Tyecia “Ty” Powell spent 15 years in schools, Susan “Yep, Real Last Name” Comfort spent 25 years at nonprofits. Both have seen too many of their colleagues — idealistic, intelligent people committed to changing the world — suffer a decline in physical and mental health, often burning out and ultimately leaving their jobs.
When Ty got into teaching, she didn’t realize how much she’d absorb her students’ trauma and relive her own. Despite her investment in a master’s degree, the stress and the happy hour culture drove her out of teaching and into yoga, Pilates, even managing a fitness studio.
Susan was trained in grassroots organizing, acclimated to the pedal-to-the-metal schedule of political campaigns, and then immersed in the stress of the nonprofit fundraising hamster wheel. She raised $30+ million over the years, mostly for small environmental and education groups. She was also dealing with personal stressors like birthing children and getting a divorce.
In 2017, a year into the Trump administration, Susan saw a plummet in already shaky nonprofit staff well-being in her 20-year adopted home of Washington, DC. While studying organizational development at Georgetown University, she developed a survey to assess the extent of the problem, and then a pilot program to address it at 12 nonprofits over six months. (See the results!)
Susan approached Ty (at the fitness studio) for a donation of classes and instructional time to the Pilot. Ty and Susan both marveled at the dual benefit they observed one fateful day: not only did the staff at the Free Minds Book Club enthusiastically participate in an in-office Pilates class, but they also bonded in a new, special way. The employees begged for another class, this time with their service population of citizens returning from the DC Jail, and the same thing happened — everyone had fun, together, through a shared experience (with music).
And that’s the light-bulb moment: Non-profit employees struggle to make the time for their own well-being, but they’re superstars at helping others. So why not turn their superpowers on co-workers in addition to constituents? When staff are afforded space, time, and institutional support to care for their wellness together, it nurtures their sorely needed self-care, sure. But through vulnerability and mutual accountability, it also improves team trust.
Now Ty and Susan, two native Baltimoreans born a decade apart, have joined forces as co-founders of Nonprofit Wellness.
While directing Playworks DC, Susan receives “Spiritual Fitness Award” for her Brain Breaks lunchtime talk at the U.S. Pentagon (for whom the talk was conceived). Coincidentally, Ty serves as an instructional coach and athletic director at DCPS's West Education Campus, which Playworks served, however Susan and Ty don't yet meet.
Ty takes a sabbatical from education, becomes certified in Pilates, and starts directing a yoga studio.
Everyone watches nonprofit stress accumulate post-election, and school stress accumulate with new shooting and lockdown drills. Susan fields a Nonprofit Burnout Survey in December, attracting 240 responses from over 100 groups across the country.
Susan begins 8-month Georgetown certificate program on Organizational Development, using the survey responses to design a Nonprofit Pilot that evaluates self-care and team-care wellness interventions at 12 groups in DC. Susan is the only American invited to lead trainings at a TechSoup Europe conference in Romania. This is also the big year that Susan finally meets Ty, whose studio contributed classes to the Pilot.
Ty begins her dissertation, entitled "Whole Leaders Create Whole Schools," and adapts and expands Susan’s Personal Stress Prescription and Stressor Scorecard tools for an educator audience. An anonymous grant supports publishing the “Wellness Equity Report” on the Nonprofit Pilot (this new phrase refers to getting more wellness care to those with the most stressors/need, both individually and as organizations).
The year started with two months of weekly webinars for the YouTube channel, so when the pandemic hit, Susan and Ty were already experienced with online training. They expanded Zoom offerings with a growing team of diverse trainers and team-building wellness experiences. Nonprofit Wellness also was chosen for the CityBridge Education venture program, where Susan & Ty received support and mentorship to become official co-founders and scale up school-adjacent programming.
Nonprofit Wellness completes the CityBridge program with a business plan to become a 501(c)3 and serve even more schools and nonprofits. They now support school & nonprofit wellness committees and offer “re-entry” programs to improve team dynamics in our post-covid work culture shifts.
Who Dat: Trainer, burnout foe, laughter fan, amateur whistler. Susan's 25 years of organizing and fundraising brought stress, but 20 years of yoga dialed it back.
