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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Valley Spirit Cooperative : Wellness Center Meets Art Salon in Washington Depot

Nov 01, 2016 11:52PM ● By Nicole Miale

Kristin Kunhardt, Jampa Stewart, Lee Kancher

When Kristin Kunhardt returned to her Connecticut hometown of Washington Depot, from Pennsylvania two years ago to live near her father Hank, she didn’t know then it was the first step in a journey that would send her hometown roots even deeper. As she and her two business partners prepare for the grand opening on November 4 and 5 of Valley Spirit Cooperative and Wellness Center, she is excited to give back to the town and area that she loves.

“The small New England towns in this area are so special and unique,” she says. “It’s really important to us to serve the community here.”

Valley Spirit Cooperative is a healing arts center and studio space featuring three distinct businesses with a common goal: to contribute to the surrounding community with services and products that support personal and communal healing and positive transformation. The expansive collective began as a simple search for office space. Kunhardt and business partner Lee Kancher wanted to operate their separate businesses out of centrally located shared space so they might co-create their various artistic enterprises. It then expanded to a larger vision that includes the wellness offerings of Jampa Stewart and Healing Tao Institute. Stewart holds a master of science in Oriental medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has been practicing Chinese medicine for 22 years. While Kancher and Stewart admit to some initial misgivings about the ambitious nature of the plan, Kunhardt—the trio’s “vision keeper”—immediately recognized the potential.

“I was able to see in my mind’s eye this beautiful meditation and movement center for Jampa,” she says. “When the space became available, it was too right. It was in the heart of my hometown, a town I wanted to give back to in service. We had to go for it.”

The cooperative’s space is separated into two areas. Studio A is a studio where Stewart and select area practitioners will teach various movement classes as well as offer meditation and other human potential and healing workshops. There are three private treatment rooms where clients may come for acupuncture, massage, Reiki and other healing modalities. Studio Z will house Kunhardt’s Indigo Sky design and retail space, including a gallery to showcase her photography and the creative work of other local artists and artisans. All the art in the gallery and in the wellness center will be available for sale and exhibits will rotate on a monthly basis. Sharing Studio Z is Kancher’s Right Brain Group, offering graphic arts and web design for small business, practitioners, and those seeking a more holistic approach to their business marketing needs.

“One of the things that links us all together is the arts,” Stewart explains. “We all have artistic backgrounds. At the cooperative we offer healing arts, movement arts, visual arts, graphic arts. The synergy of the collective energies feels like streams coming together to form a rushing river.”

The wellness center will feature a staff of independent local practitioners who have decades of training and experience behind them. “The people coming to work with us have a wide variety of services to offer the clients,” Kunhardt explains. “They are amazing local practitioners who we have met organically, at farmers markets, events, in town. We are establishing a platform and place for people to come and experience the healing power and potential of their own bodies.”

This includes people of all ages, from children to seniors. In fact, the cooperative plans to particularly cater to those over the age of 50, intending to support their efforts to age with grace and wisdom. This passion informs the cooperative’s slogan, which is “Spark Your Spirit.” The role of the spirit is a critically important and often poorly understood notion, Stewart says, having clear impact on the eventual well-being of any individual, family or business.

“If the spirit is strong, even if the disease is serious, the prognosis is good,” he explains. “If the spirit is weak, even if the disease is mild, the prognosis is poor.”

Kunhardt extends that message to the wider area: “When you take care of yourself, your spirit is strong. That then has a positive impact on the health of your family and extends to the larger community.”

The cooperative creates a destination venue that offers something for everyone, Kunhardt explains. In the process, the businesses involved in the cooperative will support each other as well as bring energy and vitality to other merchants and businesses in Washington Depot. That includes marketing support for local businesses through Kancher’s Right Brain Group. He started his career in the healing arts, training in shiatsu and acupressure at the Meridian Wellness Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania. He later decided to pursue a career in art and design and discovered his passion: graphic arts meets healing arts. By combining his skills in graphic art, computer technology and bodywork, Kancher integrates research, organization and sound business planning with quality computer programming and cutting edge design aesthetics.

In addition to the regular offerings and services, Valley Spirit will host retreats, seminars, music and performing art offerings and pop-up galleries. Kunhardt is in talks with area businesses about beginning a First Friday movement in the new year to bring more people to town and invite them to stay longer in the evenings.

Valley Spirit Cooperative’s grand opening takes place on November 4 from 5-9pm and November 5 from 10am-4pm. After a break, evening activities will resume at 7pm. Events will include blessing ceremonies from various indigenous and ancient traditions; tai chi and qi gong demonstrations; meditation experiences; the opening of the art gallery featuring Kunhardt’s photography and the paintings and prints of local artist Nancy Lasar; opportunities to talk to practitioners about their various healing modalities; music; refreshments; and more.

For more information, visit, email [email protected] or call 860-619-2788. Location: 6 Green Hill Rd, Washington Depot. See ad, back cover.

Nicole Miale is publisher and executive editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County.

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