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Speech about RVHHC, Inc., for NYSUT Regional Conference

By Cornelia Wathen,  October 31, 2013

It is thanks to being a New York State NYSUT retiree, receiving a pension for my years of working with children, that I have the time available to devote to the work I am now doing.  I feel deeply grateful for my good fortune.

We are all painfully aware these days of the problems in our country’s healthcare system, its runaway cost and the lack of universal insurance coverage.  This is further compounded for those people wishing to receive holistic healthcare.  Most insurance policies do not cover holistic treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathy and energy healing.  I am one of the founders of an all-volunteer not-for-profit organization dedicated to making free or low cost holistic healthcare and education available to the children, adults and seniors where I live in upstate New York, and to provide a model for other communities wishing to do something similar.

Holistic Medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole person — body, mind, spirit, and emotions — in the quest for optimal health and wellness. According to the holistic philosophy, one can achieve optimal health by gaining proper balance in life. The doctor/therapist uses non-invasive modalities whenever possible. Treatment involves healing the underlying cause of the condition, not just the symptoms.  Essentially, Holistic medicine is based on the belief that unconditional love and support is the most powerful healer and a person is ultimately responsible for his or her own health and well-being. 

About 27 years ago, while I was still teaching at Bronxville School, I went to see a psychic because I had heard that she was extraordinarily gifted.  I was intrigued but skeptical.  She told me that I was a healer and that within the year I would meet a teacher and go back to school to become a healer.  My skepticism took over.  I knew I wasn’t a healer, and I was a single parent of two young girls and I had neither the time nor the money to go back to school.  So I forgot all about her and what she had said.  Later that year, I attended a weekend workshop with Pat Rodegast, a well known channel whose work I admired.  When I arrived, I was angry to learn that half the weekend was to be taught by someone named Barbara Brennan.  Barbara, it turned out, was a world renowned clairvoyant healer.  After spending a day studying with her, I was absolutely fascinated by what she taught and felt I had to become her student and know more.  I ended up joining her school, which was and still is a four year intensive school of energy healing.  The four years changed my life – changed the way I saw the world – and I became a certified Brennan healer.  After teaching children each day, I saw clients.  During that time I became inspired by a vision I had of a healing center where different holistic modalities would be practiced side-by-side.  I wrote a proposal and networked it at several conferences of healers around the country.  Many healers endorsed what I wrote, but it never got off the ground financially and eventually I gave up on the proposal.

15 years later, when my new husband and I retired, we moved north to the Catskill Mountains.  Soon after landing there, we became involved in the local Transition Town movement. This movement began in England, launched by Rob Hopkins, a permaculturist.  He inspired his small rural town of Totnes to work towards greater self sufficiency and deeper connection as a community – connection to the Earth and to each other.  They believed that the challenges of global warming and Peak Oil could best be met through local self-sufficiency, and so they encouraged the growing and eating of local foods, the local production of green energy, and a local economy which had its own currency and favored local cooperative businesses.  Because of the great success of this experiment, other towns in England began copying Totnes, and soon the Transition Movement spread around the world.  My husband and I took the Transition Training in 2011, and participated in the launching of a transition town where we live. 

One day, at a Transition Town meeting, while brainstorming what kinds of projects our group might undertake, I mentioned my dream of starting a holistic health center, and the goal of making holistic healthcare affordable.  Two other women chimed in that they had held the same dream for many years — one woman was a holistic medical doctor and the other was the widow of a doctor considered by many to be the father of Holistic Medicine.  And so the 3 of us began meeting to discuss what we might do together.

We went to visit two existing holistic health centers we had heard about to learn from them.  One, called TRUE NORTH is in Maine, and the other, called THE ITHACA HEALTH ALLIANCE, is in Ithaca, New York.  Both had been in operation for a number of years.  They spent a lot of time talking to us and showing us their physical plants, and they gave us copies of all their forms and policies.

