When the Jefferson School City Center opens its doors in January, nine nonprofit tenants with overlapping missions in health and education will share the responsibility of making good on the City’s $5.8 million equity investment in the project. Most of them—like the Jefferson Area Board on Aging (JABA) and Piedmont Virginia Community College—have long track records in the community, but Common Ground Healing Arts is a brand new initiative, aimed at providing broad community access to therapeutic health care through yoga, acupuncture, massage, and meditation.
On Saturday, July 14, Common Ground will host a “sit-a-thon” at the Haven’s sanctuary as part of a fundraising campaign aimed at securing the remaining $80,000 of the $185,000 the organization needs to outfit its space at the Jefferson School. Pat Coffey, senior teacher at Insight Meditation Community and leader of a regular Tuesday night program at JABA, will conduct a two-hour vipassana meditation workshop in return for a donation.
“The goal is twofold: to raise awareness for Common Ground and just have that positive energy focused on the project when everyone gets together and sits in solidarity to say, ‘We support this idea in the community,’” said Common Ground Executive Director Kate Hallahan Zuckerman. “And there’s the fundraising aspect as well.”
Zuckerman, co-founder of the Charlottesville Yoga School, is the driving force behind Common Ground, which is an outgrowth of the Guerilla Yoga Project, a nonprofit she started in early 2009 that offered sliding scale payment for yoga classes as the recession set in.
“I started thinking if my friends, my peers, can’t afford to come to class, how many other people can’t afford it at a time when healing arts practices can be really beneficial?” Zuckerman said. “When stress levels are high, that’s when self care is the last thing people think about and when it’s most important.”
Guerilla Yoga held 15 classes per week at its height, harnessing the talents of yoga instructors from a wide range of practices and traditions. The group added massage and acupuncture to its menu and organized regular free outreach sessions in Southwood Mobile Home Park, Friendship Court Apartments, and Fluvanna Women’s Correctional facility.
The work caught the attention of JABA CEO Gordon Walker, who then helped Zuckerman set up a weekly 20-minute chair massage program at Westhaven Apartments, a major public housing development in the Starr Hill neighborhood. Walker also helped Zuckerman get in touch with the board at the Jefferson School Community Partnership, which was looking for health- and education-focused nonprofits to fill the 80,000 sq. ft. building whose anchor tenants include the African American Heritage Center and the City-run Carver Recreation Center.
“One of the constant themes that kept coming up was how to make this a lifelong learning center, one that can benefit people of all generations,” Walker said. “While learning about the history and culture of the African American community is a main theme to the school, it’s also exposing people to other kinds of things in the community. And Common Ground will bring these treatment modalities that people often don’t have exposure to.”
Dr. Greg Gelburd serves as an advisor to Common Ground board, and his medical practice, Downtown Family Health Care, is located directly across from Friendship Court. Gelburd routinely prescribes acupuncture and massage as complementary treatment methods for conditions like insomnia, hypertension, allergies, and stomach issues—but not all his patients can afford it.
“It’s outside the realm of insurance coverage in this state and in most states in the East, so it’s pricey for people out of pocket,” Gelburd said.
Gelburd believes Common Ground’s location in the Jefferson School alongside Martha Jefferson Hospital’s community outreach clinic will send the broader message that alternative treatments need to be included in mainstream community health initiatives focused on chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity.
Martin Burks, former president of the Jefferson School Community Partnership, and current chairman of the Jefferson School Foundation, is a longstanding business leader in the Starr Hill neighborhood at the J.F. Bell Funeral Home on Sixth Street. Burks said Common Ground will add a new dimension to the center’s range of offerings.
“The approach was that we wanted to excite old and young people. To attract people with a diverse approach to things,” Burks said. “And I think we’ve done that with a broad array of nonprofits offering services there, and I think Common Ground fits perfectly.”
Zuckerman doesn’t feel the need to soft pedal her project. She’s motivated and ambitious and believes yoga, massage, and acupuncture are for everyone.
“Our stated mission is to bring sliding scale healing arts services to the community. A larger vision we have though is that through this avenue people are going to come into contact with people they wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with,” she said. “My ultimate vision is that I’ll have someone from Farmington and someone from Friendship Court and they’re both on their yoga mats and they’re both in my class.”