American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Nowhere is that more true than in communities in Connecticut where small groups of committed citizens are working to change their corner of the world—one group, one idea, one person at a time.
Weaving a New Life for Refugee Women
The Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport has been a cornerstone for helping women since it was built in 1903 as a home for single women working in local factories. The building has stood since the early 1900s and changed with the times to go from housing for single women to housing for elderly women to its current state as the Burroughs Community Center (BurroughSCC.org/Classes) offering programs, classes and education opportunities.
Tucked into a room in the basement of the community center is a workroom where women create handmade goods like messenger bags, change purses, cosmetics bags, clutches, ties, belts and pillowcases. The women are a part of the Our Woven Community (OWC), a nonprofit group which helps refugee women who have settled into Bridgeport integrate into their new community. When they join Our Woven Community, they are taught to sew the handicrafts and sell them at local events, craft fairs and stores to supplement their income. “When refugees arrive into the area, they are typically given about $900 to start their new lives,” says Cynthia Davis, Our Woven Community’s founder. “Our purpose is to find a way to let women have a craft or skill to help them integrate into their new community and earn a supplemental income.”
In doing so, the women also learn English, decision-making, creativity, teamwork and compassion, all while getting to know the local community. “Some of these women come from terrible situations and suffer from significant PTSD, emotional and language barriers when they arrive. Our Woven Community allows them to work with women who have shared experiences, and perhaps feel compassion for their own situation for the first time,” Davis explains.
Our Woven Community works with donors and volunteers who donate fabric and time to help the refugee women create their handiworks. Companies like Ethan Allen, The Fabric Factory and local designers like Ellen Hyde Phillips donate fabric to the organization. Volunteers sort through the donations and put together kits for the women to sew into the items. Each item contains a swatch of cloth from their native Africa, and features a tag that tells the story of the woman who sewed it. The volunteers and refugee women then work together at craft fairs and events to sell the products; each woman receives 50 percent of the sales from the items she created. The group keeps an inventory of products; each woman is encouraged to sew as much as she wants to or can.
Our Woven Community meets at the Burroughs Tuesdays from 10am to 2pm to sew. There are currently nine women involved. As women participate in the program and meet goals, they are awarded their own sewing machine so they can sew at home. “Some women gather together to sew and continue the community outside of the center,” says Jane Delworth, director of programming for the Burroughs Community Center, which arranges the craft fairs. The Our Woven Community items are also sold at Hazel Days in Fairfield and Mama Jane’s Global Boutique in Fairfield. The retailers take no profits from the sales of these items so the organization and women can make more.
A Sanctuary of Healing
When Sue Martovich was looking to expand her existing Salt of the Earth healing arts business in Woodbury, she was approached by her landlord to rent space in a healing arts community and she knew it was the right thing to do for her business and her community.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” he building—most recently known as the Wayne Pratt house—started as a minister’s home then became an inn, a tavern and an antique store. Now it is home to The Healing Arts Sanctuary (NaturalSaltHealing.com/Index.Php/Healing-Arts-Sanctuary), returning to its spiritual roots as a place for healing, community and connection.
“I see Woodbury as the next Rhinebeck, New York,” states Martovich. “Woodbury is a beautiful community in need of a rebalancing; we intend to shift the balance by bringing in healers and connecting to existing businesses like bed and breakfasts, natural foods stores and restaurants. It will be a place known for healing and conscious living.”
Together with Inspirit Studio’s Jeanne Street, Martovich will invite healing arts practitioners of all modalities to share the space, which celebrated its grand opening on September 9 and 10. In addition to Martovich’s salt therapies, the main floor space will offer crystal light therapy, aromatherapy, sound therapy and specialty massages. The second floor space will offer Reiki healing and teaching, yoga classes and spiritual connections through mediumship. Martovich and Street operate separate healing arts business but they will also collaborate on weekend events, educational series and retreats to bring the healing community together.
On the main floor is a large open gathering space called Athena Hall. The large, open, airy room is to be a community space for learning, sharing and connecting. Martovich plans to invite “like-minded people” to share their knowledge with the community. A small kitchen, the house’s original summer kitchen and another meeting room featuring dark wood paneling, a cozy fireplace and a bar will be used for smaller groups and private parties. The room walks out to the backyard that, in the future, may feature an English garden or labyrinth.
“I see this as a center for conscious living, a place where people can ground on Mother Earth and open up to higher consciousness,” explains Martovich. By partnering with healers, educators and a raw foods chef, Martovich and Street see the potential for their new Healing Arts Sanctuary.
