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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.

Blowing Dandelions Helps Kids Learn Mindfulness Practices

4 months 3 weeks ago

In 2014 Rev. Veronica Valles started teaching the tools to breathe, focus, and learn about self-efficacy to a first-grade class at Alex Sanger Elementary in Dallas, Texas. She practiced with those students for the entire school year, and since attending Omega's 2015 Mindfulness & Education Conference on scholarship, she has expanded her teaching to Victor H. Hexter Elementary. She now teaches almost 200 kids each week, working with first and second graders and small groups in kindergarten, third, and fifth grades, too.

“Being at that conference with more than 150 other participants was life changing for me,” Valles told Omega. “It was amazing to hear shared practices, be with other people in this field, and engage in one-on-one conversations. It was such a catalyst for me because I realized I’m not alone. It helped me decide this is the direction I want to go. I want to take peace tools to schools.”

Rev. Valles defines mindfulness as “a moment to moment awareness, being present to what is without judgment.”

“The work is truly transformative,” said Jennifer Jackson, the principal at Hexter Elementary. “All of our teachers whose students have worked with Rev. Valles have reported an increase in the students’ ability to focus and concentrate.”

Rev. Valles teaches at public schools in East Dallas, where the students are primarily Hispanic and many parents work two jobs. She says that Texas schools have a lot of testing and that the stress levels of the kids, teachers, and administrators are high.

Along with sitting in silence for a few minutes, Rev. Valles teaches tools that kids can understand, like blowing dandelions, a practice that helps them get in touch with their feelings. Kids make a fist, imagine their feeling, and then take a deep breath and blow into their hand like they're blowing a dandelion, opening their fingers to release that energy and relax into the moment.

“First and second graders love dandelions,” Rev. Valles said. “In this exercise, they learn that energy is not good or bad. They can breathe through it and make a choice.”

Rev. Valles also teaches about energy dials, which helps kids to tune into the energy in their body. “We all get wiggly squiggly, we just have to be mindful about it,” she says.

Her goal is to work in a third school and to continue to expand her program so she can walk with the kids from kindergarten to high school graduation.

“I want to create a culture of mindfulness,” she said, “where within a generation this becomes the norm. Kids will have tools to walk through the rest of their lives with.”

Omega "Teachers" Appear in Updated Performance of Romeo and Juliet

5 months 10 hours ago

"Wherefore art thou, Omega?"

During a recent performance at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck, New York, "Omega" appeared on stage.

A merry troupe of fifth, sixth, and seventh grade students from the Mill Road Intermediate School and Linden Avenue Middle School in the Red Hook School District performed Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare at the Center for Performing Arts. While keeping the original language intact, director Cindy Kubik set the production in modern-day Manhattan and upstate New York.

In seeking to further localize the characters and setting, the group hit upon the idea of casting Friar Lawrence and his assistant Friar Krymsynne Skye (played by Adam Wert and Margaret Wainwright) as "teachers from Omega." Omega donated staff T-shirts to be used in the production.

In the story, Romeo and Juliet reveal their secret relationship to Friar Lawrence and he endeavors to help them in hopes of easing the conflict between their families (the warring Capulets and Montagues). He offers them wisdom, good counsel, and hope. As the neutral "adult" in the play, he represents tolerance and serves as the voice of reason between the two divided families.

This production was the fourth Shakespearean play put on by the group, known as the Mill Road Players, which seeks to introduce young students to the works of Shakespeare and stagecraft.

Photo © 2016

Historic Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission at the UN

5 months 1 week ago

For four days this spring, the United Nations did something they've never done before. They hosted the Tribunal of the U.S. Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC) as a part of the International Decade of People of African Descent at the United Nations. The BWTRC is the first organization to focus on rape and sexual assault against black women in the United States. 

