Expect to see some big changes at the Yoga Farm in Lansing over the next year. In April, the business officially changed from an s-corp to a tax-exempt non-profit organization, and soon it will be announcing a capital campaign to expand its facilities.
But that’s not where the changes end. What was once simply the Yoga Farm will now be known as the School for Radiant Living at the Yoga Farm, explained Jeannie O’Neill, Director of Development at the Yoga Farm. All of these changes, O’Neill explained, stemmed from conversations about what the organization’s mission really is, and how they can best fulfill it. The Yoga Farm offers more than just yoga, and they believe the name change helps reflect that message. Becoming a non-profit followed a similar thought process.
“The yoga studio that I owned in Vermont was a non-profit organization and I just found that it opened up so many different opportunities to provide yoga for people that it wouldn’t normally be accessible to,” O’Neill said.
To be able to operate a for-profit yoga studio and afford the overhead costs, most studios have to charge around $20 per person. Everyone on the leadership team at Yoga Farm understands that but wants to be able to offer their services to people who may not be able to afford to pay that much for yoga.
O’Neill jokes that she has been sowing the seeds of becoming a non-profit with the current Executive Director of Yoga Farm and former owner, Christopher Grant, for about two years.
“I just said to him, ‘There’s so many things that you’re already doing that you’re making this accessible to people, let’s just continue to move in that direction, let’s go for it, the whole thing,’” she said.
After discussions with Daniela Hess, co-founder and lead educator, they all agreed that becoming a non-profit would help them better serve their mission. They met with a team of lawyers who evaluated their eligibility and were found to be ready. Once they got the go-ahead from the IRS, O’Neill said they were able to start doing things they couldn’t do before.
“Immediately we began doing outreach to schools so that is the number one. We’re able to create partnerships with area school districts and find grant funding in order to provide services to those school districts and that has been a really incredible experience this year,” she said. “The second is that we’re offering a program called Connection is Healing and that is eligible to anyone who self-identifies as having anxiety, depression, chronic illness, grief, loss, and women who are new mothers. They don’t have to show us anything, prove anything, they just have to send a request saying that ‘I could really benefit from three months of membership and access to a community of healing.’”
Third, the tuition structure changed. For courses that don’t lead to a certification, the new structure is “Offer what is honest and in integrity for you.” Participants can take the entire course then decide what they want to pay based on how much they think it was worth, and what is financially viable to them. No bank statements or paperwork needed.
The current classroom inside a converted barn is snug. Members and students of the yoga school are excited about the non-profit change and possibility of growth. Very soon, the organization will be announcing its capital campaign and crowdfunding opportunity. Already, O’Neill said, the Yoga Farm has found one major donor for the project but will be looking to the community for support in the coming months.
The current studio will expand into what is now the entryway. Yoga Farm users will be excited to hear that the bathroom facilities will also be expanding. No more lining up to wait for the single bathroom during a break in the class. The building that currently holds O’Neill’s office, next to the parking lot, will be torn down to make room for the expansion on to the existing barn where the classroom is now. The campaign will include new classrooms and a community meeting space in the expanded facility, as well as a new annex classroom closer to the gorge that will be used for classes that don’t need a lot of movement, unlike the yoga classes. An existing pole barn will be made into an outdoor pavilion where classes can be held right next to nature.
O’Neill said the Town of Lansing has been very supportive of the plans for the Yoga Farm to become a small retreat center. Keyword being small.
“Anybody who’s gone to Omega and Kripalu, that’s a huge facility,” she said. “We’re not looking to go that big in any way, but something that is moderately sized in the area, that’s about mind, body, spiritual health and wellness. It’s kind of shocking that there isn’t one already here.”
The hope is to break ground in the fall, starting with the annex classroom, and expect construction to take about a year. Throughout the construction process, the Yoga Farm hopes to remain open for classes and will open a different entrance while construction is going on.
Now that it’s a non-profit, the organization is looking for community members to become board members in their grassroots effort. After that, O’Neill said they plan to add more staff incrementally.
“We think of ourselves now as less of a studio and more of a charitable organization, so we want to give new teachers a platform to be able to practice what they’ve learned,” she said. “So, I envision a lot of our initial staff will be people who have come through our programs and are looking for a place to land and practice.”
On June 22, the summer solstice, the Yoga Farm will be holding a special yoga class to celebrate International Day of Yoga, and announce the capital campaign and crowdfunding efforts.
“Our vision is really about creating a united humanity,” O’Neill said.
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