Holding Space for Intentional Reflection
Grace Farms began as 80 acres of open farmland that was once an equestrian facility. It was scheduled for parceling in 2000, with developers envisioning “McMansions” to be built on the land. Instead, a group of citizens came together to form The Grace Farms Foundation and purchased the land. The intention was to create a welcoming new space open to the public as space for intentional reflection, so they might enjoy a “type B” experience in a “type A” world.
Grace Farms (GraceFarms.org) focuses on five initiatives: nature, arts, justice, community and faith. Nature abounds in both the land and the design. The long driveway snakes through the land, passing restored horse barns and coming to the River Building, which features glass and open areas so that people can see one another from most places in the building. The X Café features farm-to-table offerings and becomes a respite where people can come, enjoy a meal and connect with one another. “We often see people bringing their parents from Waveny and Brightview to enjoy nature over a cup of tea and a light meal,” says Grace Farms Director Lisa Lynne Kirkpatrick.
Art is brought to life in a myriad of ways from the design of the buildings to a 108-foot mural painted by Beatrice X to the weekly Arts for Healing classes. Many nonprofits use the building free of charge through space grants, including one organization that holds a music and art therapy class for autistic children. “Space grants allow local nonprofits a place to bring their mission to life, or have much needed office and meeting space,” explains Kirkpatrick.
The nonprofit aspect of Grace Farms is also directly related to the Justice Initiative, which is to disrupt and eradicate human trafficking in Connecticut. Grace Farms recently hosted a two-day retreat and training session for Polaris Project caseworkers who are traveling to Mexico to work with survivors of sex trafficking.
Grace Farms is privately owned by The Grace Farms Foundation. It is free for the public to enjoy the grounds and the buildings, and participate in the passive and active engagements offered.
“People can come for restoration, recovery and healing and participate in the way that works best for them,” says Kirkpatrick. “They can play a game of pickup basketball, enjoy a quiet cup of tea or walk the grounds and connect with nature.”
Grace Farms hosts a community dinner the third Friday of every month. It promotes one of the five areas of focus through content, like nature with Jim Fowler of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or a film festival. Tickets are $10 per person and the 160 seats sell out quickly. The schedule of events can be found on the website.
Bringing the Holistic Community Together to Better the Whole
When a person has a question about a local business, its reputation and its services, one of the first places they might visit is the local chamber of commerce. The chamber of commerce is a support network for local businesses and their local community. Since 2006, there has been a little-known Holistic Chamber of Commerce (HCC) organization offering healing and holistic practitioners and businesses the opportunity to connect, learn more about the business of running a healing business and opportunities for collaboration.
The New Haven, Connecticut chapter (HolisticChamberofCommerce.com/CT-New-Haven) of the HCC has been operating since 2014; it is now one of the top five largest chapters in the United States. It is one of three in Connecticut and services communities from Woodbury to Meriden and from Guilford to Fairfield. Its goal is to help create healthy people, businesses and a healthy planet with service businesses that support that goal.
Chapter Co-Presidents Jiayuh Chyan and Lynne Grobsky are Akashic records teachers, healers and businesswomen. Their shared focus for the New Haven chapter is to help people make choices about natural, organic, traditional and holistic services. Each business in the chapter is vetted through references and research to ensure that the chamber is supporting businesses that actually support the chamber’s purpose.
“Since it’s not always natural for a practitioner or healer to run a business, we help educate them on marketing, business building and collaboration,” says Grobsky.
“I learned how to do social media, marketing and how to speak about my business publicly to communicate it clearly. It helped me and I want to help others,” explains Chyan, who was a member for two years prior to becoming chapter co-president.
The New Haven chapter meets the second Thursday of every month from 6:30 to 8:30pm; it offers an exchange of services and education from member to member. For example, the October business education topic, How to Use Feng Shui and Chinese Metaphysics to Support Your Business, will be
presented by Chamber Member Beth Grace.
“Membership in the HCC helps businesses stand out, provides credibility and delivers professional ways to help grow businesses and gain visibility,” said Chyan. “It’s a movement so that everyone moves forward together,” adds Grobsky in a joint phone interview.
Whether it is helping refugees adapt to a new country by providing a community, creating a community for healing, holding a space for the community to share or supporting and promoting a healing community to the world at large, it is inspiring to know there are small groups of people in our area who are actively changing the world.