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Finding Roots in Franklin County

Root to Rise Collective is based in Franklin County.

Freedom from gender-based violence is one of the Women’s Fund strategic pillars for advancing gender and racial equity in our region. To us, that means to promote safety from gender-based sexual violence, toxic relationships, and power dynamics to ensure bodily security and autonomy.

We are proud of the committee members who participated in this year’s trust-based philanthropy process to award funds for the crucial healing and recovery work throughout the four counties of Western Massachusetts.

How is your organization making a difference for women and girls in Western Massachusetts?

Root to Rise Collective provides mentorship and practical support to girls, young women, and trans youth ages 14-21 who are going through major life challenges. Members are coping with poverty, housing instability, personal or family substance use, abuse, neglect, lack of adult support at home, and more. The Root to Rise Collective space is available for them to shower and do their laundry, and when safe to open fully, it will be a daily safe space every weekday afternoon where they can rest, do enriching activities, receive life support from adults, eat nutritious snacks, safely store their belongings, and more. Even during the pandemic, our Executive Director, who has experienced many of the same hardships the girls and youth are facing, is providing mentorship via phone, zoom, and getting together one-on-one outdoors.

Sample outcomes so far from our Director mentoring 12 youth:

  • All have adult support they would otherwise lack
  • 11 have said that Root to Rise (RTR) is very helpful to them; the 12th just started
  • 8 come for mentorship at least weekly or biweekly

RTR has:

  • Taught 8 breathing methods to cope with anxiety
  • Gotten 4 financial aid for emergency housing and helped them find apartments
  • Taught 2 to drive and got a donation for 1 to attend Driver’s Ed
  • Opened savings accounts to hold money for 2 minors lacking parental support to open bank accounts, helping 1 save enough to buy a used car
  • Helped 3 find jobs
  • Advocated for 1 to ensure her school IEP met her needs

In early October, we launched our Holistic Wellness for All program, which is beginning with virtual yoga and meditation classes until it is safe to be in our studio. Classes are designed for people who have not previously felt comfortable in yoga and meditation classes, such as smokers, people in recovery, working-class tradespeople, and anyone who just doesn’t fit the image of a yogi or meditator. We also welcome people who have no problem with conventional classes but want your class fees to go to supporting women and girls.

Yoga class ensues at the Root to Rise Collective space in Turners Falls, MA.

Youth program members can attend classes for free. For adults, fees are sliding scale with no one turned away, and all fees benefit Root to Rise programming. Participants are also encouraged to expand their yoga off the mat by volunteering in our youth program.

How is your organization working toward meeting the goals of our freedom from gender-based sexual violence, harassment, and abuse pillar?

Through our youth program, Root to Rise supports girls/young women and trans youth by giving them access to adults they can confide in and receive life advice from to get to know and accept themselves, develop their self-esteem and beliefs about what is possible in their lives, build coping skills for the hardships they face, learn strategies for emotional healing, ground, and center to find a sense of safety and home in their own bodies, improve their body image, choose and create healthy relationships and boundaries, safely leave toxic relationships, finish school and achieve economic independence, etc. Our studio will be a safe place they can go every weekday afternoon when they might not be safe at home – or might not have a home. We not only help them access their own personal power and resilience but provide practical and emotional support should they need to take action against harassment or abuse. Sadly, our Director has already had the opportunity to provide emotional support to a mentee who was just raped. We also refer members to providers of other services (e.g. healthcare, intimate partner violence groups), help them get appointments, give them rides, and attend appointments with them if they want us to.

Our Holistic Wellness for All program also provides trauma-informed yoga and meditation classes that help survivors come back into their bodies, find safety there, and learn strategies to heal and cope with trauma, including depression and anxiety. Attendees also benefit from being part of a safe, accepting, judgment-free community of support, and can benefit from the healing experience of volunteering to support young women and trans youth in our youth program who are facing similar hardships.

What is happening in the world, your region, or your city today that is creating the greatest challenges for women and girls?

One of the main issues we see in today’s society is the denigration of the feminine. Thousands of years of patriarchy have created a culture where masculine strengths – and masculine weaknesses and abuses – are valued, while feminine ones are belittled and scorned. The very definitions of masculinity and femininity are distorted into caricatures, giving us toxic models to follow. Girls, women, and gender non-conforming people are made to feel that our bodies and often our personalities are inadequate and unattractive, and capitalism is fueled by convincing us that we need to buy all kinds of products to make ourselves beautiful. While we all contain mixes of femininity and masculinity, we face stigma if our bodies or self-expression cross or mix genders.

Many girls, women, and trans people strive to escape the oppression of patriarchy by rejecting gender wholesale, and while this works for some, many of us can reject patriarchy’s belittled version of the feminine and find our own personal truth and power in the sacred feminine was integral to human identity for many thousands of years before patriarchy was born. Many of us can reject patriarchy’s distorted masculinity and find freedom in embracing how the sacred masculine complements rather than dominating the sacred feminine, and how we all contain different mixtures of both.

The young women we mentor struggle deeply from the lack of any sacred feminine models to follow and from the distortion of femininity and masculinity. They do not see themselves mirrored in the media and culture, so they do not trust in their own intuitive knowing or believe in themselves. 

Young women smile after participating in programming at the Root to Rise Collective.

What solutions does your team or organization recommend to address this?

Root to Rise strives to offer young women and trans youth an alternative culture where they can see themselves mirrored in adults around them and learn healthy femininity, where it is safe and sacred to be embodied, where we all reflect back to one another who we are and hold each other just as we are, gently and safely. We are bringing the vision of a balanced, bright, awakened woman to these girls/young women and trans youth to show them how strong they can be in their authentic, feminine selves. 

At Root to Rise, we believe in the feminine value and worldview of an interconnected, interdependent community. We believe that life is not about the “individual pursuit of happiness,” an idea that fosters disconnection and selfishness, but about the collective creation of healthy communities. Only by coming together to take care of all of us can we create communities where no one is oppressed or neglected and everyone has what they need to be healthy and happy. None of the changes we strive to achieve for ourselves are truly revolutionary unless they also support the rise of the most oppressed and marginalized among us.

Root to Rise also strives to shift the culture around yoga. It is important to release the perfect, cookie-cutter image of a slim, fashionable practitioner who has no unhealthy habits, and to stop judging people who don’t fit that image and making them feel unwelcome. Categorizing and judging people this way is part of the legacy of patriarchy. It is important for wellness practices like yoga and meditation to be open and accessible to everyone, without judgment. Also, instead of yoga being something women who can afford it spend large amounts of money on in order to fit the cookie-cutter image, we encourage living yogic values by letting your wardrobe and equipment be simple and practical and your class fees go to helping young women and trans youth in need.

Including donations, what can our audience do now to help your organization’s mission?

Root to Rise Collective is a new nonprofit that launched amidst the challenges of Covid-19, so our greatest need is for donations and fundraising help to assist us in establishing sustainability.

Anyone can also help us financially just by choosing our yoga and meditation classes; this enables you to spend what you might have spent on such classes anyway, but know it is going to a good cause. We also have a program you can use to fundraise for us by choosing an athletic goal or another personal goal (like losing weight, doing art, anything!) and asking people in your network to donate to us in amounts based on how well you met your goal. This is a great way to motivate yourself to accomplish your goals, while also helping our participants accomplish theirs. Please contact us if you would like to learn more.

Andrea Chesnes walks the street in Turners Falls, MA to the Root to Rise Collective space.

Get Connected to Root to Rise Collective

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Healing and recovery are a journey. Give a gift to help promote safety.