Asheville Community Yoga expands

Big scissors, big moment: Mike Hiers and O’Niel McCall look on as Michael Greenfield, director and cofounder of Asheville Community Yoga, cuts the ribbon that marks the center’s expansion. photos by Caitlin Byrd

Before cutting the ribbon on Asheville Community Yoga’s expansion, Director Michael Greenfield bowed his head and said, “Namaste.” In yoga, this respectful expression is typically intoned at the end of each class. But for the Woodfin-based nonprofit, notes Greenfield, this is just the beginning.

“We’re really able to offer more to the community in such a bigger way now,” he explains. “We’re going to be able to bring more awareness to yoga of all kinds.”

The expansion includes an additional studio, two bathrooms, a kitchenette and a child care area.

“We really wanted to be able to give specialized attention to all the students and do emotional and physical practices. We also wanted to bring in more yoga at prime-time hours like 6 p.m., and more beginner classes too,” he explains.

None of this would have been possible without community support, stresses Greenfield. In keeping with the principles of karma yoga, the center offers its classes for free, with a suggested donation of $5 to $15.

“Karma yoga is selfless yoga. It’s giving without the intention of receiving: It’s about dedication to others,” explains Brian Deem, a teacher-in-training at the center.

When Asheville Community Yoga began two years ago, it featured one instructor. Today, the center boasts more than 30 volunteer instructors and also offers teacher trainings and student immersions.

“Although yoga’s not competitive, it had gotten very pricey, and people with no money just couldn’t afford to do it,” notes Mike Hiers, the group’s development director. “More than 4,000 people do yoga here.”

And during the expansion, they did a lot more than that, sometimes volunteering more than 19 hours a day. “Three weeks ago, this,” says Hiers, the new studio space “was nothing but a completely empty concrete hall, and cars were parked inside of it.” Today, the space boasts heated hardwood floors, ceiling fans and a storage cubby for yoga mats and props.

“It’s all driven by the community, and one day we might be back to a small closet, but for now the community is saying this is what they want,” Hiers observes.

More than 50 people watched as Greenfield cut the silver ribbon. “It was my brainchild, and now the community has accepted it and taken it in as their own, which is just wonderful,” he explains.

Woodfin Mayor Jerry VeHaun attended the ceremony, along with Carol Rovello and O’Neal McCall, representing the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Asheville Community Yoga is at 8 Brookdale Road in Woodfin.

Rev. Rogers goes to Washington

The Rev. Scott Rogers of the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to tell the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs about his local approach to a national concern: homeless veterans.

Last year, ABCCM found homes for 389 of the 437 veterans it served. Rogers credits this high success rate to the nine principles he shared with committee members.

“I think one of the things that’s been part of the Veterans Affairs administration has been not to treat vets as program participants but to really embrace them as folks who simply need a new opportunity,” Rogers explains.

ABCCM’s Veterans Employment and Training Services takes the same approach. Last year, the program placed 302 veterans in the work force at a cost of about $1,000 a head — far below the $1,600 national average. And on average, ABCCM’s vets earned about $14 per hour, compared with a national average of $9.50 for vets hired through job-placement programs. In May, a U.S. Labor Department publication will feature ABCCM’s program as one of the four best nationwide.

Rogers credits strong collaborations with the local VA Medical Center, the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative and the more than 40 PARTNERS in the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Coalition — and, of course, the vets themselves.

“We call [veterans] our humble heros,” notes Rogers, “because they sacrifice months and years of their lives for the principles of this country, and then they want to give back to their fellow soldiers and their community."

But it doesn’t end with finding homeless veterans a job and a place to live. “The purpose,” says Rogers, is to “help that veteran … embrace their dreams and, through self-determination, their future and reintegrate back into society.” The women’s facility, Steadfast House, has a 73 percent placement rate, and the Veteran’s Restoration Quarters has a 76 percent rate of placement into permanent housing; the national average is 60 percent.

And while Rogers appreciates the national exposure, nothing beats the satisfaction he derives from the work he’s done for 31 years.

"We're humble just to be able to serve our veterans," he says, adding, "It's a real honor to share what we've learned with the nation."

Send your local health-and-wellness news and tips to Caitlin Byrd at cbyrd@mountainx.com, or call 251-1333, ext. 140.

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