The Yoga Blessings fund is a scholarship program that supports students and others in our community with class passes and workshops. With the holidays upon us, and year-end, it is a perfect opportunity to share with our community how the year has been for the Yoga Blessings Fund.
The Fund offers partial and full scholarships for any class or workshop. Current students have donated classes and money to this fund in order to support others in our community. We built this fund to support current students if they lose a job or experience financial hardship. It is also for those who want a deeper yoga education, but cannot afford the higher priced workshops. And, its for newer students who cannot attend the community classes due to their schedule.
This year, we received about $700 in direct cash contribution to the fund. Some of these gifts came as contributions from the passing of our Guruji BKS Iyengar, and another was a large anonymous contribution to support our work generally. Throughout the year, we also received the direct donation of several spots in workshops and many balances on our passes/memberships.
To donate, people contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org). And, we donate expired passes at the studio that have remaining classes on them. We are not a non-profit, so cash contributions are not tax deductible. However, the contributions do go immediately toward programming. Every time somebody makes a large donation, valued at $50 or more, I try to give it away quickly, without many weeks going by.
Our approach to dispersing classes has been through thoughtful acts of kindness. We do not have a formal process at this time. There has been no expressed interest from anyone in making it more formal so far. We don’t have the resources for administration of a formal program.
The informal system we have established seems to be working well right now because it is directly achieving its mission to bring yoga to people who would not be able to afford it.
My professional background has helped keep the program focused even though it its informally structured. I have been working with at-risk kids and women for 25 years (Yes, I started my activism when I was 15 in Berkeley, but that is a story for another time.) who were at the brink of achieving great and wonderful when they got a little help from their community. I have a bachelors degree on the topic, and spent 10+ years in non-profit management specifically working on this issue. I spent my career focused on helping people through self-empowerment training. It has been straightforward to create a Fund that could offer the same kind of self-empowerment training, though of course in a different context. I have directly used my experience in this kind of programming – seeking candidates who are best suited for this opportunity and keeping them accountable to their own learning so that they make the best of the opportunity.
The donations are dispersed in several ways. First, they go to people who have declared a need. I get formal requests for class donations on a weekly basis. Often, they come from schools and non-profit organizations who are doing their own fundraising – Escuela Biligue, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Breast Cancer Action, Peralta School, Malcom X School, Cal Recreational Sports, Alameda County Food Bank are some of the many beneficiaries this year. Because of the generosity of the Yoga Blessings Fund, I have never said no to an organization that requested support like this.
We also get direct requests from individuals who want to start yoga. I do start them off with a gift of a 5-class pass. We do eventually guide them to our community classes, because at some point the experience will be more valued if even a small donation is made.
Current students do not ask for donations often. So, in this case when I hear about a current student in our community who loses a job or has financial difficulties, I will proactively offer them class passes to get them through the rough patch. Occasionally, there is a student with specific needs such as a particular injury and illness that make the community class not the best option. Being able to give them a class pass – or support their membership – can make a huge difference on their healing journey. For example, in 2013 we carried two students through a full year of joblessness. One of those students eventually got a job, and he wrote a generous check to the fund so we could carry on the blessings. The other eventually joined our workstudy team in order to give time. It has been a wonderful experience.
How do I find the students in need? Students often tell their teacher what is happening in their lives. Whether that teacher is me or someone else, I do get the message. The informal nature of the program is particularly helpful because they can get support when they need it most – in that moment of crisis – without the delay of writing or reviewing an application.
I use the same process for the donation of workshop attendance. When I have a spot to give away, I reach out to the students in our community who are the most excited about the transformative benefits of yoga – those who I see are on the brink of doing great things in their life if they just had an extra boost from the community. Those who get to a donation of a workshop, often donate at least a little bit of time to helping run the workshop, and always write about their experience. Sometimes, that writing is in the form of a personal thank you note to the donor, though other times it is more public.
As we close 2014, I would say that the Yoga Blessings Fund has served its purpose to support community, and to embody the change that we want to see in the world.
As the studio grows, we hope that the Yoga Blessings Fund will grow too. We know that likely in 2015 it may need to become a more formal program. I could do a better job of documenting all that the Fund does. And, I personally have a strong interest in targeting specific populations who need yoga most. Yoga practice in America tends to have a white, middle or upperclass, female face. That has to shift – yoga is for EVERYBODY. The solutions are complicated: We need a more diverse teaching staff, which means we need to invest in teacher education. We need to work on being a welcoming atmosphere for everyone, and adding more programming that caters to the interests of a more diverse population. And, we need to figure out a business model that can support this type of work. I personally hope that with time the Yoga Blessings Fund can evolve to support our vision, and the issues that are of personal interest to our student base.
I would like to close this blog piece with a thank you to all the donors to the Yoga Blessings Fund this year. Your small and anonymous acts of kindness have done great good in the world. We are a large mandala, intimately connected to each other.