On April 28, Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) manager Sarah Urech attended the opening event, which was hosted by Black Women’s Blueprint, a nonprofit organization that attended the OWLC's Women Serving Women Summit in 2012. Black Women's Blueprint envisions a world where women and girls of African descent are fully empowered and where gender, race, and other disparities are erased 

Three by three, women came to the stage and spoke testimonials of abuse by family and community members, as well as by the institutions that are designed to protect and defend them but don't necessarily do so. After each testimonial, one of the commissioners would come up from the side of the stage to issue a formal acknowledgment: "We see you; we hear you; we thank you," followed by an individualized appreciation. Many of the women stated, "This is my story, and my experience. But it does not define me." Then they proceeded to narrate what did define them—the perseverance to get a college degree, the courage to break the cycle of violence in their family, the capacity to help others through motivational speaking, the love of music, and more. 

Urech was greatly moved by the event, saying, "Much of the day, there were tears running down my cheeks. Certainly they flowed in response to the sheer horror of and grief for what the testifiers had survived, especially the ways in which the law enforcement and justice systems failed to support them. But more powerful than that, I felt courage welling up inside me; strength from their strength, hope from their hope. The initiative felt like a rising up—rising up in the face of trauma, violence, and systemic, long-term, cruel racism and sexism. Rising up as individuals and rising up as a community. Rising up to take charge in this world of systemic inequities and, as we teach at the OWLC, truly Do Power Differently®, for the good of all of us."

Women from around the world attended the BWTRC event, which was five years in the making and involved national grassroots activism, direct service healing practice, and participatory action research by Black Women’s Blueprint and survivors across the country. 

The BWTRC was born from discussions between women and girls of African descent—many denied access to or assistance from the criminal justice system—who felt that public recognition and acknowledgment are necessary for personal and collective transformation. The BWTRC first took place in New York City, and later in other cities, including Washington D.C., New Orleans, Mississippi, and Chicago. Their mandate is "Truth. Justice. Healing. Reconciliation." 

Transforming a Tough Chicago Neighborhood Through Yoga

5 months 2 weeks ago

Driving through the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, you would not expect to see a group of kids and adults doing sun salutations in a vacant lot. But these outdoor yoga classes—complete with someone standing guard for security—are one way I Grow Chicago is trying to bring hope to this battered community.

Englewood was ranked the 6th most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago in April 2016, and 42.2% of its residents live below the poverty level. But thanks to I Grow Chicago, community members can attend more than 19 yoga classes each month, and the neighborhood has hope that it can begin to redefine their community.

This year I Grow Chicago will be sharing their successes and challenges with others at the annual Yoga Service Conference at Omega. 

Started by Robin Carroll, who says following her heart led her to see how she might help the community of Englewood, I Grow Chicago’s mission is to provide a safe, inter-generational haven to children and at-risk community members. “We have an obligation to humanity, to society...we don’t have to do too much to make a difference,” said Carroll.

From their headquarters at the Peace House—which was scheduled for demolition but bought by I Grow Chicago and rebuilt by members of the community—the organization offers programs in sustainable farming, nutrition, movement, yoga, and the arts.

Since 2011, more than 1,200 kids have taken yoga classes through I Grow Chicago—more than 250 of them in school—and the organization has sponsored more than 1,100 hours of yoga teacher training. Currently an average of 300 children and 30 adults participate in yoga classes each week.

The Yoga Service Council awarded four tuition scholarships and Omega awarded housing to five participants from I Grow Chicago to attend this year’s Yoga Service Conference. “The Yoga Service Council and Omega are invested in organizations sending teams to the conference together, as we feel it maximizes the potential for learning and the usefulness of the experience once everyone gets home,” said Jennifer Cohen Harper, vice president of the Yoga Service Council.

Carroll says, "These scholarships are such a gift. We're thrilled for our team to have exposure to the educational opportunities and fabulous environment at Omega Institute. We look forward to sharing skills with other service-based yoga leaders. With so many team members going, we can have a greater impact coming back."

Omega Helps Explore Poughkeepsie’s #Poughtential

5 months 3 weeks ago

With the catchy hashtag #Poughtential, the city of Poughkeepsie, New York, just 17 miles south of Omega, hosted their first Community Wealth-Building Summit in April. Omega’s CEO, Robert “Skip” Backus, spoke at the event as part of a panel on sourcing local food.

