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Omega Celebrates International Women’s Day by Joining Global Efforts Calling for Change

3 months 3 weeks ago

International Women’s Day Events Planned for March 8, 2017

RHINEBECK, NY –At a time when women's rights are being undermined by new policy restrictions, Omega Institute joins in solidarity with millions of people around the world in celebrating International Women's Day (IWD) to call for stepping up bold action for change rather than rolling back decades of advancement for gender equality.

“As an educational institution we have seen more than 600,000 women come through our doors over the past 40 years. We have witnessed their struggles and triumphs, which led us to create the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) in 2012, and guided us in shaping an entire curriculum designed to support women leaders in learning how to ‘Do Power Differently,’” said Carla Goldstein, chief external affairs officer at Omega and co-founder of the OWLC.  “Over the next year we will grow our support for women, organizations, and efforts on the front line of advancing change through a range of innovative programs.”

IWD began at the turn of the 20th century in a global effort to bring attention to the unfair working conditions of women, build support for universal suffrage, and end gender discrimination. While much progress has been made since then, there is much left to do, and many women, particularly women of color and poor and working class women, have been left behind in the gains achieved.

“The emphasis of this year’s celebration is on bringing attention to women’s economic inequality,” said Goldstein. “It’s time to make deeper strides in closing the gender pay gap and recognizing women’s unpaid care and domestic work. We also have to do more to create economic policies for job creation, poverty reduction, and sustainable, inclusive growth that serves the needs of women.”

On March 8, 2017, Omega and the OWLC will participate in two events:

  1. A DAY WITHOUT A WOMAN, a Women’s March Initiative, to take international collective action for equity, justice, and human rights for women. As a nonprofit organization working on behalf of these issues, Omega has created a paid “Civic Participation” personal day off for any employee who wishes to honor this day.
  2.  “MAKE IT HAPPEN: Celebrate International Women’s Day,” an initiative of New York’s Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Leadership Alliance, to educate people on women’s issues, inspire action, and create pathways for involvement.

For more information visit eOmega.org, and follow Omega on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+.  #IWD2017 #BeBoldForChange #DayWithoutAWoman #OWLC #DoPowerDifferently

About Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

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

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Omega Partners with TEDx: Practicing Change

4 months 4 weeks ago

How can we bring a more conscious approach to activism? How can we stand up and fight for our values and rights, while staying grounded in peace and empathy? These are the questions Omega's Chief External Affairs Officer Carla Goldstein brought to the TEDx Washington Square stage during Practicing Change.

Goldstein started her career as an activist and lawyer, to help change the systems that supported injustice and conflict. She spent a decade fighting the good fight—emphasis on fight—in public policy and women's rights, starting and ending each day working to defeat the enemy "other." A health crisis helped her realize that while she valued peace and love, her advocacy was fueled by anger and rage, and she began looking for a more integrated approach to change.

Her healing journey—which included Eastern practices like yoga, meditation, and tai chi—brought her to a greater understanding that we are all interconnected, even with "our enemies." This helped shift her perspective about our social change process, which she says "has to be both personal and structural—it's an inside and outside job.”

"The inside job is to work on healing ourselves and building the personal capacity for being peaceful and loving," says Goldstein. "And the outside job is to create structures, systems, and policies that support the well-being of everybody and the planet we share. It is a both/and. Because who we are as people shapes the structures we create, and our structures reflect who we are as people."

"Grounding in peace and love does not mean that we have to get soft," she continues. "It does not mean that we have to lose our moral discernment. It does not mean that we cannot rise up and protest in resistance together in the face of injustice and wrongdoing. But it does mean that we have to get beyond the enemy paradigm, beyond the enemy reflex, beyond the necessity to make an enemy 'other' that we can demonize."

Goldstein's talk on "practicing change" helps weave a larger narrative of the innovative ways transformation is happening around us—from the microscopic neural changes through mindfulness, to the systemic institutional changes happening in our prisons and businesses.

Other presenters include meditation teacher and best-selling author Sharon Salzberg, activist and author angel Kyodo Williams, and clothing designer Eileen Fisher.

Watch other Practicing Change presentations at TEDx Washington Square.


A Café With a Mission

6 months 2 weeks ago

In the town of Liverpool, New York, just north of Syracuse on Lake Onondaga, you'll find Café at 407, serving delicious, seasonal, locally produced, and handmade food. Opened in 2009, the café's main objective is to support Ophelia's Place, a nonprofit that is dedicated to changing the culture and conversation around eating disorders, body image, and body dissatisfaction.

