Root to Rise Collective supports personal growth and embodied resiliency by providing safe space, mentorship, and holistic wellness training to young women and trans youth facing hardship, and by providing holistic wellness classes to people who are conventionally not made welcome.
The Story of Root to Rise Collective
Andrea Chesnes was a strong girl from a tough background. She grew up in Chicopee, surrounded by poverty, addiction, and unhealed trauma. School was an obstacle course of bullying and silencing, without help from any supportive adults. Her mother was struggling to survive with three kids alone on Welfare, including one with autism, and couldn’t give Andrea the support she needed.
The only ways Andrea knew how to cope were to fight or withdraw. The more she did either one, the more adults in her life believed the worst of her – too rough, too stubborn, too wild.
Fortunately, caring women intervened and led Andrea to yoga and meditation. She learned to use both practices to heal and empower herself. A 500-hour E-RYT Hatha yoga teacher, she has now taught yoga for nearly a decade and won The Valley Advocate’s 2019 Best Yoga Teacher award. She has practiced meditation since 2013 and taught it since 2018.
Living in Turners Falls, she kept naturally connecting and becoming like a big sister to teen girls/young women and trans youth like her. As a tough, resilient woman who had healed herself, she could resonate with hard up young people. As a single mom of a non-binary youth and a son, a former foster mom of a teen girl in hard circumstances, a trained rape crisis counselor, and a yoga and meditation teacher, she could give them the support they needed. They spread the word among their friends, and soon she had a cohort of 15.
She also developed a passion for making yoga and meditation available to all, including working class people who do not feel included in the middle/upper class culture around holistic wellness, as well as people who feel judged by conventional holistic wellness culture if they have not given up everything it sees as a vice. Because of her background, Andrea naturally connects with these people and makes all feel at home in her classes.
Andrea decided to form a nonprofit to address the needs of young women and trans people, as well as the needs of people who don’t usually feel welcomed in holistic wellness classes. She launched a fundraising campaign among her yoga and meditation students and gathered a Board of Directors in 2018, and Root to Rise Collective was born.
Reclaiming Embodiment & the Sacred Feminine in Us All
What is the Sacred Feminine?
Archaeology shows us that for many thousands of years before patriarchy, people worldwide saw the divine as mainly feminine. The earliest religious artifacts from around the world are Goddess figurines (capitalized to show respect for all faiths). These cultures appear to have been peaceful and egalitarian, honoring the feminine power of life as the greatest power, and appreciating the masculine as its complement.
Worldwide, from time immemorial, associations with the sacred feminine and masculine have largely been:
Both the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine are alive in all of us, innate in our psyches, whether we identify more with the one matching our physical sex at birth, with the other one, or with both equally.
Patriarchy’s Attack on the Feminine
Patriarchy (the rule of men) denies the obvious fact that we all contain both archetypally feminine and archetypally masculine qualities. It demands that we be solely feminine or masculine based on the sex of our bodies at birth.
Patriarchy then privileges those who embody its narrow ideals of masculinity and oppresses everyone else, including women and girls, trans people, and men and boys who are in touch with their feminine sides.
To justify this, patriarchy attacks the feminine and distorts the masculine; it says:
It then defines our value based on these distorted patriarchal gender norms. If you were born in a female body, patriarchy says your value is in how pretty and pleasing you are to men, which includes being easy for them to control. If you were born in a male body, patriarchy says your value is in how well you display masculine qualities as it defines them, including suppressing your emotions and controlling others.
Patriarchy also defines what we value as a society by worshipping what it defines as masculine and scorning what it defines as feminine. Thus, it not only oppresses us as individuals, but keeps our society imbalanced:
Discarding the Feminine is Not the Answer
Our entire society is structured around patriarchal values that malign and belittle the feminine, while worshipping not only positive masculine qualities, but distorted, negative ones as well.
If we strive to escape patriarchy’s oppression by doing away with gendered language, we will be left with patriarchal values and perspectives still fully intact, but even harder to change because they are not widely recognized for what they are. The same thing would happen if we tried to discard the concept of race without first dismantling white supremacy – it would still be alive and well, only less visible and understood.
