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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.

Omega Names Meg Downey Chief Marketing Officer

2 years 1 month ago

Former Managing Editor of the Tennessean & Executive Editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal to Head Omega’s Marketing Efforts

RHINEBECK, NY – Meg Downey, a leading voice for the environment, education, and social causes, has been named chief marketing officer of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, based in Rhinebeck, New York. Downey, former executive editor and editorial page editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal and, most recently, managing editor of The Tennessean in Nashville, both Gannett news organizations, has won more than 40 national awards, including twice being designated a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, both as an individual at the Poughkeepsie Journal and as a leader of a Tennessean team.

“After a long executive search, we are thrilled to welcome Meg Downey to our leadership team,” said Robert “Skip” Backus, chief executive officer at Omega. “Meg brings strong communications expertise, a unique skill-set, and shared values to the work of our Marketing department, and we are excited by what she will be able to contribute.”

In addition to her work on digital news sites and in newspapers, she has been an editor and contributing writer for 10 books, a magazine editor, and a television news show cohost. Downey also taught a journalism seminar at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie for nine years and has served on the boards of the Associated Press Media Editors, the National Conference of Editorial Writers (now the Association of Opinion Journalists), and the New York Fair Trial Free Press Conference. She has been president of the New York State Associated Press Association and was given the Dutchess Award for Community Leadership by the Dutchess County Historical Society. She is currently a member of the board of Arts Mid-Hudson.

A graduate of Smith College and mother of two sons, Downey lives in Millerton with her husband, Edward, an attorney and certified financial planner.

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 200 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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Yoga & Meditation In the Workplace

2 years 1 month ago

Did you know we have our own blog on the Huffington Post? Check out our latest piece, titled "Will Work for Yoga," about the reasons why more companies are bringing yoga or meditation practices to their offices to help reduce stress and boost productivity.

Yoga and meditation are not just extracurricular activities. Many employers now offer on-site wellness programs to boost morale and health around the office.

It's not surprising, as yoga in the workplace proves to be effective at lowering stress and improving overall well-being for employees.

About one-fourth of American employers now offer some kind of stress reduction options, according to New York Times reporter David Gelles, in his book Mindful Work.

"One of the most surprising and promising trends in business today is the rise of mindfulness in the workplace," Gelles writes. "At first, the notion of yoga and meditation in the office seemed like the province of Silicon Valley startups where employees bring their dogs to work and play football in the lobby. But in recent years, mindfulness has gone mainstream."


Omega Announces Annual Nonprofit Retreat Grant Opportunity Aimed at Strengthening Community

2 years 2 months ago

Omega Service Week: Nonprofit Working Retreat Grant Application Available Online, Deadline February 9, 2015 – Apply Now!

RHINEBECK, NY – Omega today announced it is accepting applications from nonprofits for its annual Service Week program. Omega Service Week provides fellow nonprofits working across the spectrum of social, economic, and environmental issues with 2-day 2-night self-led working retreats on Omega’s Rhinebeck, New York campus. Service Week is comprised of two sessions this year: a Strengthening Communities Summit (May 25– 27, 2015), and the Women Serving Women Summit (May 27– 29, 2015). The retreat grant application deadline was February 9, 2015.

“Omega started Service Week more than a decade ago as a way to help support our nonprofit peers and to strengthen the safety-net that so many people in our extended community depend upon. We are thrilled with the success of the program, which has directly touched more than 300 nonprofits and 4,000 dedicated people over the years and has an aggregate ripple effect in the millions,” said Carla Goldstein, chief external affairs officer at Omega.

For 11 years, organizations—large and small—working in the region, across the country, and around the world have brought their teams of staff and board members to Omega to work and to rest so they can return to their efforts replenished and invigorated. Organizations use their retreat time in a variety of ways, from developing strategies, cultivating leadership, and deepening connections to discussing challenges, generating ideas, and identifying solutions.

The self-led working retreat grant includes: simple accommodations, meals, meeting space, access to campus amenities, and the opportunity to participate in the Organizational Development Clinic, a free one-hour consultation with Omega’s Service Week partner, the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON). Organizations can meet with NYCON for support in any aspect of nonprofit health—from financial to managerial, motivational to administrative.

Nonprofit organizations choose to apply to one of two sessions during Service Week, depending on their area of focus. The Strengthening Communities Summit (May 25–27, 2015) brings together organizations that enhance community life and focus on a variety of social, economic, and environmental issues. The Women Serving Women Summit (May 27–29, 2015) is sponsored by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) and focuses on groups that are working in particular to serve the interests and needs of women.

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 200 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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Governor Cuomo Bans Fracking

2 years 3 months ago

Omega applauds Governor Cuomo and his administration's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New York State and congratulates all those who have worked in dialog to bring about this considered outcome.

The decision to ban fracking—a method to extract gas or oil from shale rock—was delivered at a year-end cabinet meeting today in Albany. 