Community wealth building is an alternative approach to economic development. It is focused on inclusion, working collaboratively, local control and ownership of businesses, and building anchor institutions for long-term community benefit. 

Poughkeepsie is home to many anchor institutions—nonprofits that, once established, tend not to move location—including five colleges, several hospitals, and the seat of the county government. Yet the city also faces enormous challenges. Nearly 1/3 of its residents live below the poverty line; nearly 1/3 of the downtown is vacant; and 1 in 4 households are food insecure.

The summit brought together more than 150 community stakeholders to talk about how Poughkeepsie’s anchor institutions could shift their spending to support and grow local businesses. Agriculture is a driving force behind the Hudson Valley’s economy—more than 5,000 largely family-owned and operated local farms have a gross economic impact of $810 million. At Omega, purchasing food grown in the Hudson Valley and reducing food waste are two important initiatives. 

“We try to only buy things in season,” said Backus at the event. “For example, raspberries are available at a local supermarket year-round, but Omega is only serving them when they are growing locally…. We’ve also adjusted our menus to reduce food waste. The economics of buying local can be costly for nonprofits…. Defining sustainability and local purchasing requires a broad scope. It’s not just where food comes from, it’s how much energy and water was used, and thinking about the embedded carbon footprint when you are making purchasing decisions.”

With thousands of meals served each day across local anchor institutions, it is not possible to source all that’s needed from local farms, but every little bit helps.

“At Omega, we serve approximately 23,000 people per year. That’s about 700 meals, 3 times a day, beginning in May, when many of our local produce crops have not yet become available,” said Backus. “We are constantly adjusting to what is available and typically can find 60% locally. We have a staff member dedicated to researching vendors and helping us make the best purchase choices…. We would prefer to spend every dollar in the local market space, so this is an important area for regional conversation and cooperation,” concluded Backus. 

The Community Wealth-Building Summit was a great place to start the conversation, helping key organizations in the Hudson Valley realize we have the opportunity—and #Poughtential—to address challenges no one organization can solve alone. 

Resting, Reflecting & Reprioritizing for Women

5 months 4 weeks ago


Taking time to rest, reflect, and reprioritize is critical to the creative process. This was the case for Milka Milliance, who recently launched the "goddess leadership" program We R Artemis after time spent in an Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) Juno Women's Leadership Residency, which had 39 participants in 2015. The OWLC is welcoming 42 participants in 2016.


In her inaugural newsletter, Milka described her journey as a process of learning to put her values and wisdom into practice in the deepest way possible. "My identity was so tied to my job that it took me two months to muster up the courage to hand in my resignation. It was the first step of many that I would take in the coming months that brought me to different stops on my heroine's journey where I had to stop, pause, and listen to an inner voice that I had silenced for so long." An important stop on that journey was the OWLC residency.


During a visit to the Sanctuary on Omega's campus, Milka says, "[I] decided just running away from a toxic environment was not enough. I wanted to do something meaningful with my experiences and knowledge.... Inspired by the work of Jean Shinoda Bolen, I chose Artemis, a one-in-herself goddess archetype, the protector and champion of women, as the namesake of We R Artemis."


Motivated by her time of rest and reflection, as well as subsequent travels in Europe, Milka's vision slowly crystallized until she was ready to put her inspiration into action. She is now creating a community that helps women across the world to become more accepting and loving of themselves by simply showing up more authentically.

The organization's tagline is "Narrating and Living Your Heroine's Journey." They seek to elevate the lives of all women through immersive experiences and retreats through coaching, workshops, and locally organized social events in leadership skills, community building, meditation, and more.

The workshops incorporate mindfulness teaching, Jungian psychology, body movement, creativity, and play to help participants reach a deeper level of consciousness and awareness through interactive learning.

By applying the power of mythology to personal lives, We R Artemis is reawakening the deeper knowing that lives in each of us—if we take the time to listen and the courage to act. 


Changing Lives in Newark, New Jersey

6 months 5 days 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.


