in the Dining Hall in 2017 when Omega's Rhinebeck campus re-opens in May. But you don't have to wait until then to see the quilts. You can check out this year's quilt as well as quilts from previous years, and read more about the history of the project now.

Expanding Options for People With Disabilities

2 months 2 weeks ago

One in five Americans have disabilities, but less than 20 percent are employed, said Frank M. Castella, Jr., president and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, at the National Disability Employment Awareness Month Awards Breakfast in October.

The breakfast was hosted by the Mid-Hudson Employment Alliance and the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month and included an award ceremony honoring local businesses and organizations that have excelled in hiring people with disabilities, including Omega.  

For 15 years Omega has worked with Abilities First, an organization committed to expanding employment options for people with disabilities. Abilities First nominated Omega for the award, and Adam Cincotti, executive chef and general manager of Omega FoodWorks, accepted the award on Omega’s behalf.

"Our partnership with Abilities First over many years has been of great mutual benefit, providing much-needed support in our dining hall and enriching the fullness of our staff community," said Omega CEO Robert "Skip" Backus. "We are grateful for this recognition and award."

National Disability Employment Awareness Month began in 1945 when Congress enacted legislation designating the first week of October as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week” as a response to the number of World War II veterans returning from the war with disabilities.

The month has become a time for “recognizing disabled people's contributions to the workforce and reinforcing our country’s commitment to providing employment opportunities for all," said Castella. "Just like everyone else, disabled people are the sum of many parts, including work experiences.”

Juno Resident's Work Appears in New York Times

3 months 1 week ago

Rejuvenation and restoration are not just about self-care—they're also integral to our capacity for service in our communities. This was true for Heidi Hutner, one of 36 recipients of the Omega Women's Leadership Center's (OWLC) Juno Women's Leadership Residency in 2016.

Heidi, whose work is focused on the topics of caring for Earth, animals, and people, is the director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University. Her TEDx talk, Eco-Grief and Ecofeminism, traces her journey of personal loss and healing into environmental studies and activism. During her time on Omega's Rhinebeck campus, Heidi found herself surprised by how easily her agenda for her residency slipped away, and how she was able to attend to deeper needs. "I thought I would write a lot at Omega, but instead, I rested. Attending the nurturing program at Juno gave me the time to breathe. To exhale. To relax. To heal. The result of this healing surprised me greatly. I was so recharged, that my first article for the New York Times would soon be published in the weeks after I left Omega." 
 
That article, "A Conservationist’s Call for Humans to Curb Harms to Our Animal Kin," highlights a conversation between Heidi and Carl Sarafina first conducted for her web interview series, Coffee with Hx2. Carl is the author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, which explores the scientific research and cultural reasoning around reassessing human's relationships to the natural, sentient world. Heidi has also written several pieces on women climate scientists and women's indigenous activism related to the Dakota pipeline.  
 
Heidi was able to bring the restoration of her time at Omega home to re-examine aspects of her life that needed clearing and cleansing. "I am more focused and able to narrow down my interests and help others in a more beneficial way. My heart is more open because much has cleared—the Juno Women's Leadership Residency helped me to declutter my insides! This decluttering has also helped me in my activist community projects. I left Omega healed, whole, and wide awake."

Women & Children Touched By Cancer Find Haven

3 months 2 weeks ago

Support, connect, and help lighten hearts—these are the simple goals of Camp Lightheart, an overnight children’s camp for those who have a mom with breast cancer or who have lost their mothers to breast cancer. 

Camp Lightheart was launched in 2007 on Omega’s Rhinebeck campus and has returned each year since. This August, 18 children participated in the camp and more than 150 children have attended over the past 10 years.  

The camp was created by Breast Cancer Options, the largest community-based organization providing free breast cancer services in the Hudson Valley area and one of the few organizations giving direct support to children of women diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Offered free to participants, the camp is an opportunity for children to meet others going through similar experiences.

"Words cannot express how grateful all of us at Breast Cancer Options are for your support," said Hope Nemiroff, executive director of Breast Cancer Options. "The campers love Omega and feel accepted and safe which is important for children in their situations. One camper had begun sleeping on the floor next to her mom’s bed to keep an eye on her. Camp really helped her to deal with her fears and be able to talk about them."

Metastatic Breast Cancer Retreat

Some of the children have moms who attend the Metastatic Breast Cancer Retreat also held at Omega. This year, 25 women attended the retreat and since 2011, more than 115 women have participated.

The retreat includes special programs to help attendees deal with an advanced cancer diagnosis, how to manage stress, and how to deal with treatment side effects. Healers donate their services. 

"The women in the retreat feel as though they have found a second home and love the camaraderie and support they are surrounded by," Nemiroff said.

During the retreat, women share stories and learn from other women like themselves, as well as special speakers, physicians, and others.

"The retreat left me changed," one participant said. "I went in not sleeping, feeling tired, isolated, and depressed, and left lighter. It's hard to explain but being around these women, in a tranquil setting, sharing our condition but laughing and talking like 'normal people' made me feel human again."

