Tyecia “Ty” Powell spent 15 years in schools, Susan 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 related to bearing and breastfeeding two children, being a working LGBTQ parent, and going through a divorce.
In 2017, related to the change in 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 Baltimorean queer women, born a decade apart, have joined forces as co-founders of Nonprofit Wellness is a 501c3 with EIN 87-1866602.
While directing Playworks DC, Susan receives the Pentagon's “Spiritual Fitness Award” for developing a Brain Breaks lunchtime talk for U.S. Department of Defense civilian staff. This same year, Ty serves as an instructional coach and athletic director at DCPS's West Education Campus, which Playworks was serving, 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 helps adapt and expand 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.
The year started with two months of weekly webinars to build a YouTube channel, so when the pandemic hit, Susan and Ty were already experienced with online trainings. 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 to scale their 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, receiving charitable financial contributions as well as in-kind tools for wellness gear.
Ty and Susan continue to mentor GWU students who are pursuing their Masters of Public Health degree, in official "practicum" internship programs. To date, Nonprofit Wellness has served as preceptor to more than 12 MPH students. Ty continues her leadership at Sojourner Truth School and Susan starts as mid-Atlantic manager of the beekeeping operation at Alvéole.
The nonprofit board of Nonprofit Wellness thanks its founding chair, Terri Shuck, welcomes new chair Daniel Medina, and welcomes former GWU interns Diana Aguilera and Meghin Brooks as board members.
Susan Comfort led an "E.D. Chat" with our top Team-care tools, answering questions with hundreds of Executive Director TechSoup members (10/26/21, 40 min). These tools are available for free on the "resources" tab, above.
Who Dat: Co-founder, bisexual/bilingual/bipedal whistler from Baltimore. Susan has 30 years of nonprofit and advocacy experience, which brought a lot of stress. Yoga class helped her cope.
Graduate of: Willow Street 400-hour Yoga Teacher Training
Also graduate of: UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Heels!)
Fave hobby: creating alternative sidewalks
Fave dancing: Salsa, 5 Rhythms
Fave job: Bo Brooks crab house server
Fave mental health boost: Learning K-pop dances via YouTube w/ daughter
Fave exercise: Walking, preferably near water
Fave veggie: anything roasted
Fave 80s Icons: Michael, Janet, Prince, Madonna
Fave city: Bal'mer, hon
Four Tendencies Type: Obliger
Follow @comfortconsulting (IG)
Who Dat: Co-founder, 17-year education veteran, pursuing Doctorate in Education, passionate about wellness for school leaders after experiencing her own burnout from the classroom and re-entry into schools.
Fave veggie: broccoli
Fave dog: Bruce
Fave new hobby: writing a dissertation, "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 book: (impossible; too many!)
Fave school: Sojourner Truth Montessori PCS
Fave quotes: "Waves Will Come. Ride Them." "Show Love & Sow Love"
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 Jammin4Water benefit (pic).
Fave quote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” -- Mary OIiver, The Summer Day
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)
We are working with schools to bolster educators' immune systems and soothe their stress levels. We'll focus on DC but share our successes (and failures) freely nationwide via YouTube and social media. And of course we preach "Team-care" more than Self-care (which is never enough, especially for teachers). Please support our new nonprofit by giving a tax-deductible gift that supports school wellness in this challenging year.