Too many girls, women, and trans people strive to escape the oppression of patriarchy by rejecting gender wholesale, without realizing they could reject only patriarchy’s distortions of it. Many of us can reject patriarchy’s belittled version of the feminine and find our own personal truth and power in the sacred feminine that gave rise to powerful, ancient Goddesses. Many of us can reject patriarchy’s distorted masculinity and find freedom in embracing how the sacred masculine complements rather than dominating the sacred feminine, and how we all contain different mixtures of both.
● Patriarchal gender distortions
● The idea that any of us should have a different mix of feminine and masculine than what naturally occurs in us
● The dualistic idea that the masculine, the sky, and the mind are superior and holy, while the feminine, the earth, and the body are inferior and profane
● Ideas of the feminine as weak, melodramatic, and petty
● The view and treatment of the earth and body as mere matter to be dominated
● The view and treatment of sex as dirty, profane, and objectifying
● The view and treatment of menstruation as dirty, profane, unpleasant, and a curse
● The sacred feminine and sacred masculine
● The richness of our own personal feminine and masculine mixture
● The holistic idea that everything in nature is holy and interconnected and must be kept in healthy balance, including the feminine and masculine parts of ourselves and our societies
● The feminine strengths of flexibility, collaboration, and compassion, which can be greater than muscle power
● The view and treatment of the earth and body as sacred manifestations of life to benefit from and lovingly nurture
● The view and treatment of sex as wonderfully pleasurable, bonding, enlivening, and sacred
● The view and treatment of menstruation as a sacred part of the process that can so miraculously create new human beings
And much more...
To bring back balance and create a healthy society, we must:
Reclaiming the sacred feminine can be utterly life-changing for all of us, but especially for those who identify as mainly or half feminine. It can show us completely new ways of viewing ourselves and the world that dismantle our internalized oppression and give us a sense of personal power and a positive place in a world where everyone and everything is interconnected in a sacred way.
It can guide us to create loving, supportive relationships and communities that correct patriarchal imbalances on a systemic change level and help us create a better world.
It can also help us differentiate between the patriarchal masculine and the truly sacred masculine, for patriarchy has distorted the masculine through imbalance with and hostility toward the feminine. Truly sacred masculine can only be found in healthy relationship to the feminine. Reclaiming the sacred feminine is therefore the best way to bring the masculine back into healthy perspective.
ROOT in the Sacred Feminine & Embodiment TO RISE as a COLLECTIVE
At Root to Rise Collective, we believe that holistic wellness is rooted in reclaiming the sacred feminine, which is rooted in reclaiming the foundational sacredness of our bodies. We see our bodies as manifestations of our souls in the holy, miraculous gift of life on earth, not just vehicles for transporting our minds from place to place, or even worse, as profane and dirty prisons keeping us from the sacred.
We root ourselves in our embodied experience of the present, for both patriarchy and trauma disassociate us from our own bodies and teach us to judge and mistrust our bodies. By rooting in our bodies, we find a safe home within ourselves, allowing us to heal from trauma and access our resilience for meeting life’s challenges and opportunities.
Through yoga poses and breathing exercises, we:
● Get to intimately know, feel, and accept our bodies as they are.
● Learn to avoid dissociating and stay present in our bodies to access our truth, strength, and self-compassion no matter what is happening.
● Care for our bodies by relieving tension and stress.
● Allow ourselves to be with the emotions, thoughts, and memories that come when we move and open our bodies in new ways.
● Access personal power by increasing our strength and flexibility.
● Find the well of peace deep within us all.
Through safe space and mentorship, youth:
● Meet basic physical needs through rest, food, showers, laundry, etc.
● Get a chance to feel safe and calm the nervous systems from the usual high alert.
● Learn methods to calm and stay present in the body and feel the emotions, whatever is happening.
● Bond with supportive, compassionate adults.
● Do wholesome, grounding activities like hiking, swimming, and gardening.
● Receive help in practical matters that meet current and future needs.
● Receive advice and support for life challenges.
● Cultivate self-compassion.
After building strong roots, we rise up to integrate our bodies with our minds and spirits, creating personal lives that are both grounded and inspired.
Through mindfulness and meditation, we:
● Learn to intimately know and work with what we truly think, feel, believe, need, and want.
● Learn to stay aware of how we feel and think in the moment, so we can access our truth, strength, and self-compassion no matter what is happening.
● Learn to recognize false and harmful thoughts and beliefs and disarm them with self-compassion.
