Sister Circle promotes Community Healing Days

Somebody told a lie one day…They made everything Black, ugly and evil.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Take a day to heal from the lies you’ve been told and the ones you’ve told yourself.
— Dr. Maya Angelou

The Women’s Initiative Sister Circle Program is promoting the National Community Healing Network’s annual “Community Healing Days” this October as a part of its commitment to fostering healing for Black women and women of color in our community.

The goals of the Community Healing Days include celebrating Black identity and the idea of “flourishing while Black.” These days are also about healing the global Black community from the trauma of anti-Black racism.

Sister Circle Co-Coordinators Alyson Stewart, MFT, and Shelly Wood, MSW, attended the conference of the National Community Healing Network and the Association of Black Psychologists in Richmond in August. They suggest the following activities and conversation starters for Community Healing Days this October 18-20.

TWI counselors Shelly Wood, MSW, left, and Alyson Stewart, MFT, center, with Dr. Cheryl Grills, right, of the Association of Black Psychologists.

TWI counselors Shelly Wood, MSW, left, and Alyson Stewart, MFT, center, with Dr. Cheryl Grills, right, of the Association of Black Psychologists.

  • Take the pledge to “defy the lie of Black inferiority” and “embrace the truth of Black humanity”

  • Wear a sky-blue article of clothing, responding to Dr. Maya Angelou’s call “to show our collective determination to turn the pain of the blues into the sky blue of unlimited possibilities.” Ideas: Tie, lapel pin or brooch, shoes, earrings, nail polish, scarf, carnation. Post pictures on social media with the hashtag #communityhealingdays

  • Take time out with a friend, such as for coffee, lunch, or a walk

  • Gather friends, family or coworkers to…

The Sister Circle Program at The Women’s Initiative provides mental health and wellness programs to reach and serve Black women and women of color.

Minority Mental Health Month: Mood & Movement

LISTEN IN as TWI therapists Shelly Wood, Alyson Stewart and Juanika Howard kick off July as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month with a chat about how physical activity can help us boost our mental health.

Yoga for People of Color at Common Ground Healing Arts offers a nurturing space for movement. Beginners are welcome.

Yoga for People of Color at Common Ground Healing Arts offers a nurturing space for movement. Beginners are welcome.

As Stewart says, “movement” doesn’t have to be all about “exercise.” “Anxiety and depression can feel paralyzing and lead us into the misconception that we aren’t allowed to move, whether to change rooms, or literal bodily position because what we are experiencing feels so convincingly restricting that we limit our physical options,” Stewart says. “Challenge yourself: What does your space allow for, whether at home or in an office. Can you stand, can you move? Honor each part of your body with an expression of gratitude through movement, while acknowledging pain, stiffness, or tender spots that need our attention.”

Join Sister Circle all month long for special programs in July for women of color to support one another in using physical activity to boost mood, including…

  • Stress management workshops

  • C’Ville Walks With Heart

  • Yoga for People of Color

  • Zumba

Nature connection helps clients on path to healing

Carolyn Schuyler, LCSW, was the first program director of The Women’s Initiative and continues to be a board member today. In 2017, Schuyler founded Wildrock, a nonprofit that provides educational, recreational, and therapeutic programs in nature. Partnering with The Women’s Initiative, Wildrock has connected our clients with chances to explore ecotherapy. As one client shared about a half-day retreat at Wildrock’s nature center: “I had an amazing day of calm and connection with nature and new friends. It was a day of healing.”

What is ecotherapy? Who can benefit from it?

HEALING OUTDOORS.  Carolyn Schuyler, LCSW, helps connect TWI clients to opportunities for self-care and stress reduction in nature at Wildrock.

HEALING OUTDOORS. Carolyn Schuyler, LCSW, helps connect TWI clients to opportunities for self-care and stress reduction in nature at Wildrock.

Carolyn Schuyler: Ecotherapy supports people in developing a reciprocal, healing relationship with the natural world. The work can take many forms—equine therapy, horticulture therapy, expressive art in nature, the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku [“forest bathing”], stewardship practices, deep appreciation and observational practices, and scientific inquiry. I believe ecotherapy is at its best when people are not only receiving the broad range of social, emotional, cognitive and physical benefits of spending time in nature but also giving back to nature. Ecotherapy practices can help people develop an embodied understanding that their own well-being is inextricably tied to the well-being of nature. There is now a robust body of research revealing that a connection to nature is an important predictor of subjective well-being and ecological behavior.