Having no money, we decided to begin our operation by creating a community of local holistic healers, to provide a day, once a month, when they would offer their services to the community for free.  Our Town offered us the use of its Community Center for free.  It is a beautiful old building with two large rooms, a kitchen and bathrooms.  We held a series of open meetings at the Community Center, inviting holistic practitioners to come and listen to our proposal. The local newspapers wrote articles about us that spread the word, some on the front page.  To our surprise and delight, many holistic practitioners came and signed up to join our community – massage therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, psychologists, reflexologists, an herbalist, a nutritional counselor, and practitioners of various forms of energy healing including Barbara Brennan Healing, One Light Healing Touch, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Plant Spirit Medicine, Matrix Energetics, Reconnective Healing and Reiki.  And of course we had our holistic medical doctor on board. 

In addition to a large group of enthusiastic volunteers, the universe stepped in to help, evidenced by a series of synchronistic events.

For example, as we were nearing our opening day, we said to each other – we need room dividers to break up the large open space of our venue.  A friend of mine heard me say this and said – “well, that’s what my husband does.  He creates dividers for conventions in New York City.”  And so he came, wanting to help us, and designed a series of walls for us made of floor-to-ceiling tension poles connected by stretch fabric which he loans us monthly at no charge.  He comes every month and sets them up for us.  They transform the space and make it quite beautiful.

Another synchronicity, as we were making our future plans, we said – we need legal help in order to become a not-for-profit corporation.  One member of our governing Council said – “… I heard that the local theater cooperative got Nixon-Peabody (a large New York State legal firm) to give them pro-bono legal assistance.”  Another member of our Council said, “Oh, I have a client who works for Nixon-Peabody and she is coming for a session tomorrow.  I will ask her about it.”  Within a week, Nixon-Peabody had agreed to give us free legal assistance to become a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation, and assigned us to a lawyer who specializes in health related corporations.  We became a 501(c)3 early this year, making it possible for us to raise funds through tax deductible donations.

Another synchronicity, we spoke to each other of needing help with our book-keeping. A local CPA came and volunteered to help us as an administrative volunteer, and has taken charge of our books and tax returns.

Another synchronicity, we knew we needed to raise some money.  One night a woman healer who had attended one of our introductory open meetings called me.  She said she had been inspired by what we said at the meeting.  She was currently a member of a Forum Class and had to do a project for her class.  She asked, “…would it be OK if I organized a fund raiser for you as my project?”  Needless to say, I said “yes”.

Another synchronicity, we needed a brochure and did our best to put one together ourselves.  It was nice but not professional.  A professor from SUNY Ulster, which is in our town, saw our brochure and gave us a call.  He offered to make our brochure an assignment for his design class.  As a result, we were presented with 14 different brochure designs to choose from.  Each design was unique.  We ended up selecting the design of a young woman student from Sweden, much to her delight.

In addition, a local florist offered to give us a flower arrangement each month, the local Organic Food COOP offered to give us snacks for our patients each month, and a local herb farm offered to give us locally crafted herbal teas each month.

Our short history as an organization has been like this – people and opportunities have presented themselves when they were needed.  Whenever this happens, we stop and breathe and feel our deep gratitude. 

We opened our doors to the public for the first time on the Spring Equinox of 2012.  Each month, before we open our doors, we clear the space energetically and then gather in a Circle of all our healers.  In our Circle, each of us uses intention to enter the Space of the Heart, to link our hearts, to allow our love to join and expand, and to fill the building with the energy of our Love.  And as we then work side by side, an energy builds that is palpable.  Many speak of how wonderful it is to work in that energy.

We have averaged around 60 patients per month.  Many of our patients have no insurance coverage and have not had any form of healthcare for a long time. Some are homeless. Some do have insurance but cannot afford the holistic modalities that are not covered by their insurance, and want to follow a holistic approach to health.  We ask our patients to leave us anonymous feedback about their experience at each Holistic Healthcare Day.  Here are some quotes from recent months, so you can hear the voices of our patients:

…from the greeting at the door to the people I was working with, everyone felt very warm and easy to be around.  My treatment was just what I needed.  Thank you!!!


