Interview with Prison Yoga Project: Catalyst Impact Partners with Stand Together Foundation
Recently, Prison Yoga Project was chosen to be part of Stand Together Foundation’s first group of Catalyst Impact Partners. Stand Together Foundation (STF) is an organization committed to changing the way the United States thinks about, talks about, and tackles poverty. As a Catalyst Impact Partner, PYP receives management training, access to a new customer-first impact-measurement approach, and support over the next three years.
This support will play a key role in helping PYP scale our work, increase our impact, and sustain our mission to provide programs for rehabilitation and resilience rooted in yoga and embodied mindfulness.
As a part of the Catalyst Program, PYP’s executive leadership recently attended three in-person summits with our catalyst cohort. These summits covered topics and concepts such as Principles-Based Management, which will enable us to function better as an organization. The training has also provided opportunities to connect with other impactful organizations—many also involved in prison reform—and to learn from them.
Recently, I spoke with PYP’s Executive Director Bill Brown and Assistant Director Nicole Hellthaler, who shared the important themes that came through in their leadership training as well as how this funding will support the mission of PYP.
“We’ve known for some time that Prison Yoga Project was ready for a new era of growth and expansion,” shares Hellthaler, “and we discovered clear pathways to make it happen during this training. My focus this year is on implementing a new survey for our participants in partnership with Stand Together to understand the level of transformation they experience in our programs.”
For Brown, one workshop in particular really stood out. “It was centered on more clearly understanding our ‘North Star—the guiding vision we are working toward as an organization,” he says. “Working through that process has helped us clarify our vision and mission in a meaningful way. It helped us better articulate the systemic change we hope to bring about beyond the activity we engage in. Being able to talk about that in a language the whole team shares has helped ensure we are all working toward the same goals. It’s also expanded our focus to include activity that goes beyond not only providing services for incarcerated people—but activity meant to bring about a more healing-centered way of addressing harm reduction for everyone involved in the system.”
For Brown, the training has also provided significant insights about working with other organizations to more effectively create change. “Because our cohort was made up of a diverse set of organizations,” he explains, “I was challenged by points of view that were quite different from my own, yet I was often able to find common ground. This helped me transcend much of the othering in our political landscape. I just don’t want to participate in that anymore. Rather than existing in my political bubble outraged by the ‘other side,’ I would rather seek out those people and organizations moving beyond differences to address real social problems.”
How exactly will this training and partnership help PYP to further its mission?
Hellthaler is enthusiastic about using the skills she learned and the resources PYP is provided to build a stronger monitoring and evaluation system for our organization. “We will grow in our ability to learn from our participants’ experiences and continue to implement highly impactful programming.”
“We know what we offer works to help people rehabilitate from traumatic experiences, develop resilience, and cultivate compassion for self and others,” explains Brown. “STF is helping us demonstrate that impact through its customer-first approach to measurement and evaluation. With that data and what we know about the high demand for our programs, we are poised to grow by orders of magnitude. Principles-based Management (PBM) provides the tools we will need to operate PYP most effectively and efficiently to sustain that growth while remaining true to our vision, mission, and values.”
“We love working with Stand Together Foundation for many reasons,” adds Hellthayer, “and one that stands out is how supportive and understanding they are. They don’t come in with a specific agenda for our organization—rather, they view our participants and us as the experts and give us the tools to do what we believe is best. They understand that in order to implement what we are learning, we need to build our capacity.”
One example of the at support to build capacity comes in the form of funding that has helped PYP to expand our team and add a National Program Director, Amy Emley. This allows PYP to direct significantly more attention to all of our programs and Facilitators while creating more space for Hellthaler to allocate to other priorities including monitoring and evaluation and organizational development.
“I would add that we hired our National Program Director, Amy Emley, partly because she’s been through the type of transformation PYP is anticipating with her prior organization, The Phoenix,” says Brown. “She’s well-versed in PMB and has been instrumental in helping us to share its benefits with our team.”
To learn more about STF and their mission and impact, visit standtogetherfoundation.org or follow them @Standtogether on Instagram, @JoinStandTogether on Facebook and TikTok, @StandTogether on Twitter, and Stand Together on LinkedIn.
Stand Together also has a podcast (“The Stand Together Podcast”) which we recommend if our community wants to learn more about the organization we are partnering with! It is available on all podcast platforms.
This blog was a contribution from Kat Heagberg.
Kat Heagberg Rebar (eRYT-500) (she/her/they/them) is the Department Chair of Yoga Studies at Pacific College of Health and Science, author of Yoga Inversions: Your Guide to Going Upside Down (Shambhala, 2023), co-author of co-author of Yoga Where You Are with Dianne Bondy (Shambhala, 2020), co-editor of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s anthology Embodied Resilience Through Yoga (Llewellyn, 2022) and the former editor in chief of Yoga International. Kat currently teaches yoga, ballet, and barre classes in Los Angeles and co-hosts the yoga true crime podcast Dark Side of the Mat with Justine Mastin. She will happily sacrifice a night of sleep to perform in an improv or variety show with her spouse Kyle any day of the week. Visit her at katheagberg.com or on Instagram at @katheagberglar