"Governor Cuomo's decision demonstrates an understanding and respect for the connections between society, nature, and individuals, and their contributions to creating healthy communities," said Robert “Skip” Backus, chief executive officer at Omega. "While each of our actions toward preserving our collective resources is important, the state's leadership is essential for protecting fresh water—a vital and irreplaceable resource—during a time when it is not guaranteed anywhere in the world. This decision moves New York toward being a national and global leader in environmental preservation and building a sustainable economy that doesn't rely on energy solutions that endanger our environment." 

Read more about the announcement 

Omega Teachers Offer Free Relationship Workshops

2 years 3 months ago

Relationship experts and best-selling authors Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt are on a mission to save more marriages in their hometown of Dallas.

They are offering free relationship counseling workshops, called Safe Conversations.

The goal of the workshops, which have already served more than 1,000 couples, is to reach those who can’t afford conventional marriage counseling and to help strengthen the entire community by fostering relationships. In Dallas, and throughout the country, nearly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.

In the workshops, couples learn many techniques and communication skills to talk with greater clarity, ease, and love.

“The thing that scares most couples—and where they hurt each other most—is when they talk,” Hendrix told NPR. “So we, in the safe conversation, help couples learn how to talk, and as they talk in this way, they begin to relax.”

Hunt said the idea came from Hendrix, who wanted to take his therapeutic work and make it simple, accessible, and free.

#WeCantWait for Everyone to Have a Toilet

2 years 4 months ago

World Toilet Day, on November 19, intends to raise awareness about the 2.5 billion people in the world who do not have improved sanitation, as well as the one billion people who are forced to defecate in the open because of this.

“This day is a universal effort to address access to improved global sanitation,” Omega CEO Robert “Skip” Backus says. “Until you lack access to a toilet, and must squat in the street, you don’t understand the importance of what we take for granted.”

“Having to defecate openly infringes on human safety and dignity,” the World Toilet Day organizers state. “Women and girls risk rape and abuse as they wait until night falls because they lack access to a toilet that offers privacy. Where toilets do exist [they] generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly, and women and girls requiring facilities to manage menstrual hygiene. Without accessible toilets for these populations, they remain excluded from opportunities to attend school and gain employment.”

Water is central to the mission of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living. Our building itself—the first LEED® Platinum and Living Building Challenge™ certified building in the world—hosts a natural water reclamation system, called an Eco Machine, built to purify the water used by the Omega Institute campus. 

Extending modern sanitation facilities, done ideally in an eco-friendly manner as Omega has modeled here on campus, can be a powerful tool in improving human health. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that improving water, sanitation, and hygiene could prevent roughly 9 percent of the global disease burden, as well as prevent 6.3 percent of all deaths worldwide. 

There’s a deeper question we can be asking, though. Considering humanity’s need for clean, potable water, is disposing of bodily waste in water the best way forward as a general practice?

“We have an opportunity here,” Backus says, “to further the development and use of waterless toilet systems for waste disposal, which can reclaim important nutrients such as phosphorus from the waste stream, while at the same time reducing water pollution. In doing so, we will be helping to protect and conserve critically important natural resources, in addition to improving human health”

On November 19 several events have been organized around the world. If you cannot attend one of them, please consider doing your part in your community, your workplace, and your home to raise awareness about this critical issue of social justice and environmental sustainability: World Toilet Day Ideas.

Study Reveals Omega Has "Significant" Economic Impact on the Region

2 years 4 months ago

Premiere Travel Destination in the Hudson Valley Makes Its Mark

RHINEBECK, NY – Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to lifelong learning and based in Rhinebeck, New York since the early 1980s, recently retained Camoin Associates to provide an economic and fiscal impact assessment of its operations on the Mid-Hudson Region of New York State. The comprehensive study determined Omega brings significant fiscal benefits to the Mid-Hudson Region, including:

Annual Economic Impact of Omega Institute:

  • 474 jobs in the region
  • $8.7 million in earnings
  • $29 million in sales
  • $1.6 million tax revenue

Cumulative Economic Impact of Omega Institute (over ten years):

  • $99 million in earnings
  • $332 million in sales
  • $18 million in tax revenue

“Omega’s diverse programs inspire both personal growth and social change. As we work to

cultivate our own health, happiness, and well-being, a natural outcome of this work is a sense of

connection to our community and planet, and a desire to contribute to building a future that is socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable,” said Robert “Skip” Backus, chief executive officer at Omega. “We are proud we can serve a vital role in the Hudson Valley’s economy while fulfilling our nonprofit mission.”

Located just 90 miles north of New York City, Omega is open seasonally, from April through

October. In 2013, there were a total of 49,867 guest days at Omega, with the average guest staying for about three days. About one third of guests are from New York State, with the remainder visiting from around the nation and internationally. For the purpose of evaluating the impact of Omega on the seven-county Mid-Hudson Region, Camoin Associates used zip code data provided by the Institute to determine the proportion of guests who live outside the region. Spending by these guests is considered “net new” to the region because, if not for Omega, this spending would not have occurred.