Feeding Each Other: ELIP & the Long Spoon Collective

6 months 1 week ago
Monica Albizu completed the Ecological Literacy Immersion Program (ELIP) in 2013. She has since joined the Long Spoon Collective, named for a well-known parable that illustrates the difference between hell and heaven. In hell, the people are starving because they can't lift food to their own mouths using the long spoons. In heaven, the people are well-fed because they use the long spoons to feed each other across the table.
Omega: Tell us about the Long Spoon Collective that you're involved with.
Monica: The Long Spoon Collective is a group of individuals in Saugerties, New York, that started working together a year and a half ago. We have a two-fold mission: We’re looking to help people meet basic needs, like food and housing, and we’re trying to help people be less dependent on money. The main focus is to create an abundance economy—whether that’s having materials stored for building projects for whoever might need them, or growing as much food as possible so that we can share it. 
We have a network of 12 people who have seven gardens at different sites. Certain sites might be more conducive to growing potatoes, whereas others might be better suited for growing berries, or plants that need more water or more sunshine. It’s all done under the lens of land restoration, trying to rebuild soil, to plant things that are long-term investments.
At the beginning of August 2015, we had our first food share event. We set up big tables and tents to give food away. We went around the neighborhood and invited people. It was a word of mouth, organic thing. We had open house hours. People brought food to exchange. Other people just came to get fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a free farmer’s market, but we wanted to get away from both the word "free" and the word "market," to begin to really change the language, to get people to begin to think of things in a different way.
Omega: Is it true the collective has been deconstructing houses and putting the reclaimed materials to new use?
Monica: Two of our guys started this movement when they were having breakfast one day at a local cafe. They heard a contractor talking about a neighbor who wanted a house taken down, but he didn’t want to take the project. They approached the property owner and said, "If you want this house taken down, we can take it down for free in exchange for keeping the materials." The landowner thought it was a great idea, so a group of us got together and deconstructed the house in about 15 days. We reused as much material as we possibly could. The only things we had to throw out were fiberglass insulation and some of the sheetrock. 
We stored all the materials and used them on many different projects, two of which were full houses for individuals. We used everything from nails and screws that were taken out carefully, to siding and windows, sinks, and copper pipes. In doing this we began to build a relationship with the landowner. He was so impressed that he offered us the land the house had been on to build a garden. This season that property has been our main focus. We’ve been really focusing on turning it into a community space. 
Omega: How was it coming back to Omega for the ELIP reunion?
Monica: It was a wonderful opportunity to link back up with people whom I had spent so much time with, had shared a lot and grown a lot with. It allowed us all to connect with one another, to give advice to each other. It was very productive because you could go right into talking about deep issues. 

The ELIP program is creating a language we all share. It really begins to highlight how humans and nature are connected. A lot of the classes I took were demonstrating systems thinking, how we’re all interconnected. ELIP gives you the tools to think about society and the environment in new ways.
Omega: What was your biggest take away from ELIP?
Monica: It left me feeling called to rise to the challenge. The most important thing I took away from the program is how to live a life where actions reflect values in order to lead by example. Alone, consciously making the decision to change can be a daunting task, but when you join forces with others and build community, you become part of something larger and more meaningful. Community is a support network that allows you to share, teach, learn, and inspire others. 

Art & Activism: Omega Scholarship Opportunity

6 months 2 weeks ago

Calling All Artists, Educators, Counselors & Activists for an Exciting New Workshop! Application Deadline: April 29, 2016

RHINEBECK, NY – Art holds up a mirror to hypocrisy, injustice, and abuse, and mobilizes people in ways that nothing else can. In the spirit of creative expression, Omega is offering an exciting new workshop, Art & Activism: Agent-Provocateurs, May 27-30, 2016. Tiered pricing and scholarships are being offered, with a scholarship application deadline of April 29, 2016.

“Art is a vehicle that can help us reflect, heal, and connect. It has the power to help us think outside the box, revealing truths that provoke critical dialog and help us transform through a shared experience that can cut across culture, class, and other divides. We are thrilled to be offering our new Art & Activism workshop, which will explore changes we wish to see in the world and celebrate a vision of what can be,” said Carla Goldstein, chief external affairs officer at Omega.

