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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.

Family of Woodstock Builds Relationships at Service Week

1 year 10 months ago

The motto of Family of Woodstock (Family) is, “Any problem under the sun.”

This year, Family celebrated its 45th anniversary in part by returning to Omega Service Week, an initiative that supports fellow nonprofits who come for self-led organizational retreats on Omega’s campus. More than 30 organizations took part in the retreats this year.

“Omega Service Week is a rare and special opportunity to get past the day to day and look at what we are doing, how it is working, and how we support each other,” said Family executive director Michael Berg.

The organization, which is one of the largest providers of human services in Ulster County, New York, began in response to the impact on the town of Woodstock after the famous 1969 festival drew crowds of young people to the hamlet with only two police officers.

The community began to meet to figure out what to do. At one meeting, a woman said, “Call me if there is any problem.” This was the beginning of what is now one of the oldest 24-hour emergency hotlines in the country.

Family responds to more than 200,000 requests each year, providing a vast array of services from suicide prevention and child-care services to domestic violence services and shelters for homeless adults, families, and teens.

Family runs on three principles based on Rogerian philosophy: 1) Don’t tell people what to do. They won’t listen. 2) Don’t burden people with your judgments of their behavior. They’re not going to listen to that, either. 3) Maintain privacy and confidentiality.­

And while the organization serves so many, their volunteers and staff don’t always get to interact on a regular basis, or have much time to identify common understanding about important cultural issues within the organization. 

Family’s main goal at Service Week this year was to help identify better ways to communicate and collaborate. "We focused on crucial conversations and how to promote dialogue," Berg said. "This is a skill that we all need and all need work on. In order to feel safe to bring up difficult subjects, there must be a significant level of trust. The time at Omega helped us build those relationships and connections.”

This wasn’t Family’s first visit to Omega. They've attended Service Week several times before. 

“One of the lasting effects of Service Week has been the growth of our staff. It has been exciting for staff to get out of the normal working environment to connect to people and resources they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. To see their own roles and the role of Family in a broader context supports staff in their development as leaders. Omega has helped us grow,” said Berg.


Omega Yoga Teacher Supports Tibetan Children

1 year 11 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pioneering Media Literacy Activist Jean Kilbourne Is Juno Resident

1 year 11 months 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

Buying Local is About Building Relationships

1 year 11 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimately, local produce is about building community relationships.

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

Seasonal Staff Success Story: Marc Williams

1 year 12 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also offers some advice to current seasonal staffers.

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

Can Spiritual Practice Heal Racism?

2 years 3 days ago

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

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

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

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

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

Omega Helps Families Harvest & Cook Seasonal Lunch

2 years 4 days ago

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

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

OWLC Visits the Baskin Feminist Archives

2 years 1 week ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Duke's press release.

A Groundwork Hudson Valley Retreat at Omega

2 years 2 weeks ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omega Receives 2015 Beacon Peace Award

2 years 3 weeks ago

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

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


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