By Pete Angie
ITHACA – For the third time, yoga will headline a fundraiser for Family & Children’s Service.
The Third annual Yogathon will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Ithaca High School. The event will feature three one-hour classes for beginner, intermediate or advanced participants; proceeds will benefit programs offered by F&CS, a non-profit mental health provider that has operated in the area since 1855.
A yoga event seemed just right to those involved in planning at Family & Children’s Service.
“Mental wellness is a big part of their mission, and yoga has a huge mental wellness component,” said Rachel VerValin, event coordinator and yoga instructor. “It seemed like a natural fit to be doing the two together.”
F&CS CEO David Shapiro was looking for a fundraiser that was connected with the actual work of the agency, and hatched the idea for the Yogathon three years ago with staff member Stephanie Bailey. Shapiro sees a strong connection between yoga and mental well-being.
Ilana Berman, a yoga instructor who taught at previous Yogathons and will be teaching at this year’s event, sees the same link. She said she fell in love with yoga “because it is a practice we get to do in the body, but it is not just about the body. The body holds a lot of things going on mentally.”
Yoga, she said, is “a chance to move and release things in a way that feels good.”
Shapiro sees yoga, like therapy, as one of a variety of ways to keep one’s self mentally and emotionally healthy.
“Not everyone needs to go to therapy, but everyone needs to think about how to keep their mind, body and energy right,” he said, referring to the parallels between yoga and the services his agency provides.
Fund-raising events like the Yogathon are crucial to the services provided by F&CS, which operates at a deficit every year. The agency offers a variety of services that may not be reimbursed by insurance companies, including pediatric mental health care. To provide comprehensive care to children, therapists often make calls with teachers, social workers and pediatricians. The time for such calls are not covered by insurance.
Family & Children’s Service also operates the Open Doors program for homeless youth, the Downtown Outreach program, which provides assistance to people on the street who may be in crisis, and a mentoring and recreation service for youth called the Rural Outreach Program.
Programs like these are not fully funded and come at a significant expense. The organization also offers a sliding scale fee to patients who may have high deductibles, so no one seeking services is turned away. Past fundraisers to cover these expenses have included a holiday event at the Ithaca Country Club, and a house tour called Cayuga at Twilight, which has run for 20 years. This year will be Cayuga at Twilight’s last year, and will feature homes in Aurora.
New for the Yogathon this year is the first time team registration has taken place, and prizes for meeting fund-raising goals. Teams of six to eight individuals can register for $70 per team, with a goal of raising $500. Teams that meet their goal will receive gift certificates for Purity Ice Cream or Gimme Coffee, and photo mugs with the team’s name and picture printed on them. All teams will also receive a day pass from Rasa Spa, which is a sponsor of the event. The team that raises the most funds will win a spa party at the Yoga Farm in Lansing. Individuals can register as well. Last year saw about 150 people turn out; Shapiro hopes to see the event bring two hundred people this year, and would like to see it keep growing.
VerValin said one of the reasons the event has been popular is that it is open to all skill levels, even people who have never done yoga before.
“They’re all very compassionate people,” she said of the instructors. “It’s not like a yoga boot camp. It’s like come and honor your body, and just breathe, and maybe the yoga poses will happen too.”
VerValin does not want people to feel like they need to be in perfect health to participate.
“That’s a weird false thing that people think about when they think of yoga,” said VerValin, in regard to the impression that some have that yoga is only for the flexible and strong.
VerValin, who had scoliosis and wore a back brace in the past, said that people come to yoga with injuries, bad backs and disabilities, which can be accommodated for if people share their condition or needs with their instructor. Yoga is not about doing things a certain way, or being perfect, according to VerValin.
“It’s about getting back in touch with your body, your breath and your brain,” she said.
Another draw of the event has been the sense of community that it engenders.
“It was great to see all of those people coming together to practice yoga for a meaningful cause,” said Wendy Neuberger of Endicott, who participated in the first Yogathon. “It was a beautiful group of people. A very warm community feeling.”
Berman felt touched by a similar warmth at a past Yogathon when she was approached at the end by an older woman who had never tried yoga before. She was so excited to have found a new practice and community to have in her life.
“Yoga in itself is all about community,” said Berman, “and supporting people to be their best selves.”
That goal of helping people to be their best selves is central to the goals of Family and Children’s Services programming as well. With community help, and a little yoga, the agency will continue to provide those programs to adults and children.