Participants will spend the weekend making and experiencing activist art—including visual art, music, performance, and improv. Together the group will share their passions for change, push creative boundaries, and connect creativity to action.

The workshop is being led by Joe Raiola and Patty Goodwin:

Joe Raiola is artistic director of Theatre Within, creator/producer of The Annual John Lennon Tribute, and senior editor a MAD magazine. He tours extensively in his acclaimed solo show, The Joy of Censorship, which has been performed in 44 states. He is a master teacher of the transformative and illuminative Theatre Within process, and a student of Zen for many years.

Patty Goodwin is a creative director in the Hudson Valley. Through the New York City creative services firm she cofounded, she has worked with artists across a spectrum of disciplines to design immersive experiences for global audiences. She is now mainly focused on creative strategy work for pro-social organizations, including Omega.

To learn more, visit, or call 800.944.1001. 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.

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Cultivating Hank's Beans & a Seed Center

6 months 2 weeks ago

“Part of what is missing in the seed industry is the spirit of seed,” says Ken Greene, cofounder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, and the Center of Seed Stewardship.

If you took a close look at Omega’s main garden in the summer of 2015, you might have noticed something growing that’s truly unique. Something that embodies the "spirit of seed." It may have looked like any old bean, but it’s a bean with a special story. It’s 'Hank's Xtra Special Baking Bean.'

Rediscovering Hank's Beans

“Hank’s bean was the first seed that was donated to the Hudson Valley Seed Library.” Greene says. “I was still working at the Gardiner Library, and the library director, Peg Lotvin, had gone home to help her mom clean up her basement. Her father, Hank, had passed away maybe four or five years before. Hank had grown beans every year because he loved baked beans. He had a very specific idea of what made a good bean for making baked beans. He was selecting the plants over time to express the characteristics that he thought were ideal. There’s no other bean like it, because one person was guiding the changes in evolution of that particular variety.”

“When we found these beans, we weren’t sure if they would germinate or not,” Greene said. “But enough did that we were able to grow them, save seeds from them, and bring them back from near extinction.”

Planting & Sharing 

Omega planted Hank’s beans alongside a collaborative project headed up by the Glynwood Center in Cold Spring, New York. Several farms in the Hudson Valley grew the beans. Each was paired with a local New York restaurant that created and shared the beans in sold-out events across the Hudson Valley. In addition to sharing the beans with restaurants, 10 percent of the harvest was sent back to the Hudson Valley Seed Library to preserve the seed stock for future generations, echoing the way small-scale agriculture was conducted prior to the industrialization and consolidation that's taken place over the last half century.

Greene explains, “For generations, farmers and small gardeners alike were active participants in a practice older than civilization—the stewardship of seeds—but this skill set has been now relegated to scientists and corporations.”

A Seed Saving Challenge

Saving seed isn’t without it’s trials and tribulations, though. Omega’s 2015 crop was largely eaten by our resident woodchucks, despite best efforts to protect the plants. From the seeds we were able to save, we tested their viability, and it looks promising (see photo). We will plant the remaining seeds and hope for a larger yield in 2016 so we can give a portion back to the Hudson Valley Seed Library in the fall.

Growing the Center for Seed Stewardship

Greene's latest effort is the Center for Seed Stewardship (CSS), which he says was inspired by connections made at the 2014 and 2015 Omega Center for Sustainable Living conferences. "This nonprofit would not be happening if it wasn't for the ability to connect and build community around the concept of the commons at Omega." 

CSS aims to spread the knowledge and practice of seed saving by creating a network of seed libraries and seed sanctuaries. Greene looks to “rekindle participatory seed stewardship on a regional level, decentralize seed production and access nationally, and create a culture in which seed stewardship is revered.”

CSS plans to form individual seed sanctuaries through the Northeast, beginning in the Hudson Valley. Each of these sites will be centers for discovering and trialing regionally adapted plant varieties, educating the public on seed stewardship, producing organic seed for the region, and training farmers on how to produce seed in our region.

The organization is in its early stages of germination and will continue to plan its growth in a retreat at Omega during our annual Service Week in 2016.


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