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OWLC in Action

Changing Lives in Newark, New Jersey

1 year 3 months ago

Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Norma Bowe created a group focused on community service and activism in Newark, New Jersey, called Be the Change, that is working to do just that.

Newark’s crime rate is five times above the national average. It’s also the second-to-last in the nation for green spaces and parks compared to other U.S. cities of the same size.

The group began their work in 2010 with students from Kean University and other local volunteers who were dedicated to community service projects in their hometown and across the country. They helped to address issues of social justice, food justice, and human rights, including taking abandoned lots and turning them into pocket parks and gardens.

The Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) has been a support to Be the Change along the way. In addition to the organization's participation in the Women Serving Women Summit nonprofit retreats during Omega Service Week, the OWLC has provided scholarships to young women (and some young men) from Be the Change to attend a number of programs, including multiple Women and Power conferences and the Taking a Leadership Leap workshop. Since 2011, 75 people from Be the Change have participated in these retreats, conferences, and workshops. 

"I have never realized how much I can inspire other people with the things I do and the things I've gone through until this weekend, being able to share with complete strangers and…to connect with the other women on a level I didn't think was possible. I learned a lot about myself and that I can do anything I put my mind to. I have learned not to let fear hold me back," said one Be the Change participant in the Taking a Leadership Leap workshop.  

Be the Change attendance at Omega events has had a major impact on the organization. Since Omega Service Week 2014, they have completed 501(c)(3) status, created a board and an executive committee, and have been selected to present their plans at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2016 to research the therapeutic effects of gardening on PTSD, among many other accomplishments.

“None of this would have been possible without all of the opportunities OWLC has provided for us," Bowe said. "You have grown and supported us, and we are ever so thankful.”

To see what working for change in Newark looks like, watch Be the Change’s thank you video.


Women Serving Women Summit Participants Take Flight

1 year 5 months ago

Omega recently caught up with Women Serving Women Summit 2015 attendee Youth Media Project, whose members teach digital storytelling. We wondered, "What story do they have to tell about their experience?"

We Have Everything We Need

"One of the favorite lines that I kept saying and repeating to the group with the most resonance was 'we have everything we need,'" noted Mi'Jan Celie Tho-Biaz, then-director of the organization. "With such a mighty group of profoundly talented cultural workers, this is true. They are very gifted creative leaders and visionaries, and every obstacle they faced could be collectively solved." 

Direct Effects: A Grant & An Installation

Beyond that realization, there were direct ripple effects of the group's summit experience. Youth Media Project Advisory member Yolanda Wisher was honored with a Pew Center grant and member Karina Puente had her temporary mural installed at the Javits Convention Center. 

"Those are only two of the beautifully rich individual and community-based seeds that got tended to during our summit time," said Tho-Biaz.

Those seeds also positively impacted the day-to-day business of being an artist.

"Attending the summit gave me the practical tools to not only survive as a full time artist; my group taught me how to thrive. I met two mentors who continue to empower my business and creative trajectory to this day. I learned how to write client contracts, bill for my art services, and I landed a New York City job that turned into another opportunity in Minneapolis," said Puente.

More Success

Tho-Biaz, Wisher, and Puente were inspired at the summit to submit a workshop panel that was accepted for the fall 2015 feminist writer and media conference BinderCon. And, Tho-Biaz credits her time at summit for the momentum that led her to become the Visiting Research Scholar at Columbia University's Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics.

"Our summit time was phenomenal. It was my first time leading a residential retreat and we are all still flying high! I'm hooked, for sure. Everyone's creative practice is positively expanding, and the Youth Media Project community is far better for it," said Tho-Biaz.

Learn More About the Summit

The Women Serving Women Summit, part of Omega Service Week hosted by the Omega Women's Leadership Center, is a grant retreat program for organizations that support women and girls. They are invited to bring their teams of staff and board members to Omega to work and rest so they can return to their efforts replenished and invigorated. Organizations use their retreat time to develop strategies, cultivate leadership, and deepen connections to discuss challenges, ideas, and solutions.

Join Us On the Bridge Saturday, March 5

1 year 5 months ago

Join us to celebrate women's achievements while also acknowledging the challenges that women still face at the 6th Annual International Women’s Day Walk at the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York on Saturday, March 5th. 

Cosponsored by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) and organized by the Women's Leadership Alliance of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, the event will begin on the Poughkeepsie side of the bridge at 9:00 a.m. This year, the OWLC is one of five groups nominated for 2016 Nonprofit of the Year, which will be announced at the event by Krista Jones of Sparrow’s Nest.

The 2016 theme is “Fit Women Make Fit Leaders” and features Dr. Pamela Edington of Dutchess Community College. Also speaking is Pari Forood of Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation. Entertainment will be provided by the Poughkeepsie High School Choir, Kyleigh Rothmand, and the Evergreen Chorus of the Sweet Adelines.