● Listen for and follow the voices of intuition and inspiration that come when we quiet our minds.
● Access personal power by cultivating our ability to understand and work with our thoughts and feelings to create the lives we truly want.
● Find and follow our inspiration.
Through safe space and mentorship, youth:
●Gain self-knowledge and cultivate self-esteem.
●Build self-awareness and self-compassion to access personal truths, strength, and self-compassion no matter what is happening.
●Learn to recognize false and harmful thoughts and beliefs and disarm them with self-compassion.
●Get a chance to have fun.
●Bond with inspiring adults who believe in each youth’s value and potential.
●Find and follow the voices of intuition and inspiration.
●Receive advice and support to access the personal power to thrive, be happy, and find and pursue life dreams.
As a collective, Root to Rise Collective embraces the sacred feminine values of interdependence, community support, equality, nonjudgmental compassion, and accepting and nurturing ourselves and one another as we are.
This is a place to come find the sacred feminine in yourself and experience it from a community of others, a place to root in your body, so you can rise in your life.
Everyone deserves safety, equal opportunity, and happiness, regardless of gender expression, sexual preference, race/ethnicity, culture, language, citizenship, body shape and size, ability, past history, self-care choices, perceived “vices,” or any other factor. This means that everyone also deserves access to learning practices that help bring people peace, such as yoga and meditation, without judgment for their identities, circumstances, or lifestyles
Our differences are to be celebrated, as are our similarities. We are each unique and valuable, and we all share many experiences that are similar, though not the same, and help us relate to one another. We value the richness of being in community with people whose perspectives are different, and we appreciate all we can learn from one another. We strive to view and treat all people (including ourselves) with compassion and without judgement.
In our spaces, there is trauma in the room. People marginalized for gender, income, or any other reason almost invariably hold trauma, so all we do is trauma-informed, emphasizing creating safe spaces and opportunities to heal.
Our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits are sacred and worth caring for. Whatever shape, size, or ability we embody, our bodies are the sacred foundation of life. No matter how wounded or scarred, our hearts and minds are our sacred connectors to others and to our world. No matter how deflated or numbed, our spirits carry our potential to rise. We begin wherever we are and strive to care for ourselves and each other as best we can, one step at a time, and grow into our potential for wellness.
A healthy self and society are based on the feminine values of love, collaboration, community, equality, adaptability, empathy, creativity, and humility. Our society is wrong to champion the patriarchal values of competition, judgement, and hierarchy.
We are all interdependent, and we can best uplift ourselves by uplifting our communities. We do not subscribe to the economic development model of gentrification, nor to individual growth at the expense of others. We value and live by environmentally sustainable and ethically responsible practices rooted in compassion, and we partner only with others who do the same. Inclusive and community focused, we develop our prosperity and wellbeing while sharing both with our community.
Spirituality is one of the strongest forces we have for social action to build an equitable world. We must know peace in our bodies before we can truly offer it to others.
Staff & Consultants
Andrea Chesnes, Founder & Executive Director, is a 500-hour E-RYT Iyengar (hatha) yoga teacher who has also trained in vinyasa, yin, and restorative yoga (see Class Offerings[link] to learn about the differences in these styles). She has maintained a deep Vipassana meditation practice since 2013 (see Class Offerings[link] for a description of Vipassana meditation). Andrea has taught yoga since 2011 and meditation since 2018, and in 2019, she won The Valley Advocate’s Best Yoga Teacher award. Her practice is filled with mindfulness and laughter, creating an atmosphere of joy in her classes.
Growing up in a Chicopee, MA community plagued by poverty, addiction, and unhealed trauma, Andrea’s family was poor. Her mother struggled to survive while raising three kids alone on Welfare, including one with autism. When Andrea faced bullying and silencing in school, her mother did not have the resources to give her all the support she needed. Fortunately, caring women led her to yoga and meditation. She used both practices to heal herself and developed both a passion and a skill for not only teaching both practices, but doing so in a way that welcomes people who do not feel welcomed in conventional holistic wellness classes.
Now a single mom herself, with a non-binary child and a son, Andrea has been a foster mother to a teen girl facing hardship, and she is a trained rape crisis counselor. Her life experience, professional expertise, and friendly personality have naturally led her to bond with many teen girls and trans youth in difficult circumstances, who look to her as a mentor. This inspired her to launch Root to Rise Collective to support her mentorship work and combine it with her efforts to make yoga and meditation classes accessible to all people. (See The Story of Root to Rise Collective[link] for more detail.)
