I first heard of one of Evolution’s partners, A.I.M. to Empower, during the 40 Days Winter 2019 program at EPY. I knew that it was a community outreach program that brought yoga to underserved communities, but I was eager to learn more as community outreach is my personal passion.
I got the chance to sit down with Executive Director of A.I.M. to Empower, Beth Weaver, to learn more about the program.
Megan: What is A.I.M. to Empower?
Beth: We’re a 501C3 nonprofit that takes yoga out into the community outside of the studio to people who wouldn’t typically have access to it. Sometimes it’s a socioeconomic issue other times it’s because people literally cannot leave where they are. We teach at the youth correctional facility, the juvenile detention center and the Lancaster County Prison. We also teach in elementary and middle schools, as well as a home for pregnant teens. Some of these populations can leave these facilities but a lot of the people that we work with wouldn’t even know that they have the opportunity to practice yoga.
Megan: Can you describe your role in A.I.M.?
Beth: I’m the Executive Director. At this moment, this means that I wear multiple hats because I am currently the only employee. I have a strong group of volunteers to help me. I teach some of the classes, develop the programming, handle administrative tasks and conduct outreach to the places we are currently in, as well as places we would like to be in the future. I’m also in charge of fundraising for the program and the co-founder of the program with Lisa Taylor, President and Founder of Evolution Power Yoga.
Megan: How did you begin your involvement with A.I.M.?
Beth: I got strated while I was in my Yoga Teacher Training at Evolution Power Yoga. We were required to do a fundraiser as part of our teacher training. The focus for that fundraiser was the Africa Yoga Project, an amazing nonprofit based in Kenya. A number of us felt the need for these funds to go to work right here in Lancaster. It was time to start something here at home. It started pretty small and has led to collaboration with the Lancaster Rec Commission, the Lancaster Early Education Center, and IU13 with the Refugee Center.
Megan: What inspired you to get involved in community outreach?
Beth: I know how yoga has changed my life, and I began to think about the impact that it could have on folks who may not have had the same opportunities that I have had. I connected with Will Kiefer of The Benchmark Program and began teaching his kiddos one hour each week. I loved connecting with the kids, encouraging them to try something new, and witnessing their excitement as they learned new skills. From there, I searched for any opportunity that I could find to share yoga with people who may not otherwise have access.
A woman who was a very hard worker but did not speak much, was standing there and I knew she wanted to say something. She said she had felt her body for the first time in a really long time and that she felt like she was going to cry, and she did cry.
Megan: How has your background aided you in establishing A.I.M.?
Beth: In college, I majored in psychology for a long time but did not graduate with a psychology degree. Then I entered massage therapy in 1998. The bodywork that I practice is based in a type of energy work called polarity therapy. This is a hands-on practice that works with the subtle energies of the body. I have an innate ability to connect with people and to listen closely and notice what they’re not saying. I see where a challenge can be for that person, as well as positive attributes that I notice. I also studied with a group of healers in alchemical healing mentorship. It’s a lot of acupuncturists but we also studied a lot of Jungian theory and Eastern philosophies of medicine. I worked with a lot of felt sense which is mindfulness. That’s helped me to develop the program, to be flexible in the moment and to notice the group dynamic and group needs.
Megan: Do you teach meditation practice to A.I.M. students?
Beth: Yes, we teach meditation practice to all of them! We talk about how meditation doesn’t have to be sitting in lotus position for twenty minutes. With our little ones, we do walking meditation where the teacher stands at the front of the room and all students close their lips and breathe through their noses. The teacher walks slowly and mindfully and does a posture, such as raising one arm up and down. Students must be mindful of what is going on around them. With teenage girls, I have found that they respond well to guided meditation. At first they think it’s because they can just lay there but – I watch their breathing really shift. When they stand up they are walking and looking differently.
Megan: What are your most memorable experiences teaching meditation practice in prisons?
Beth: There’s one moment in particular that stands out when you ask that question. I was practicing breathwork and meditation with students. They were lying on the ground with blocks on their bellies watching their breath coming in and out of their body. Afterwards, a woman who was a very hard worker but did not speak much, was standing there and I knew she wanted to say something. She said she had felt her body for the first time in a really long time and that she felt like she was going to cry, and she did cry. Last week, another student mentioned that she used breathwork to stay calm when her cellmate was acting up. When she was given a new cellmate that suffered from anxiety, she taught her about meditation and breath.
Megan: Are you looking for new partnerships with community organizations?
Beth: Always. One of my personal missions within A.I.M. is to connect the community.
Megan: Do you have anything else you want to talk about?
Beth: Nonprofits, while they serve an altruistic purpose, they are a business. People may not realize that there are many fees associated with the ongoing life of a nonprofit and we need funds to support that. We also need more volunteers to help with administrative work such as bookkeeping and budgeting.
Megan: What other kinds of volunteers are you looking for aside from teachers?
Beth: Social media, design, website design, website upkeep, marketing and branding are a big need for us right now. We are searching for creative thinkers that can develop new and alternate ways to share what we are doing as well as execute the messaging within the parameters and policies of the facilities and populations we work with.
Megan: How can people donate to A.I.M.?
Beth: They can donate directly through our website www.aimtoempower.org, Facebook or PayPal. It’s as simple and easy as a $5 donation once a month; the same price as a cup of coffee. This small donation will go such a long way in helping us with our overhead and to eventually pay the teachers. You can also donate mats at Evolution Power Yoga’s Lancaster studio.
Megan: Where can people find A.I.M. on social media?
A big thank you to Beth Weaver for participating in this interview and sharing with the EPY community about her inspiring work with A.I.M. to Empower.
To learn more about A.I.M., get involved and donate please visit the links and handles mentioned in this conversation.