How did your interest in ecotherapy develop?

I grew up with the freedom to play with my sister in a fossil-rich creek and forest area by my house. I believe my own adult happiness is fed by the reservoir of positive experience I had spending long, relaxed periods outdoors early in life. I have noticed in my years of being a therapist that this was true for many of my clients, too. Time and time again, I heard people telling me that their most hopeful, empowering experiences were times when they were immersed in nature.

How does ecotherapy fit into the overall mission of The Women’s Initiative?

The Women’s Initiative provides many avenues to support the resilience of women. Given the strong research supporting nature connection as a means for reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression and trauma, it makes perfect sense that TWI would support women in exploring nature connection as a form of self-care. When I opened Wildrock, I came to TWI and offered to run Nature Nurture retreats. This started a wonderful collaboration that has now expanded to TWI offering walking groups in town and workshops at the office to support people in strengthening a healing relationship with nature. Having helped found TWI when I first moved to Charlottesville 11 years ago, it felt fitting to start ecotherapy work with TWI in this new chapter of my career.

How can clients incorporate ecotherapy practices into their healing process?

It can be as simple as women putting pictures of nature up around their desk at work (even looking at pictures of nature has been found to improve productivity and reduce stress). It may mean that women take regular mindful walks, find a special location in nature to visit repeatedly, or help with local stewardship initiatives, such as planting pollinator gardens. On our retreats, we provide women with a list of experiences that are evidence-based approaches to ecotherapy.

Tell us about your vision for the partnership between TWI and Wildrock.

I hope that we will continue to offer Wildrock retreats in the fall and spring, workshops on how to incorporate nature connection into a treatment plan, and regular in-town meet-ups to support ecotherapy practices. I would love to do a research study to explore how practices specifically impact anxiety.

This article is adapted from our Winter/Spring 2019 Newsletter.


Upcoming Ecotherapy Offerings

Connecting with Nature and Ourselves in Winter

Monday, March 11, 5:30-7 pm

Join with other women to use the wintertime quiet to cultivate restoration, creativity and connection. We will use collage, mindfulness, writing, movement and nature elements to cultivate gratitude and self-love and set positive intentions. Facilitated by Shell Stern, MSW.

Registration optional: (434) 872-0047 or

Nature Nurture Retreat
at Wildrock

Saturday, April 13, 9:45 am-4 pm

A day outside to learn how to use nature to deepen your self-care and reduce stress.

Wildrock is a nature park and barn center tucked away in the Blue Ridge foothills 40 minutes from Charlottesville. Transportation to Wildrock will be provided from TWI Main Office, 1101 East High St.

Facilitated by Carolyn Schuyler, LCSW, Shell Stern, MSW, and Hannah Trible

To register: or (434) 872-0047 x114


Yoga offerings help women heal


Yoga at The Women’s Initiative helps women restore a feeling of safety in their bodies.

Increasing research testifies to the healing power of yoga and other mindfulness practices. Bessel Van Der Kolk, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and a leading researcher in traumatic stress, has found that frequent yoga practice over extended periods of time helps decrease symptoms of PTSD and depression in women.

The Women’s Initiative offers new yoga classes each season. Examples include Chair Yoga; Gentle Yoga for Mindfulness; and Yoga for Women of Color in partnership with Common Ground Healing Arts. Click here to see our current yoga and other mind-body offerings.

Yoga and mindfulness practices can help us befriend our bodies and their sensations, release muscular tension instilled not just by everyday stress but by traumatic histories, and use our breath to regulate our nervous systems—all processes that trauma is apt to disrupt.

Mind-body programming at TWI is free and open to all women and all bodies.Though any community yoga or mindfulness class can help one to heal, our trauma-sensitive program is unique in that it puts particular emphasis on cultivating physical and emotional safety. In TWI mind-body classes, all "instructions" are really invitations: a participant is as free to exit a pose or a movement or the room as she is to enter it. And this invitation is itself part of the healing, enabling a sense of physical and emotional agency that the traumatized body may have forgotten.

This article is adapted from our Winter 2018 Newsletter.

We're expanding walk-in clinic hours

Alyson Stewart, MFT, therapist and co-coordinator of the Sister Circle Program.

Alyson Stewart, MFT, therapist and co-coordinator of the Sister Circle Program.

The Women’s Initiative is offering greater access to same-day mental health support with two new free weekly walk-in clinics.