Fave school: UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Heels!)
Fave dancing: Salsa, 5 Rhythms
Fave job: Bo Brooks crab house server
Fave celebration: Annual summer solstice party
Fave mental health boost: Learning K-pop dances via YouTube w/ my daughter
Fave exercise: Walking outside, preferably near water
Fave veggie: anything roasted
Fave 80s Icons: Michael, Janet, Stevie, Prince, Madonna, Whitney
Fave city: Bal'mer, hon
Four Tendencies Type: Obliger
Follow @comfortconsulting (IG)
Who Dat: Baltimore native, 15-years in education, pursuing Doctorate in Education, passionate about wellness for school leaders
Fave veggie: broccoli
Find Ty: Leading Hot Pilates class @ BYW
Fave dog: Bruce
Fave new hobby: writing a dissertation for EdD: "Whole Leaders Create Whole Schools"
Fave mental health boost: yoga class-- practice heals my mind and my body
Fave kid-show character: Josh from Blues Clues
Fave way to help people face limits: squats, the hot room, planks, yoga poses
Fave quote: "Waves Will Come. Ride Them."
Four Tendencies Type: Questioner
Follow: @tyeciapowell (IG)
Who Dat: Civil (water) engineer from Bogota, Colombia; Passionate about environmental restoration, regenerative agriculture, and social equity impacts of climate change.
Fave school: Cornell University
Fave dancing: Cumbia
Fave faraway place: Tibet
Fave nature spot: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fave mental health boost: Transcendental meditation
Fave exercise: Yoga, mountain climbing
Fave veggie: Mashed sweet potatoes w/ maple syrup, cardamom, a splash of bourbon (almost no longer a veggie).
Fave fruit: Mangosteen
Fave charity activity: Playing the congas at the Jammin4Water benefit concert (pic).
Fave quote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
- Mary OIiver, The Summer Day
Who Dat: Harvard student, Fitness professional, former Early Childhood Educator, empowered woman empowering others.
Fave veggie: Asparagus
Fave work job: supporting others, children or adults, in their physical and mental growth
Fave school: Bowdoin College -- I love Maine!
Fave new hobby: Spin at home
Fave workout combo: HIIT + Meditation
Fave mental health boost: exercise, music, walks
Fave foods: plantains & smoothies (not together)
Fun fact: named a "2020 Fitness Influencer" in Washingtonian mag but now lives in Chicago
Four Tendencies Type: Upholder
Follow @sparkbygabby (IG)
Leslie created a skill-shop entitled "Grief with Grace" specifically for workplaces grappling with widespread pandemic-related grief. Let us know if you're interested in bringing it (online) to your team.
Leslie is the author of Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like "Journey" in the Title.
She was an entertainment columnist for the Palm Beach Post for years until returning to her hometown of Baltimore with her son, Brooks (and re-connecting with her elementary school friend, Susan). You can find her freshest thoughts on Twitter @lesliestreeter
Kevin O'Keefe has taught tens of thousands of people to juggle, and now does it online, with simple plastic bags or scarves. Book his juggling workshop or make it a circus-themed year at your office (which some people say is a circus anyway).
Kevin is the founder of www.CircusMinimus.com and co-creator of Circus Yoga. He is a mindful tennis player and lives in a tiny house in Vermont.
You can book Kevin for an online or in-person juggling training or Circus Minimus show, contract with him for a circus residency, or find him on Instagram @CircusMinimus
A first-year student at University of Vermont, Davis is an art history major who respects the ancient art of upcycling and co-designs our Mindful Art series.
Davis has perfected the art of Earthalopes, the mindful transformation of discarded paper products into artistic, usable envelopes. She trains kids and adults alike on making cards, envelopes, and simple origami while focusing on positive presence and mindful moments.
Founder of Building Better People Productions, Lynne developed a session called “Improv for Teamwork” for nonprofit and school staff.
Lynne specializes in social emotional learning, and applies these skills to help build trust between co-workers.
Who dat: New Yorker, Public Policy and MPH graduate student, passionate about immigrant issues, education, wellness, and health education.