Register for the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce's event at Walkway Over the Hudson

Learn more about International Women's Day 

OWLC Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Feminist.com

1 year 7 months ago

On December 2, 2015, the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) cosponsored the 20th anniversary celebration of Feminist.com, the organization Gloria Steinem credits for putting "the dot-com in feminism." Marianne Schnall founded the nonprofit in 1995 "to offer people around the world access to information about human rights, women's issues, health, grassroots activism, and pretty much anything that could possibly support a world where men and women are allied, empowered and equal." 

The one-day anniversary conference, held at the Lower East Side Girls Club in New York City, reflected on the last two decades of feminism and envisioned where to go in the next 20 years. Panel topics included gender, politics, activism, identity, race, and media. 

Carla Goldstein, Omega’s chief external affairs officer and cofounder of the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC), moderated the panel Our Inner Lives: A Multi-Faith Dialogue on Spirituality, Religion & Feminism featuring Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses, Maria Ebrahimji, Chung Hyun Kyung, Latham Thomas, and Adriene Thorne. Other featured speakers included Imani Brown, Soraya Chemaly, and Ashley Ford, and performances were given by the Arts Effect, BETTY, Kaylo (Kerri Lowe), and Sarah Jones. 

As a library and networking engine, Feminist.com has been and continues to be an Internet "home" for millions of women all over the world, offering news, original articles, exclusive interviews, anti-violence resources, columns, activism alerts, event listings, and women-owned business listings. 

View photographs from the celebration by Kiana MacClellan.

Scholarship Recipients Talk About #DoPowerDifferently

1 year 9 months ago

The Omega Women's Leadership Center's (OWLC) annual Women & Power event has attracted wide audiences for more than a decade of conversation about creating a culture of equality and care. This year 86 women received scholarships to participate in the event and contribute to the dialogue. Below, three of them speak about their experiences and what the campaign #DoPowerDifferently means to them. 

Name: Gifty Blankson
Organization: CUNY
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "First of all, I would like to use this opportunity to thank you all for giving me this extraordinary life-changing experience. Miss Elizabeth Gilbert's message on how to go after our dreams even in fear, was an eye-opening moment for me. She made me realize that fear is always going to be a part of my creativity journey but that shouldn't stop me."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "Doing power differently to me means identifying my destiny and having the courage to pursue it."
View the CUNY photo album from the conference.
Name: Nirmala Singh (pictured above on right with OWLC manager Sarah Urech)
Organization: Go Beyond Greatness
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "My biggest takeaway was Bonnie St. John explaining how being underestimated and devalued in society did not bring her down but ignited the fire in her to go above and beyond for high achievement and life success. My experience being around amazing, talented, and strong women leaders has helped me to understand the true definition of what is means to be bold."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "As an aspiring international human rights attorney, I realized doing power differently means I must step out, be bold, and become an important contributor who balances the power structure within American society and the world." 
Name: Lila Montoya  
Organization: Be the Change
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "The biggest way to change the world is to follow one's passion and not let fear dictate our decisions, or lack thereof."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "At times, we are put in unfavorable positions that we cannot control. What we can control is our reaction and what we are willing to do to better the situation, for ourselves, and perhaps for other women."
View the Be the Change photo album from the conference.

Pioneering Media Literacy Activist Jean Kilbourne Is Juno Resident

2 years 1 month 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.

This year, Jean is an inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca, New York, along with nine others, including Eleanor Smeal, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Barbara Iglewski, and Martha Graham

Find out more about Jean Kilbourne

Can Spiritual Practice Heal Racism?

2 years 1 month 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 

OWLC Visits the Baskin Feminist Archives

2 years 2 months 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.

Omega Announces 35 Nonprofits to Receive Organizational Retreat Grants

2 years 3 months ago

“Connecting a Community of Change Leaders” is the Focus for Omega’s 2015 Service Week, May 25–29

RHINEBECK, NY–In an ongoing effort to support nonprofits in the Mid-Hudson Valley region and beyond, Omega is hosting its 11th annual Service Week, May 25–29. Omega today announced the names of 35 nonprofits being awarded a working retreat on Omega’s 250+ acre campus, including room and board, a meeting space, use of campus amenities, and a private consultation with the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON), a partner in the program. Participating organizations lead their own working retreats that build and strengthen relationships, and give time and space for strategic planning and networking.

“Nonprofits play a critical role in our society, yet constrained budgets often don’t allow for the critical time needed for reflection and planning,” said Carla Goldstein, chief external affairs officer at Omega. “For more than a decade Omega has opened our campus free of charge to our nonprofit peers, so they can be revitalized and better serve their communities and constituents.”

Omega’s annual Service Week is comprised of two sessions: the Strengthening Communities Summit (May 25–27), and the Women Serving Women Summit (May 27–29). The Strengthening Communities Summit prioritizes organizations that address a range of social, economic, or environmental issues in the Mid-Hudson Valley region. The Women Serving Women Summit, hosted by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center, supports organizations working to positively impact the lives of women. The participation of Mid-Hudson region nonprofits in Service Week is funded in part by a significant grant from the Dyson Foundation.

