Updated: Aug 4, 2020
On Thursday, August 6th, 2020 at 6pm EST I will be partnering with Family Promise Union County in support of their 21-Day Family Fitness Challenge to guide a 60-minute yin yoga class through their Facebook Live page! I invite you to join us in the healing and to read the story behind how this partnership came to be. Spoiler Alert: it has roots in Kenya!
Image of elephants walking across the safari plains of Amobseli National Park, Kenya
In September 2020, I travelled to Kenya to celebrate my dear friend’s (aka “travel bae”) 30th birthday. We had just landed in Diani Beach from Nairobi when I received a message from the manager of my home yoga studio – Hot Yoga Revolution in Cranford, New Jersey, a Baptiste Affiliate studio – asking if I was going to be able to visit the Shine Center during my trip. Let me connect the dots: The Shine Center is a yoga studio and community center in Nairobi that is home to the Africa Yoga Project (AYP), which trains girls and boys to teach yoga as a avenue to education, empowerment and employment. Baron Baptiste is a co-founder of the Africa Yoga Project and leader of the Baptiste Institute, which my home studio is an affiliate of. I was not able to make it to the Shine Center during that trip. Upon my return home, I did some research on AYP and discovered they had an opportunity to assist their 200-Hour Teacher Training in April 2020.
As part of the qualifications to assist the AYP teacher training program, I had to raise a total of $4,000 at least one month prior to my April departure. The money raised would fund 2 scholarships for African students to travel to and attend the teacher training program. Once completed, the African students would then be able to earn a livable income by teaching yoga within their community and, thus, combatting the 70% youth unemployment rate in Nairobi. I utilized the relationships I had established through my full-time job to inquire if my vendors would be interested in supporting me with donations. In the interest of emphasizing integrity to the beautiful souls reading this post - I made it blatantly clear to my vendors that this program was in no way affiliated with my full-time employer and that this was a personal project I was invested in. Many commended my efforts but expressed their inability to support due to legal constraints surrounding their charitable giving guidelines. Totally understandable and to which I would insert one of my grandmother’s quips:
“There is no harm in asking – the worst they can say is no.” - Grandma Gladys
Others, however, pledged their support in the form of donated goods: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, packaged snacks, etc. The donations were to be used as part of gift baskets that would be raffled off at several donation-based yoga classes across multiple yoga studios along the New Jersey coast.
Image of Africa Yoga Project fundraising yoga class held at & Flow Yoga, Oceanport, New Jersey. Pictured: Gabriella Borges, & Flow Yoga studio owner (throwing up the peace sign), Sara Page Hall, AYP fundraising partner (back row center with the spectacles) and Tish Torres, Project Fruition owner (sprawled & smiling along the bottom)
The error on my part was the timing of asking for the donations and the receipt of the donations. Needless to say, I received the majority of the goods towards the end of our fundraising tour. Although I was disappointed in myself for not being more mindful of the timing, I was not worried. I knew that the goods could still be of service if I brought them along with me to Kenya. What is an extra $50 towards an additional bag fee for a flight in the name of supplying African youth with toiletry items they need? I would donate the suitcase I would use to carry the items in, as well, since it was communicated that most of the scholarship recipients did not possess luggage to travel with. It was all coming together or so I thought …
March 2020, news broke that Al Shabab terrorist threats against Americans in East Africa was imminent. In January 2020, there was an attack on Manda Bay, Kenya where 3 Americans were killed (you can read more about these events here). As much as I wanted to pursue this opportunity with AYP, I took heed of GGU’s (God, Gail and the Universe’s) warnings and made the decision to relinquish my place on the assisting team. GGU doubled down on her “stay at home” message with the advent of COVID-19 pandemic mid-March 2020. After several months of quarantine, which slowly transitioned to social distancing, the desire for as much space as possible within my apartment grew. My spring cleaning took place in late June 2020. As I purged frivolous items from my physical space, my attention was drawn to the boxes of donated goods huddled against the wall of my living room. My heart would not allow me to toss them in the trash or idly leave them on the curb. My original intention was to donate them to those who were truly in need and would appreciate them. I steadied y resolve and committed to finding the New Jersey equivalent to my Kenyan intention.
Think globally. Act locally.
Donating items in New Jersey (America?) is harder than I thought! Due to the pandemic, some of the larger organizations could only take certain items that they could easily sanitize and other organizations were only accepting monetary donations in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 via donated goods. Googling led me to an article that suggested reaching out to local shelters, many of which were struggling to remain operational during the pandemic. I typed “homeless shelters near Union County” into the Google search bar and saw Family Promise Union County as the first result. I gave them a call, told them what I had to donate and was able to coordinate a drop off – I was ecstatic! I had felt so bad that these items were just sitting in my apartment for months, unused, when I knew that there were people, families that may have no longer had access to certain items because of the increasing unemployment rates that arose from the economic shutdown.
Wednesday, July 9th, I pulled into the Family Promise parking lot and happened to come across a woman who was off-loading goods from a van into the building. I introduced myself to Amy Beth Jones, Manager of Volunteer Engagement, told her the story of the donation and happily accepted her card with the intention of reaching out to see how I could be of service in the future. Later that month, I received an email from Amy, apologizing for the delayed response and extending her gratitude on behalf of Family Promise and their guests for donating items from “the brands they like!” (No worries, Amy and a huge thank you to my vendors for making this possible!) She also informed me of their 21 Day Family Fitness Challenge and inquired if I would be interested in participating.
“We were the grateful recipients of a NJ Healthy Communities grant and part of the grant paid for nutrition education for our families and we're also doing an exercise component. Last year we did a bike clinic and taught kids how to ride a bike (and they all got bikes donated to them, too!). A big event like that isn't possible this year, so we're doing a distanced 21-Day Family Fitness Challenge.” – Amy Beth Jones, Manager of Volunteer Engagement, Family Promise
Of course, I said YES! We agreed that I would guide a 60-minute Yin yoga class via Facebook Live as part of the challenge. I was grateful that GGU conspired in my favor to allow me to share my gifts (healing & personal evolution through yoga) in a similar format as I originally intended. She just changed the venue to my home continent, where I was still able to make a global impact through yoga by being of service to my local community.
Family Promise Union County provides shelter and comprehensive support services to families experiencing homelessness and families at risk of homelessness in Union County, New Jersey. To learn more about Family Promise Union County and their efforts click here.
To learn more about the Africa Yoga Project click here.
Details on the AYP 200-hour Teacher Training program and the Teacher Training Assisting program are here.
Donations for the Africa Yoga Project are still being accepted through my fundraising page here.