Fave college: Queens College
Favorite Fruit: Mangos (so good!)
Favorite Future Goal: Study Portuguese
Favorite Exercises: ride bicycle, zumba, dance
Fave Mental Health Boost: organize stuff and hike
Fave Job: Assistant to the Deputy Director
Fave food: Pupusas
Fave place: San Miguel City
Fave show to rewatch: Bones
Fave hobby: writing fiction stories
Fave quote: “Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.” Frida Kahlo
Who dat: A book lover turned public health nerd. Passionate about wellness, health, and cats. Currently pursuing an MPH in Health Promotion so I can save the world, if at least my little corner of it.
Fave band: Twenty-One Pilots
Fave snack: popcorn
Fave exercises: squats, Peloton, hiking
Fave activity: knitting and binge watching Criminal Minds
Fave movie: Princess Diaries (which came out 20 years ago lol)
Fave place: New York City
Fave quote: "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." from Wuthering Heights
Fun fact: I collect copies of Wuthering Heights that I find in used bookstores
Who dat: GWU Master of Public Health candidate, animal lover, Pharmacy Technician.
Fave exercise: Tennis
Fave people: Dog and cat (I consider them children!)
Fave movie: The Phantom of the Opera
Fave food: Pupusas
Fave veggie: French fries, JK… I would say carrots with lime and salt
Fave hobby: painting
Fave celebration: Christmas
Fave School: University of Central Florida (UCF)
Fave show to rewatch: Naruto
Fave books: Wicked, Hot Zone
Immune Booster #2 Cold exposure
Who Dat: Born and raised Floridian, Master of Public Health candidate at GWU, pursuing medical school, passionate about advocating for underserved populations
Fave Fruit: Kiwi
Fave new hobby: Triathlon Training
Fave mental health boost: spending time outside, music
Fave Movie: The Lion King
Fun Fact: got my nickname after the sunshine state of Florida
Fave Quote: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” - Helen Keller
Immune Boosters #8 Vitamin D, #11 Positivity & Gratitude
Who dat: Just a large town girl living in a covid world. Chicagoland born and raised. Loves people and singing (although not very good at the latter) and believes that the world is not bad but can be improved.
Fave college: University of Michigan (GO BLUE!)
Fave sports team: The New York Giants
Fave snack: banana
Fave exercise: squatting
Fave activity: reading
Fave movie: 10 Things I Hate About You
Fave place: South Africa
Fave quote: "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
Who Dat: GWU Master Of Public Health Candidate, Dog Lover, Medical Doctor, Spiritual Personality
Fave fruit: Mango
Fave Hobby: Dancing
Fave Mental Health Boost:
Meditation, Listening to Instrumental Music
He who says I'm alone... had never listened to God who is always with him.
Immune Boosters #7 Reduce Alcohol & Smoking, #12 Play with People & Animals
Who Dat: Master of Public Health Student at GWU, originally from Seattle
Fave hobby: hiking, writing and traveling
Fave quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi
Fave mental health boost: listening to my favorite playlist and going on a walk
Passions: mental health and women’s health
Fave place I ever visited: Alaska
Fun Facts: I am an only child
Immune Boosters #4 Dark Green Veggies
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
-- Wendell Berry
"That was an awesome wellness session! I enjoyed the poll shares and chat shares and it was nice to do breakout groups-- that was way less awkward than a big group." (teacher at DC public charter school)
"This was my favorite of the wellness sessions we've had because it was so specific and helpful in giving concrete strategies. I appreciated the background information on what burn out looks and feels like and the opportunity to assess where we were at." (teacher, DC public charter school)
"They gave us a list of 15 bite size things that I could add to my life to boost my immune system/improve my health that I am excited to implement. I particularly enjoyed the 2 minute meditation that allowed me to be in a space of mindfulness after a long day." (teacher, DC public charter school)
"I thoroughly enjoyed this session because it's imperative to ensure this area of your life is in tip to shape, since it affects how well your performance is in the classroom. You want to be the best you possible every day!" (teacher, DC public charter school)