Wonderful – was having severe neck, shoulder and back problems all day and my massage therapist alleviated it.  She’s the best!!  You are all great.

I had a massage.  I do not have words enough or appropriate to describe my deep appreciation for the work that this clinic performs… It is truly medicine for the community as well as for the individual.  I am amazed at the boundless generosity that I received.  As a landscaper of 25 years, my body craves the medicine and relief that massage provides.  I cannot afford massage in ‘the real world’.  This clinic truly saved my body and spirit.  Thank you. 

I had a reflexology treatment.  Very grateful.  The session was relaxing and stuff was definitely happening… it seemed immediately effective in certain ways.  Thanks for providing this opportunity otherwise unavailable to some of us.

Lovely atmosphere of kindness and gentleness and caring.  I saw a One Light Healing Touch healer.  Wonderful and very helpful experience.

Wow – I came in with a fair amount of pain and I am leaving with much less discomfort.  I had a One Light Healing Touch session.  Everyone makes me feel SO welcomed and valued – Thank you!!

I saw a Reiki practitioner.  I am always surprised by how different each practitioner is, but yet all provide healing and valuable information.  Thank you!


I saw a psychologist.  Very pleased to have had this opportunity.  I will begin seeing her at her practice – would not have made this healthful connection without this Holistic Health Group.


AMAZEMENT.  Greatfulness.  My therapist gave so much caring.  My knees were so very stiff.  After the treatment, I was walking and realized the stiffness had loosened considerably.  Miraculous and astonishing.  This is my first experience with Thai massage.  With lots of love.

Strong feeling of community.  Wonderful being with like-minded people.  I saw a Matrix Energetics practitioner.  She was lovely to be with.  She was attuned to my energy and had good suggestions.  This was my first time here and I hope you continue to offer this event.  I look forward to attending again.

I had an amazing experience today.  My acupuncture was so awesome.  I was very worried it would hurt but she was so gentle and nice. The Holistic Health Group should outreach to get more volunteers so more people can be seen with this community growing. I plan to come now every month to try some of these healings. 

Visit with herbalist was very informative.  He worked on a list of questions I gave him.  He was a great man to talk to.  Just want to Thank Everyone who helps with the RVHHC group.  A big thank you!

I saw a Plant Spirit Medicine therapist.  This was my first experience with this type of healing.  I feel wonderful, protected and energetically improved.  She is wonderful.

… Wish it was every week instead of every month.


Around the time we launched our free Holistic Healthcare Days, a friend called me and said she had happened upon a store in our small local shopping center that had just changed hands.  In talking with the new owner, she felt I should talk with her – what she was doing seemed so aligned with our work.  She calls her new store FAMILY TRADITIONS.  I went to see her and we became friends.  She offered us the free use of her beautiful space one night a month to give free classes.  Each month one holistic practitioner offers a class in holistic self-care at this store.  We have offered classes in self-reflexology, partner massage, qigong, homeopathy, nutrition, holistic eye care, sound healing and healthy cooking among other things. 

More recently, members of our Council have organized a free film showing each month on a subject related to health – whether the health of the body, the mind, the community or the Earth – and have led discussions after the screenings.

So you may have noticed the repetition of the word “free”  — free healthcare, free classes, free film showings.  As an organization, we use the word “free” to let people know that they can come even if they cannot afford to pay a fee, but, at the same time, we are troubled by it.  We believe that healing is most effective when there is an exchange of some sort – whether it is money or something else.  Therefore, as patients wait for their sessions, we ask them to read a sheet about our exchange policy.  I would like to share it with you.