Another participant was grateful that the program was offered at no cost. She said, "Treating this disease takes 40 percent of our monthly income. To know that Breast Cancer Options is there for free advice at any time and sponsors retreats like this is invaluable to me."

Book Reading With Elizabeth Lesser Now Available

4 months 1 week ago

On Monday, September 19, Omega was proud to host the book launch—on campus and via live stream—of Omega cofounder Elizabeth Lesser's new memoir Marrow: A Love Story. We are pleased to now offer the on-demand video free of charge through November 18.

The evening featured moving readings from Lesser and inspiring music by David Wilcox, exploring the question, "What does it mean to be true to oneself and also be connected to the ones we love?"

Marrow traces the journey made by Lesser and her sister Maggie, when Maggie needs a bone marrow transplant to save her life, and Lesser learns that she is the perfect match. In the process, the sisters dive deep into the marrow of their relationship and explore the multifaceted nature of love. 

Lesser is the author of The Seeker’s Guide and the New York Times best-selling Broken Open. For almost 40 years, she has studied and worked with leading figures in the field of healing—healing self and society. 

Retreats for Homeless Youth Have Big Impact

5 months 1 day ago

Lewis has enrolled in a four-year college. Chantel is transferring to FIT for a degree in fashion design. John is healing his tumor and enrolled in a wellness internship at Omega. Monte applied to drama school.

These are just a few successes reported by the Reciprocity Foundation—a New York City-based nonprofit that works with homeless and high-risk youth—following retreats they held at Omega Institute’s Rhinebeck campus.

“The weekend at Omega was like hitting the restart button on my whole being," Chantel, a retreat participant, said. "I feel like a different person.”

The 2016 retreat had 10 participants, including Essence, who said she was afraid to eat salad before coming to Omega. She tried the salad bar anyway and noticed that the greens made her feel great. All the youth gained valuable exposure to healthy lifestyle elements including nutrition and movement. 

Vivian, another participant, said, “Being at Omega is about becoming clear. When I’m here, I can see my past and my present clearly. I know who I am. It feels good.”

The Reciprocity Foundation roots its work in contemplative practice, helping youth cultivate inner clarity rather than focusing exclusively on external outcomes. They aim to break the cycle of poverty by advancing education and well-being, and helping youth create a powerful vision for their lives. During the retreat, many had their first opportunity to practice yoga, experience wellness treatments, take nature walks, try sitting meditation, share stories, and connect with one another. 

“Youth have told us that the retreats are life-changing and have offered them a rare glimpse into how it feels to live as whole, integrated people,” said Reciprocity cofounders Taz Tagore and Adam Bucko.

Since 2011, about 100 young people have participated in Reciprocity Foundation retreats at Omega, with astounding results—including 35 percent of participants applying to college within six weeks of the retreat and 95 percent saying they felt less stress and were ready to make plans for their future.  

“The gift of Omega is that everyone gradually softens, opens up, and puts their pain and fear into words,” Tagore said. “Nearly all participants now practice meditation; some have even started meditation classes at their shelters. The Omega retreat experience enabled someone deeply suppressing trauma to finally open and share. This was powerful and this young person moved out of shelter just three weeks after the retreat. That is incredible!"


Article photo © Alex Fradkin

Documentary Says Disabled Veterans Can Still Serve

5 months 2 weeks ago

Why Can’t We Serve is a documentary film in the making that asks a powerful question, "Why can't wounded warriors and people with disabilities serve in the military?"

Marty Klein wants to help answer this question. While serving in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1970s, Klein developed an eye disease, lost his vision, and was discharged.

“The first seven years of my life without sight was really hell, because I had to recreate my life without sight and I didn’t know who I was as a blind person,” Klein said. “It was really difficult. I just thought it was my problem. I did deal with it and I got lucky and I have a great life now."

His healing journey included both working at Omega and attending many Omega workshops. One of the weekends that had the most impact on him was a spiritual workshop with Ram Dass and Krishna Das.

“The sound of the harmonium played at night touched my heart,” he said. “I've been chanting and leading kirtan, evenings of sacred chanting, with my harmonium ever since.”

The blind veteran hopes his feature-length forthcoming documentary can create positive policy changes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses and corporations to hire people with disabilities with one exception—the U.S. military, which is not required to comply with the ADA.

He wants to offer hope and healing to discharged veterans with disabilities and shift the culture for people with disabilities in general.

“Fast forward from 1970 to now—veterans coming back, soldiers with wounds from combat are discharged out of the military and go home with a disability and no identity,” he said. “A lot of them are committing suicide—22 a day. It’s crazy. I believe that if more people were able to stay in the military there would be less suicide.”

More than 100 people attended a benefit concert in Klein's hometown of Woodstock, New York, in July to help raise money and awareness for filming the documentary. The night included a silent auction with in-kind donations from many local businesses and organizations, including Omega. 

Klein also believes that a policy change could open the door for all people with disabilities who could have the option to join the military in a non-combat position.

“There are so many jobs in the military done today on a computer, and most people with disabilities can handle computers just fine,” Klein said. “I wrote three books and two screenplays on the computer, and I’m blind. We can do these things.”

Visit whycantweserve.com for more information.

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