Founded in 2002 to address an urgent need in the community, Ophelia's place seeks to redefine beauty and health at large by empowering individuals, families, and communities to address and heal all forms of eating disorders, disordered eating, and body dissatisfaction. Besides nourishing its local community directly, Ophelia's Place has become a national leader in offering support services, education, and outreach. It offers outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment programs with the Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service, supporting approximately 70 families weekly, and thousands each year.

Ophelia's Place was a participating organization at the 2014 Women Serving Women Summit, a retreat grant that supports nonprofit organizations working to positively impact the lives of women through a two-day, two-night self-led retreat, hosted by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) during Omega Service Week. In an interview with MaryEllen Clausen, founder of Ophelia's Place, she recalled that her organzition was ready to close its doors right before they came to Summit. Team members showed up in a state of exhaustion and burnout. The organization had been losing money and struggling to continue.

During the retreat, the team did yoga, walked, and meditated. MaryEllen met other organizational leaders and founders who gave her a sense of community, support, and wisdom.

When the team returned home, they invited a representative from The New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON), whom they had met at Omega, for a site visit. With NYCON's help, they restructured some staffing and by 2015 the Café at 407 began supplying 35% of the organizational budget.

MaryEllen emphasized how impactful Summit was and how grateful her team was for having had that opportunity, stating that Ophelia's Place could not have gotten where they are today without the experience.

Connected by the Fabric of Love

7 months 2 weeks ago

The message of love is a timeless one. This year it was the theme of the Omega Peace Quilt, an annual collaborative art project created at our Rhinebeck, New York, campus.

Since 2005, fabric artist Helema Kadir has led seasonal community members and staff through the process of creating the quilt. It is an opportunity for creative expression and the chance to participate in a community-building experience focused on an uplifting theme.

The inspiration for this year’s subject came from an art project created by local artist Regina Cosio, who made a set of postcards each simply printed with the word Love, followed by a period. Kadir says she loved the art project and spoke with Cosio to apply it into this year's Peace Quilt.

The 2016 Love. quilt reflects the diversity of Omega's seasonal community members and staff with the word "love" represented in Greek, Russian, Gaelic, Swahili, American Sign Language, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Arabic, and even Morse code.

Along with quilts from previous years, the Love. quilt will be on display in the Dining Hall in 2017 when Omega's Rhinebeck campus re-opens in May. But you don't have to wait until then to see the quilts. You can check out this year's quilt as well as quilts from previous years, and read more about the history of the project now.

Juno Resident's Work Appears in New York Times

8 months 3 weeks ago

Rejuvenation and restoration are not just about self-care—they're also integral to our capacity for service in our communities. This was true for Heidi Hutner, one of 36 recipients of the Omega Women's Leadership Center's (OWLC) Juno Women's Leadership Residency in 2016.

Heidi, whose work is focused on the topics of caring for Earth, animals, and people, is the director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University. Her TEDx talk, Eco-Grief and Ecofeminism, traces her journey of personal loss and healing into environmental studies and activism. During her time on Omega's Rhinebeck campus, Heidi found herself surprised by how easily her agenda for her residency slipped away, and how she was able to attend to deeper needs. "I thought I would write a lot at Omega, but instead, I rested. Attending the nurturing program at Juno gave me the time to breathe. To exhale. To relax. To heal. The result of this healing surprised me greatly. I was so recharged, that my first article for the New York Times would soon be published in the weeks after I left Omega." 
That article, "A Conservationist’s Call for Humans to Curb Harms to Our Animal Kin," highlights a conversation between Heidi and Carl Sarafina first conducted for her web interview series, Coffee with Hx2. Carl is the author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, which explores the scientific research and cultural reasoning around reassessing human's relationships to the natural, sentient world. Heidi has also written several pieces on women climate scientists and women's indigenous activism related to the Dakota pipeline.  
Heidi was able to bring the restoration of her time at Omega home to re-examine aspects of her life that needed clearing and cleansing. "I am more focused and able to narrow down my interests and help others in a more beneficial way. My heart is more open because much has cleared—the Juno Women's Leadership Residency helped me to declutter my insides! This decluttering has also helped me in my activist community projects. I left Omega healed, whole, and wide awake."

Ending the Concrete Ceiling for Women of Color

1 year 5 days 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

1 year 6 days 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.

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

1 year 1 month 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." 

Resting, Reflecting & Reprioritizing for Women

1 year 2 months 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

1 year 2 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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