What is the definition of holistic? Founded seven years ago by Camille Leon, Holistic Chamber of Commerce has grown to become an international trade organization focused on holistic, complementary, alternative and sustainable professionals, practitioners and businesses. The group’s mission, achieved through the efforts of local chapters, is to make it easier for consumers to learn about and access holistic, natural and eco-friendly products, services and solutions.

Connecticut is currently home to two growing chapters of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce. Shirley R. Bloethe, has been hosting holistic events for the last 25 years with her own business and is now president of the New Haven (CT) chapter, which meets on the third Tuesday of each month. Whitney Christina is chapter president of the Avon and Hartford Metro chapters of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce. Avon members meet on the second Tuesday while Hartford Metro participants network and learn about business on the third Wednesdays.

“When the New Haven chapter started nearly five years ago, I was friends with the person who became the president. Since I run holistic events, it seemed a good fit to become their publicity person,” Bloethe says. “When my friend stepped down, I decided the time was right for me to be the president; that was in March. We are excited to rebuild the chapter to expand our reach to the shoreline.”

One of her immediate goals is to increase marketing to and for practitioners. Consumers say it can be difficult to find existing businesses for a need they have, she explains. But practitioners still need persuading. “That hardest part is getting to a place to find their target market. We can’t promote them if we don’t know they exist,” Bloethe explains. Each Connecticut chapter currently has 25-30 members, but Bloethe says they are aiming for 100 members. “They are good at what they do but tend to be more challenged with getting the word out about their business. And so we have workshops at our monthly meetings to help them with marketing to connect with people and potential clients.”

Christina agrees with Bloethe’s assessment and adds that, as holistic practitioners, she sees a tendency among members to undervalue their services and frequently give services for reduced rates or for free. She says the chamber helps educate them about how valuing what they offer enables them to stay in business and continue to help clients.

In addition to fostering business growth for members, Christina has another goal: expanding the holistic-minded businesses’ reach into the general community. “When we had our first Passport to Health & Wellness Expo in October, it was not what I have experienced as a ‘typical’ holistic fair,” she explains. “There was a lot of community involvement from those that weren’t members yet. They sought us out and wanted to be part of the event.” Of the nearly 30 vendors as the inaugural event, Christina says about half were green, sustainable and/or holistic businesses from the general community.

“It was also encouraging to see how many local attendees came. We plan on having expos twice a year with one taking place annually on Earth Day,” she says. The chambers are exploring the possibility of a two-day event in the future and they are looking to expand their reach by being present at town events that the general community goes to. Since many of their members are practitioners, Christina says the chambers’ goal is attracting more “green” product and service members, such as dry cleaners, furniture companies, residential cleaners, organic lawn care providers, farm-to-table businesses and others.

The benefits to a practitioner or business of joining the chamber include online member listings, social media promotion, and in-person and online networking with other like-minded professionals. Business-building discounts span professional liability insurance, business products, booking software, advertising in Natural Awakenings and more. Local meetings offer business-focused speakers, panels and roundtable discussions. A professional membership is $16 a month or $177 a year while the business membership level is $37 a month of $377 a year; there is a one-time $35 processing fee.

“The Holistic Chamber of Commerce has given me new friends that share the naturopathic journey I started 20 years ago. Sharing ideas and getting introduced to new holistic modalities has been priceless,” says Earleen Wright, a Bio-Electro Magnetic Energy Regulator (BEMER) provider and an integral member of the New Haven chapter. “The national organization offers information, networking and searchable practitioners on their website. If you were traveling outside your hometown area and needed a doctor, massage, BEMER session or any other holistic service, you would be able to go to the chamber’s website and search for services. I have been in other chambers in the past and found this one is more helpful when it comes to networking for its members. I have been able to showcase my BEMER business within our holistic community and at our expo.”

The two chapters collaborate on events, such as their recent regional breakfast in November, an upcoming holiday gathering in December and their Spring Passport to Health & Wellness Expo scheduled for April 22, 2018 (Earth Day) in Bristol, Connecticut.

For more information on the New Haven chapter, call 860-989-0033 or email NewHaven@HolisticChamberofCommerce.com. Connect with the Avon and Hartford Metro chapters at 860-830-1180, or Avon@HolisticChamberofCommerce.com and HartMetro@HolisticChamberofCommerce.com.

 Ariana Rawls Fine is Editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield/Housatonic Valley, CT and New Haven/Middlesex, CT editions. She resides in Stratford with her family.