Nowadays, we often hear that people are quitting their jobs to pursue what they are truly passionate about. The adventures are many; for some that means traveling, for others building a new startup. Either way, that path is unpaved and what matters is how prepared you are for success or the failure at the end.
Stephanie Toby, a policy analyst working for the federal government, left her career behind to pursue her passion. Toby, strived to have a direct positive social impact, so she knew, it was time for her to take that step. But leaving behind a successful, well-paid career, wasn’t easy. You have to be brave, or as she put it “open to new opportunities.”
In 2009, Toby came across Street Yoga, a Portland-based non-profit organization that provides free yoga and wellness classes to youth who have experienced abuse, addiction, homelessness and trauma. Street Yoga’s goal to improve the youth’s health and balance was exactly what she was looking for. Toby was excited to learn about the organization. Yoga wasn’t a new medium for her as she had practiced yoga for 10 years and she was well aware of the benefits yoga could bring to people.
“I had experience working with the population. I have worked with youth in different capacities, as a volunteer and intern.”
She saw the potential to expand Street Yoga’s work to Seattle, where young people were in need of what the organization has to offer. In 2010, she expanded the branch to the Seattle area. Working for a non-profit isn’t the same as working for the government, thus Toby faced many different challenges, but she was ready for them.
“I was in my 20’s. I didn’t have kids or many responsibilities. I had savings available,” she said. This is what allowed her to commit.
The work that Street Yoga has done over the years has built trust in community, so when Toby was ready to expand in the Seattle area, she already had a volunteer pool of 40 yoga instructors. “There was knowledge of the brand, and a trust,” she said.
Each instructor has to complete a Street Yoga 14-hour training program designed to provide instructors with the understanding of how to use and adapt what they already know. The training covers elements such as: recognizing the important role of body-based interventions in trauma recovery, ways to modify poses for various populations and situations and identifying new tools or strategies for improved communication.
The training is “incredibly informational and important,” Toby said. It serves as a solid platform that provides clear understanding of how to work with youth in the social system; how to adjust the practice to the environment, while being cautious of the physical and emotional elements of the space and simply understanding the youth and how to work in a low-energy vs. a high-energy setting.
Seeing the impact and the potential that Street Yoga had on the youth community was encouraging to Toby, but being a part of a non-profit organization that operates on an limited budget wasn’t going to be ideal forever.
But, being an entrepreneur, Toby walked into this adventure knowing one thing:
“You have to know when to pull the plug. Be reasonable and be smart about your living situation.”
“I had a deadline for myself,” she continued: “I wanted to try it for a year.” Right at end of that year, Street Yoga received fundings.
Toby also mentioned that for those who are ready to walk the unpaved path they should ask themselves one question: “What is it that you need to make this sustainable?” Also, “have a plan, and understand yourself.”
Since the very beginning Toby wore multiple hats in her role as the director of operations. Luckily, in 2013, Jessica Osberg joined Street Yoga and took over Toby’s role while she was on maternity leave. Osberg began to oversee the development and the administration of the program, and today she manages the development, outreach and communication aspects for the Seattle branch. When Toby returned to work she took on the title of co-director of programs and today she manages numerous programs and volunteers. They are both responsible for the year-long planning of the fundraising events — which are fundamental for the success of the organization — in addition to other tasks such as training support.
So, now you could say that they have a team of two.
“There is an incredible amount of work,” they both would agree, but it is exactly where they want to be. The goal is to spread the word about Street Yoga, to make it grow, to support it and to ultimately be able to help as many children as possible. They both deeply believe in the organization and the value that it brings. Street Yoga is dedicated to providing best services, not only to the people they serve, but also to their own staff.
We have had a “wide range of people who have come and provided solid expertise of enrichment,” Toby said.
The organization offers monthly support meetings for teachers; they bring in sociologists who speak about identity formation and the physiological elements of resistance to authorities; they bring in doctors and yoga therapy specialists who speak about breath techniques and brain activity.
Seeing the positive impact that Street Yoga has on the community has given Toby the reward that she was hoping for when she first started. But the work isn’t over. Toby and Osberg envision great things for the organization. They both have a set of skills that are hard to find and they are motivated to continue in their effort to support the youth, to build effective partnerships with organizations that have the same visions and beliefs and to raise funds, without which any non-profit, despite its tremendous effort, can just fade away.
We invite you to support Street Yoga in their mission to bring more yoga classes to youth in need
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