The expansion includes new Friday morning walk-in clinics from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. as well as new evening hours on Mondays from 5 to 7 p.m. During these times, one-on-one sessions with a counselor are offered free of charge.

“Our goal is to ensure that every woman in our community has access to affordable, effective mental health care when she needs it, regardless of ability to pay,” said Executive Director Elizabeth Irvin, LCSW. “Being open for additional free walk-in wellness consults is another important step toward that goal.”

Walk-in clinics at The Women’s Initiative can provide immediate short-term assistance including tools for self-care, emotional support, assessment of needs and goals, referral services, and resource connection.

New healing offerings start this fall

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Find your path to healing this fall through one of our many new and ongoing groups and offerings.

We are pleased to offer a host of free groups including …

Call (434) 872-0047 or email for more information and to register.

Resilience Resources for A12 & Beyond

The anniversary of a traumatic event can be a difficult time. And for many in our community, August 12 and its aftermath are a part of ongoing historical and racial traumas that impact everyday life. Caring for ourselves and our community is so important, and the following strategies compiled by the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition can help us this summer and beyond.

Seek Emotional Safety

  • Notice what things cause you to feel stress and anxiety
  • Reduce media exposure
  • Do things to help cope with stress, such as exercise, journaling, meditation, or prayer

Stay Connected

  • Keep routines with family and friends
  • Stay involved in activities & groups that make you feel good
  • For mental health info & referral, call 434-227-0641 or see

Foster Hope & Work for Change

  • Notice negative thoughts
  • Reflect on personal and community progress
  • Participate in activities that promote equity and safety for all
  • Do something to help others

Support Children

  • Limit media exposure
  • Support children to make a positive difference in their community
  • Answer kids’ questions honestly
  • Discuss concerns with teachers/professionals

The Women's Initiative and other community organizations have many offerings to provide support and care around the anniversary of August 12 as well as the historical and racial traumas that came before and have happened since. On Saturday, August 11, The Women's Initiative is offering a Free Walk-In Wellness Clinic at our Jefferson School City Center Office from 11 am-5 pm. For a comprehensive list of emotional support services throughout the summer, visit the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition.

July is Minority Mental Health Month

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In honor of Minority Mental Health Month, join our Sister Circle Program for special healing and self-care offerings for women of color. Registration is required (except where noted). To register, call (434) 872-0047 x105 or email

  • Stress Reduction Lunch Hours, Friday, July 13 and Friday, July 27, 12-1 p.m., Sentara Starr Hill Health Center at the Jefferson School. Free.
  • Yoga for Women of Color, Sunday, July 15, 2-3:15 pm. Gather and practice yoga in a safe and nurturing setting. Class includes postures accessible to all levels as well as time for exploring ways to use breath and meditation for wellbeing. Women are invited to stay after class to connect with other participants, share yoga resources and build community. Each class is offered on a donation basis; no one will be turned away for inability to pay. No pre-registration is necessary.
  • Spa Retreat, Saturday, July 21, 2-3:30 pm, The Women's Initiative Main Office. Facials and/or pedicures from a Mary Kay consultant. Massages by Common Ground Healing Arts. Free.
  • Sound Bath with Shawna Bass, Monday, July 23, 12:30-2 pm., The Women's Initiative Main Office. Come be bathed in healing sound waves that will help to bring you to a deep meditative state. Sound baths can be one of the most deeply healing and restorative ways to attain a deep state of relaxation. Our body and minds respond positively to the sound vibrations and resonance allowing us to release of stress, healthily lower blood pressure as well as heal at a deep molecular and emotional level. Pay what you can; no one will be turned away for inability to pay. 

Visit our Sister Circle page to learn more.

CranioSacral Therapy at Walk-in Clinic


CranioSacral Therapy with Amina Elizabeth Stevens is offered free during our Wednesday Walk-in Clinics at our main office.

CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle form of bodywork that can help relieve pain and stress. The practitioner uses light touch on the head, along the spine, and on the sacrum to release compression. Many people experience deep relaxation and increased physical ease during and after a CranioSacral Therapy session. At The Women’s Initiative sessions are done laying down on a massage table while fully clothed.

Sessions take place in our downstairs studio, 2-5 pm, Wednesdays.

See the flyer for this free offering.

Learn more about all our free walk-in clinics.

Free CranioSacral Therapy is a partnership between The Women's Initiative and Common Ground Healing Arts.