Visitors to Omega have an impact on the regional economy as they make purchases, including lodging costs, transportation spending, and other food and beverage purchases. The majority of the visitors’ time, even those staying off-site, is spent on Omega’s campus where they are provided food and drink as part of their registration fee. Combined off-site spending for guests both staying on-site and off-site was estimated to be about $2.8 million.

In addition to the fiscal benefits, Camoin also verified that Omega provides Mid-Hudson Region residents and visitors with valuable opportunities for life-long learning, supports community building within the region, and provides resources to nonprofits to improve their ability to serve. Special mention was made of the significant impact to the region through the following initiatives: Omega Center for Sustainable Living & Leadership in Sustainable Education Award, Omega Women’s Leadership Center, Omega in Service & Service Week, and the Omega Veterans Program.

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 200 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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Community Engagement at the Hudson Valley Farm to Institution Summit

2 years 4 months ago

In the United States, more than an acre of farmland is lost to development and urban sprawl every minute—while at the same time, more people need access to local, healthy food. It's an important time for farmers, processors, distributors, vendors, and food buyers to come together and explore new opportunities to provide healthy food and sustain their businesses.

The good news is, institutional initiatives to provide local, healthy food have been increasing in New York State, one of the nation’s top food-producing states. In October, several Omega staff members joined other healthy food advocates at the Hudson Valley Farm to Institution Summit to discuss strengthening New York’s farm and food economy. 

Held at S.U.N.Y. College at New Paltz, New York, the Summit was organized by the New York State Office of American Farmland Trust, with support from the Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation. At the Summit, Susan Grove, one of the Summit organizers and Omega’s community engagement manager, was joined by Robert Turner, executive chef and general manager of Omega FoodWorks, and Sandi Trillo, Omega dining hall manager.

Susan explained, “Institutions can positively impact the region economically and sustainably by making value-based food-purchasing decisions. Omega FoodWorks is a 3-star certified restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association that provides three healthy meals a day to nearly 20,000 people a year. Exemplifying Omega’s core value of sustainability, Omega FoodWorks prepares meals that emphasize organic and local ingredients purchased from Hudson Valley farmers.”

Speaking of Omega and the other Summit attendees, Robert added, “We all share the same goals. We strive to deliver healthy food, which has an immediately positive impact on everyone. My biggest takeaway from the Summit was the importance of networking, maintaining ongoing connections, and reciprocal education. We can all learn from each other.”

Learn more about Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS)

Learn more about Omega FoodWorks


Van Jones Credits Omega As Inspiration For His Green Jobs Initiative

2 years 4 months ago

Van Jones, cohost of CNN's Crossfire and an award-winning pioneer in the clean energy economy, delivered a rousing Friday night keynote address at the 2014 OCSL Conference: Where We Go From Here. He covered everything from Ferguson to green jobs to his latest project YesWeCode, a movement to help train 100,000 low-opportunity youth to become world-class computer coders.

"I remember coming to Omega and having my eyes opened. There was a girl named Julia Butterfly Hill here. This girl was crazy. She climbed up in a tree and didn’t come down. We bonded over the myth of disposability. The whole green jobs thing was born on Omega’s stage with me and Julia Butterfly Hill trying to understand each other," he said.

Van Jones started the Oakland Green Jobs Corps with $125,000. He recalled thinking at the time, "Instead of having these kids standing outside of my house in Oakland, getting on my nerves, let’s have them get on the roof and put up a solar panel."

The Oakland Green Jobs Corps led to the Green Jobs Act of 2007, which infused the Oakland program with $125 million and spread it across the country. Based on this experience, Jones was inspired to write The Green Collar Economy in 2008. President Barack Obama read the book and asked Jones to be on his transition team. Another half billion dollars was put into the Green Jobs Act. It was a three year time elapse from the start. And according to Van Jones, it all began with a conversation at Omega. 

Ceremony Held for OCSL Leadership in Sustainable Education Award

2 years 4 months ago

A ceremony to present Omega’s 3rd Annual OCSL Leadership in Sustainable Education Award was held during Omega's Where We Go From Here conference. This year’s recipient is Groundwork Hudson Valley, an organization working to help distressed communities in the lower Hudson Valley build a sustainable future.

“I look forward to this every year,” said Omega chief executive officer Robert "Skip" Backus. "For this award, we seek out organizations who have ideals in common with the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL). We reach out to lend support in the form of a cash prize and a retreat, but more than anything, to develop a future relationship. Groundwork Hudson Valley is working to educate children, address economic disparity, and reach into communities. We're proud to support their work, from the arts to community gardens to a science barge on the Hudson River. We look forward to a long relationship with them."

Accepting the award for Groundwork Hudson Valley, deputy director and youth program director Curt Collier said, “What we’re missing in environmental organizations is diversity. We’re looking to get diverse youth into these organizations. You just can’t send kids off in the forest once and expect them to get the lesson. You need to keep bringing them into more experiences."

Groundwork youth participants take part in transformative projects in Yonkers, New York, where Groundwork is based. They also intern at a variety of national parks, including Yellowstone, Shenandoah, and Bear Mountain.


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