At the RVHHC Community Holistic Healthcare Days, it is our goal to make holistic healthcare accessible to all in the Rondout Valley.  Though there is no fee for service, we encourage all our patients to take the energy of love and generosity that you receive here from our volunteers and pass it on to others, so that the love truly goes out into the greater community.  By doing this, you contribute to your own healing, as recent research has shown that people who volunteer tend to be happier, healthier and live longer! As we give we truly receive.


Here are some suggestions of what you might do:


Make a donation to RVHHC to help provide operating expenses for future Community Holistic Healthcare Days.  Help assure that the RVHHC can continue to offer these services to you and to others.  A bowl for donations is on both the CHECK-IN table and the CHECK-OUT table.


Offer volunteer service in your community.  A list of volunteer opportunities is available at the CHECK-OUT table, provided by Ulster Corps.


Make dinner for a friend who is sick or depressed or overwhelmed.


Watch a friend’s children so they can take a needed break.


Say a prayer for a friend/ send positive thoughts out into the universe.


Pet-sit for free.


Give someone a back rub.


If this is not your first visit to the RVHHC Community Holistic Healthcare Days, and you have passed on what you received through service to others, we would love to know about it.  Please write on the back of this sheet what you offered and to whom, and what your experience of that giving was.  Your comments can be anonymous or not, as you choose.  We want you to know that if you share your experience with us, we may use your comment in our literature, in our requests for grants, or in a posting on the wall during the Community Holistic Healthcare Days.  In this way, you can inspire others to join in this economics of generosity!


In addition to the services, classes and films we offer, we are working to create a new model of corporate governance.  We believe that the organizations of the future will be more non-hierarchical and collaborative.  RVHHC currently has a Governing Council of 5 women and 2 men. Though by law we must have a President, Secretary and Treasurer, we conduct our business non-hierarchically by consensus.  We believe that the Council is an organism.  It is our intention to be a healthy organism, and to pay attention to the well-being of each member.  We believe that if any member is not happy, the organism is unhealthy. And so we talk through each matter that comes up for discussion until everyone either agrees with a decision or can live with it, and we understand every decision to be changeable if the group changes its mind as it gathers new experience.  In addition to business meetings, we have a Council Circle once a month at which we do not conduct any business.  The purpose of the circle is to sit with each other and to share whatever is going on for each individual.  It is the intention of the Circle to talk about anything that has arisen in our work together that is getting in the way of a relaxed and open relationship with one another.  When feelings have been hurt, we talk about it, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to each other.  As you may imagine, our group has become deeply connected through this process.

Finally, we believe our current program is the precursor of a larger program.  We are in the beginning stages of our larger dream. We hope one day to have our own land and buildings.  We see ourselves eventually as a part of a consortium of activities, all on one tract of land, that foster true health, potentially including an organic farm and restaurant, an intentional community, a school for children, a school for adults, a birthing center, a dying center, and an art center.  To bring the future into the present, we know we must be clear about our dreams, and so we schedule retreats every few months to dream our dreams together.  We are beginning to network with other groups who have similar dreams, to investigate whether or not it would be everyone’s pleasure to work together.


This coming week, we are sponsoring a visit from an ambassador from the Intentional Community called DAMANHUR in northern Italy.  Damanhur is perhaps the most successful intentional community on the planet where 1000+ people live together in community.  Their land includes magnificent Temples they have built and cooperative businesses including a holistic healing facility.  As we go forward, we hope to learn from Damanhur and other experiments around the planet.

Some years ago, Madeleine l’Engle, author of A Wrinkle In Time, gave a speech at the Bronxville School to area teachers and parents.  One teacher asked a curriculum question about teaching A Wrinkle In Time.  After a long, poignant silence, Madeleine l’Engle said, “When will you teachers ever learn?  You do not teach curricula, you teach you!”  We are always teachers, even after retirement.  As you gave your best to the children in your classes, I hope you will follow your heart’s dream after retirement, and teach you through everything you do. My organization has learned that if you truly follow your dreams, sometimes miracles happen.


Thank you for listening.