“Omega’s Service Week provides a unique environment for those who work in the nonprofit community to reflect on the meaning and importance of their work, strengthen their bonds with one another, and develop strategies for organizational success,” said Doug Sauer, chief executive officer of NYCON. “To add value to the experience, NYCON’s expert staff will be available to offer supportive guidance and assistance.”

This year’s focus, “Connecting a Community of Change Leaders,” is aimed at deepening collaboration and leadership by offering organizations the opportunity to meet, connect, discuss, and identify possibilities for the future.

Omega is pleased to award 2015 Service Week retreats to the following organizations, which are actively engaged in creating a more compassionate and sustainable world:

Strengthening Communities Summit (Session 1) Recipients:

Mid-Hudson Valley Region Organizations:

Basilica Hudson
Beacon Arts Community Association
Chefs’ Consortium
Citizens for Local Power
Community Voices Heard
Family of Woodstock
HeARTs Speak
Hudson Valley Seed
People’s Place
Re>Think Local
Spark Media Project (formerly Children's Media Project)

Additional Organizations:

Arts and Resistance Through Education (ARTE)
Conference of Churches @ The 224 EcoSpace
Global Potential
Youth Communication

“Using the discussions we had and the plans we made at Omega, we were able to come back and address long-standing distrust and acrimony in a new way. Six months later, there is a marked, positive difference in our work,” said 2014 recipient Richard Heyl de Ortiz, former executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), Ulster County. “Service Week helped us realize and build on our organizational strengths, which in turn allows CASA to manage and embrace change.”

Women Serving Women Summit (Session 2) Recipients:

Mid-Hudson Valley Region Organizations:

Grace Smith House
In My Mother's House Resource Center for Women
Project MORE (Model Offender Reintegration Experience)
Putnam/Northern Westchester Women's Resources Center
TMI Project
The Washbourne House

Additional Organizations:

Ancient Song Doula Services
Caring Across Generations
Center for Survivor Agency and Justice
Gender at Work
Harlem Wellness Center
PINE (Permaculture Institute of the Northeast) - Women in Permaculture
Planned Parenthood of the North Country
Pleiades Network
Sheltered Yoga
Take the Lead
Women Make Movies
Youth Media Project

“The effects of the Summit continue tangibly through our annual operating plan goals developed at the retreat and more intangibly through our improved relationships with each other as a direct result of being able to spend that time together, especially because our team is spread throughout the country and we have limited travel budgets,” said 2014 recipient Kavita Bali, senior director of strategic partnerships and alliances at Care USA.

For more information about Omega Service Week, contact:

Marta Szabo, Strengthening Communities Summit, 845.266.4444, ext. 403, martas@eomega.org

Elysabeth Swan, Women Serving Women Summit, 845.266.4444, ext. 414, lyss@eomega.org

For more information about Omega, visit eOmega.org and follow Omega on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+.

About Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
Founded in 1977, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is the nation’s most trusted source for wellness and personal growth. As a nonprofit organization, Omega offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. Located on 250 acres in the beautiful Hudson Valley, Omega welcomes more than 23,000 people to its workshops, conferences, and retreats in Rhinebeck, New York, and at exceptional locations around the world. eOmega.org

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Undoing Racism

2 years 3 months ago

“We are socialized to think we aren’t part of the solution to racism, but we begin to gain power to make change when we decide to take responsibility,” said Berwick Mahdi, one of three trainers for the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a nonprofit collective of multicultural, antiracist community organizers and educators.

Mahdi, Annie Rodriguez, and David Billings recently spent three days in the Hudson Valley leading a group of 30 people through the People’s Institute's renowned Undoing Racism training. The training centers on a process of critically analyzing systemic racial oppression, rooted in an historical understanding of the role of race in constructing U.S. society and based on the premise that it is one of the root causes of poverty. David Billings, who has been facilitating Undoing Racism for more than 30 years, said that a foundational question for the People’s Institute is, why are people poor?

“This training led us through experiential exercises to explore issues in ways we normally don’t and led many of us to gain new understandings of what racism is and how it functions,” said Susan Grove, Omega’s community engagement manager, who participated in Undoing Racism. “We began by thinking deeply about poverty, and came to see we often believe that individuals or even whole communities are solely responsible for their conditions. Looking at the systems that shape poor communities and communities of color gave us a new lens to see how decisions made outside of these communities powerfully shape people’s daily experiences within them. Recognizing that racism is more about these oppressive systems than individual acts of ignorance or meanness empowers us to organize a more effective response.”

The 50 community organizers and educators who form the People’s Institute collective have reached more than 500,000 individuals and groups across the U.S. and abroad.

Learn more about the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond