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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.

Ending the Concrete Ceiling for Women of Color

9 months 1 week ago

Women of color are the most likely demographic to earn poverty wages because of conscious and unconscious social biases, personal confidence gaps, and an overall lack of opportunities. There is ample data focusing on the challenges women at large face in the workforce, but there is glaringly limited discussion about how it relates to challenges women of color face. Awareness of these factors on all sides is crucial in creating change.

These were facts raised by the Women's Leadership Alliance (WLA) of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce in the introduction to their panel discussion, Concrete Ceiling: Challenges Women of Color Face in the Workplace at the Boardman Road Branch Library in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Organizer Dr. Lubna Somjee encouraged everyone to action, saying, "This issue is persistent, pervasive, and quiet. Let's start a conversation so we can go back to our institutions and make some noise!"

Sarah Urech, manager of the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC)—a cosponsor the event—called attention to the importance of intersectionality in her introduction. "As women take on more leadership and gain more power, we are interested in how women can use that rise in influence to be transformers of power itself—from a force that is based on domination to one based on cooperation," she said.

The event description spoke to the need for local conversation and gave a definition of the concrete ceiling, stating, "For decades people have discussed the glass ceiling—the barrier that prevents women as a group from moving up the corporate hierarchy. The concrete ceiling is an even more formidable barrier that women of color face in the workplace." 

While it's true that women increasingly obtain positions at the tops of corporate and government hierarchies, these are the exceptions and are not reflective of growing equity. The concrete ceiling is an added burden for women of color, who confront additional issues such as racism, lack of role models, exclusion from networks, and a lack of opportunities to showcase a full range of skills.

The event speakers featured several women of color leaders, including Mecca Santana, Sarah Lee, Lisa Ghartey, Jen Brown, Cindy Smith, and Karla Jerry, who shared personal stories of hitting the concrete ceiling. With intimacy and clarity they illuminated how to deal with various issues, such as recognizing discrimination based on color or gender; identifying and coping with microaggressions in the workplace; increasing recruitment and retention in women of color in the workplace; and seeking professional support and mentorship. 

Mecca Santana described how her uncle would say, “You’re not going to be a lawyer,” and how she was sure to invite him to her law school graduation. She attributed an abundance of job offers to her confident attitude, saying, “They’d be lucky to have me.” She also called on organizations to institutionalize a culture of diversity. "Be a place where people of color want to work and educate your workforce on implicit bias,” she said. 

Karla Jerry reminded the audience, "We need diversity to serve all kinds of communities.” She shared that she focuses on knowing her own strengths and ignores discrimination by being “too busy working."

“Believe in yourself, know your self-worth. You can learn from your bad experiences and ask for support from a mentor,” she said.

Jen Brown drew a historical line tracing the United States' past of slavery to a present culture still racialized. Being from the school of “find a way or make a way,” she described part of her journey as spiritual and also emphasized the importance of believing in yourself.

"You can transcend what you are facing and find your part in difficult situations,” said Brown. She also firmly stated that white people need to take the lead to teach white people cultural literacy, and drew attention to the fact that the pathways she and her fellow panelists followed to success are not available to all.

Lisa Ghartey implored everyone to ask where the women of color are in their workplace. "Homogeneity is not good because it’s not who we are. Diversity will lend to the cohesiveness of our teams."

Sarah Lee encouraged women to talk to each other. “Preconceived notions start to wash away as you get to know people. Know employees as people, know their stories,” she said. 

“Treat everyone the same, regardless of their position or role in the organization,” Cindy Smith added, suggesting one way to retain staff is through education and encouraging everyone to network.

The final advice from the panelists included finding a mentor and trusted advisor whom you can trust; to be unapologetic and tell the truth in an authentic way; and to work smart, do your homework, and be fearless.  

“I learned I should be me. I am valuable. I am wonderful even though prejudice says we need to look, act, talk a certain way,” said audience member Dr. Anesta Vannoy-Kwame, president of the Southern Dutchess NAACP Branch 2132, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in October.

One of the WLA’s core tenets is collaboration: "When women work together, we are stronger, more powerful, and able to sidestep potential pitfalls." The OWLC is committed to being part of ongoing discussions on how local organizations can best support women of color in the workplace in the Hudson Valley, and hopes this conversation is the beginning of many more to come.

Doing Power Differently Internationally in Jamaica's Energy Sector

9 months 1 week ago

Kelly Tomblin, president and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company talks about the impact of her time at Omega, the impetus to create the Women in Energy Conference: Doing Power Differently, and what #DoPowerDifferently means to her.

Omega: How were you impacted during your weekend at the Women & Power Retreat? What was the lasting takeaway? 

Kelly: As a leader and member of the energy industry, the theme "Doing Power Differently” really hit a cord. The takeaways were many. Talk about what you are afraid of and have a practice that brings it to the fore. Open up a space for others to confront, wrestle with, and move beyond the fear. My favorite image was Liz Gilbert saying, “fear—you can ride in the car with me, but you can’t drive.”