Erica Silber, Grant Writing & Development Consultant (she/her)
Erica Silber is Principal of Written Wings[link to writtenwings.com], launched in 2011 to provide writing and consulting to assist those working for a better world. She raises millions annually through writing grants and outreach and donor materials, mainly for small nonprofits. She also facilitates strategic, program, development, and communications planning, and she guides program evaluation and board development. Her client list includes dozens of local and national organizations across the US focused on human services, social justice, the arts, and economic development. A former textbook writer and editor focused mainly on English Language Arts, she is also a published poet and has won awards for both fiction and poetry. Her volunteer experience includes mentoring inner-city girls, tutoring teenage mothers, and co-founding women’s circles.
Erica has personally experienced abuse, bullying, and poverty, and has healed her own PTSD and supported many friends in their healing. She is a yoga and meditation practitioner, dancer, athlete, energy worker, and intuitive who has extensively studied the sacred feminine and been deeply empowered by incorporating it into her spirituality.
Board of Directors
Sarah Erman, (she/her) is the Chief Operations Officer at Franklin First Federal Credit Union and holds an MBA and a BA in English/Communications. She is passionate about promoting women’s financial literacy, for women often get stuck in unhealthy relationships due to financial insecurity, and statistics show that women have the hardest time retiring due to wage inequity and lost earning time caused by caring for children and the elderly. Sarah loves to paint, sew, knit, and crochet, skills she offers youth participants. A member of the 100 Who Care Franklin County giving circle, she has volunteered for many years to support the Children’s Advocacy Group’s Race to End Child Abuse 5K and their annual breakfast. A survivor of emotionally and verbally abusive and traumatic relationships, she has lived on a low income most of her life and only recently found financial freedom.
Rani Gould (she/her) is a School Counselor at a middle school in the economically disadvantaged city of Springfield, MA. She has over 20 years’ experience giving youth individual and group mental health counseling and college, career, and life skills classes. She has also directed a program offering GED prep for youth ages 17-24 and services for parents age 14-24, and she has supervised at a group home for adolescent girls who were abused or neglected. She has volunteered for various girls’ and women’s conferences and served on the MA YouthBuild Coalition Board. Rani grew up in a poor, working class rural family with a teen mother, witnessing a highly volatile relationship between her parents, as well as mental health issues and alcoholism that she still helps them manage today. Now an LGBTQ mother of a daughter, she has lived with anxiety disorder for most of her life.
Ashley Mader, Ph.D., LICSW (she/her) is a sex and mental health therapist with a private practice. Before moving to the Pioneer Valley, she worked to support people affected by poverty and opiate addiction in Philadelphia. She has also chaired numerous conferences and created her own conference. Ashley’s father died when she was only 14. She witnessed her mother mentor her friends, listening to them without judgment and talking openly about issues they couldn’t discuss with their own parents, like drinking, drugs, and sex. When her mother died, Ashley struggled with grief, depression, and anxiety. Her mother’s candid support still inspires her approach to therapy and daily relationships, as well as her service to Root to Rise Collective. Her passion is to assist women of all ages to empower themselves in relation to their mental health and sexuality.
Veronica Phaneuf (she/her) is a woman business owner who established About-Face Computer Solutions in Turners Falls in 1995, and she has been the Business Director for Greenfield Center School since 2001. She brings bookkeeping and accounting expertise to Root to Rise Collective and helps youth members with computers and budgeting. Veronica has also been a board member of Montague Community Cable Inc , and she has been a Montague and Turners Falls Town Meeting member for over 20 years and volunteered on multiple town committees.
Samantha Staelens, MSW, LICSW, (she/her) is a former DCF social worker and currently the Case Manager for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and North Quabbin, where she provides support and referrals for children as a part of a child-centered, trauma-informed response to child abuse reports. On Saturdays, she offers equine-assisted therapy for children at Stage Road Farm. She grew up in the Pioneer Valley, and couldn’t imagine living elsewhere. After surviving sexual assault and interpersonal violence, she felt unseen and unheard and became passionate about ensuring other survivors are not similarly unsupported.