Sometimes it’s a whole synchronicity of events that inspires great things.

When we set out in 2010 to begin a holistic center, we certainly envisioned something with growing food.  It just seemed difficult in our Norwood location.

Until Melissa McNeill — one of our inspiring Yoga/Healing Touch Interns in 2013-2014 — shared that she and some of her Walnut Hills neighbors took an empty lot and turned it into a garden…Produce for the People.  One of Melissa’s neighbors was Gary Dangel.

And Aprilann Pandora — graduate of our first Yoga/Healing Touch Internship in 2011-2012 — shared that she was leaving her job as a fitness educator to become a farmer.

And Mike Eck from VITALITY’s original circle of founders was just leaving behind his tech-sales job to get more local and healthy food growing in and around Cincinnati.  He and Denise hosted a series of Rooted in Food conversations to connect the growing but kind of disorganized — at the time — local food movement.  Gleaning grew out of those conversations, not to mention a whole bunch of farmers and buyers and distributors getting connected and in more rooted relationship with one another.

And then Penny from our Inner Journey circle shared with her friend Betty Waite about VITALITY.  And Betty and Gary Dangel and Jeff Brewster (our current landlord!) were working on a grant for their neighborhood around healthy eating and living.

And like a whirlwind, Interact for Health funded a grant that paid Walnut Hills and VITALITY to begin a yoga training in Walnut Hills — in the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation headquarters where Betty worked as the CFO.  The floor was plywood, clearly a space they were renovating…a space that became La Soupe’s current headquarters, where so much of the gleaned produce would one day go.

And Betty joined the yoga training – you can read her amazing story about it in VITALITY’s first book.

And Gary organized our Yoga/Healing Touch Interns to volunteer in the multiplying Walnut Hills gardens, sometimes before they went to their day-jobs, sometimes in the afternoons or evenings, sometimes on weekends.  Some of our interns helped lay the pavers at Green Man Park where we offered many tai chi and yoga classes over the years.

And since 2015, thousands of hours of our VITALITY interns/volunteers have been offered in Walnut Hills’ and nearby gardens.

And Gary and Betty introduced me to Sue Plummer who was caretaker for the Julie Hanser Pantry-Garden, where some of our Yoga/Healing Touch Interns volunteered.  And a few years later, Mike Eck would get two grants to pay Sue Plummer to expand gleaning in Southwest Ohio…and now that position is a full-time position paid by the national gleaning network, the Society of St. Andrew.  And Sue recently hired VITALITY yoga-grad Fran to be her assistant as they so brilliantly organize volunteers to glean local farms and donate thousands upon thousands of pounds of local produce every year to La Soupe and food pantries and soup kitchens.  All that farm-fresh, healthy produce that farmers couldn’t get to or use that season used to just rot in the fields, but now it feeds hungry neighbors.

And that Hanser Garden became VITALITY’s Glean & Share Garden for two years during the pandemic before it would be transferred to Church of the Advent as a pantry garden again.  VITALITY co-founder Mary Duennes was longtime parish nurse at Advent, and Sue Plummer now has her gleaning office there too.

And with that 2015 grant we received, Jeff Brewster opened the Dillard Center (VITALITY’s current home) to Health & Wellness Wednesdays where VITALITY Yoga/Healing Touch Interns offered free/donation yoga classes and Healing Touch sessions.  Our Future Life Now friends Cynthia Allen and Larry Wells moved their office into the Dillard Center about five years ago, and VITALITY moved in with them about two years ago before we all moved down a floor to our new space that we celebrate at this Saturday’s Open House.



It’s a wild synchronicity of events and relationships and paths crossed, and so much goodness discovered through it all.  And we did it all with less than $100,000 a year — a couple of grants (thank you, small-and-vital family foundations!) but mostly gifts from friends like you who donate so generously at our programs and fundraisers.

People marvel that we have been able to accomplish all of this — at the same time that most of the larger foundations refuse to fund us because we are so “small.”  We pride ourselves on being the small circle that does big things.  Quite honestly, I question how these big foundations can pay many staff members more than our entire annual budget, and in some notable local foundations they pay their officers three or four times our total annual budget.  We all need to eat — and we all need to eat….

The world needs fresh produce, especially urban areas like this lithograph above that once hung in Leo Klein, SJ’s Xavier office.  Leo was an avid funder of VITALITY before he died. You can take home this lithograph this Saturday for a donation to VITALITY.  Please do!

And please join us.  It’s going to be a busy day in Walnut Hills Saturday during our 2 – 4pm Open House.  More on that tomorrow, and some parking tips.

We’re grateful to be located in such a vital neighborhood of Cincinnati — in fact, Cincinnati’s very first neighborhood!  Walnut Hills!

Brian Shircliff