The experience reminded me that I am bold and that boldness is a necessary ingredient of movement from one place to another, and to embrace that. Also, the lack of a corporate presence made me think about what was possible in that arena. Finally, the reaffirmation of “sisterhood.” Like a lot of corporate women, I had steered away from the idea of sisterhood, embracing the notion that “I am not one of them.” But I am clearly one of them…and am proud and honored to be one. 

Omega: Why did you feel compelled to plan your own program with a "Do Power Differently" theme? 

Kelly: As we say in Jamaica, “Bwoy, I am not getting any younger, so I best make my big move now.” So many of us know we can have a greater impact but think small in our quiet hours, or that it is just too much work. But after being with women from across the Caribbean and U.S. and hearing their (often horror) stories, I was changed and reminded of what I had endured. But more than that—what potential we have! I was blown away by what my young women put together when given the opportunity and saw how their hearts longed for leaders to "Do Power Differently." I felt a sense of honor and duty simultaneously. The need to “Do Power Differently” and the double entendre was hard to resist. 

The theme of Women in Energy: Doing Power Differently resonated with everyone I talked to because it calls upon us, as we take the mantle in this industry, to rethink and often reject what we have seen. When I asked the question, “How are you doing power differently?” no one hesitated. It was like Brené Brown (vulnerability) meets Einstein (everyone is a genius). Corporations and institutions can be the most toxic places on earth…or they can be a place of healing and growth—leadership and culture determine which.  

Omega: What was the program meant to address and how did it go?

Kelly: The theme was "Passion, Power, and Promise" and our goals were to help women discover what is in their hearts, what excites them, what their gifts are, and how to bring it all together to make a positive impact. We discussed what women do to cause our own pain and some practical strategies for living more fully. Leaders in pain are toxic. Of course, we also wanted to reimagine the energy sector (wind, water, sun, economic prosperity) and expand the definition of “energy.”  

We did it our own way from start to finish and the program was wildly successful. More than 350 attended and we had to turn people away. We received a 98% satisfaction rating and many people said to me that their lives were changed forever. A magazine was published with the event and the minister of energy came directly after he was sworn in. Because of the conference, I was invited to a webinar with Chelsea Clinton and took a young women mentee to New York for the event.

Omega: What is the most important contribution women have to make in the energy sector?

Kelly: Women are returning the industry to the customer and they are bringing Mother Earth deeply into the conversation. All work gets done in relationships—we are bringing that reality to the front and banning the term “soft skills” from our vocabulary. We are also asserting wellness into corporate goals as a business imperative. Because women tend to be long-term thinkers, we are helping the industry see that “when the world does well, we will do well”—in areas of energy efficiency for instance. You can’t outrun the economy in which you live. It really serves both the industry and the consumers to think holistically and globally.

Our industry suffers from a lack of diversity in all ways—not just gender—which has stifled the progress that can form a foundation of prosperity, economic development, and wellness. Those of us who now lead can change this reality and we haven’t pushed enough. It’s unfortunate that 20 years into my experience we are still talking about this.

Omega: How do you feel you'll keep evolving this event and your understanding gained from the retreat?

Kelly: We have announced the dates and a larger venue for next year’s events and are lining up sponsors. Several local events, our web series, and a daily Whats App group are underway. The big learning was “get out of the way”—let young people do their work—and respect the culture. But the real magic is that the conversation is still strong months after the conference. That will continue to push it forward. 

Omega: Do you see relationships between issues of environmental "power" when it comes to energy and corporations, and the issues of "Women & Power"?

Kelly: There is a big misunderstanding around goals for environmental power, if you mean Mother Earth. As more diverse voices lead energy companies, we become less conflicted in our real concern about the impact of our actions. We will always have to manage the balance of affordability, sustainability, and the security for the energy sector, so we need to advocate for all three. The energy industry grew up without concern for either women or the environment. Now we have to reimagine the roles of both in the sector, which is changing dramatically. The power of environmental concerns and the re-engaged power of women have real opportunity to be at the head of the board room now.

Omega: What does the phrase #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?

Kelly: The above picture sheds “some light” on what it means. But to enumerate it: 1. Knowing that power is infinite—and that the more you give it away the more you have. 2. Admitting when you are wrong or you don’t know. 3. Using the word love…and meaning it. 4. Crying and laughing and being exactly who you are and giving everyone the space to do the same. 5. Believing in everyone’s genius. 6. Bringing your true strength to each conversation. 7. Expecting the best…and getting it.

Blowing Dandelions Helps Kids Learn Mindfulness Practices

9 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

10 months 5 days 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

10 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

10 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

10 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

11 months 3 days 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

11 months 1 week 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

11 months 2 weeks 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. 


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