Alum enlists VC women for community development

Many students aspire to work for a non-profit organization and better the world they live in, but few decide to create an organization of their own.

Women’s Power Space was founded by Abby Nathanson ’14 as a place that “fosters innovative, intersectional spaces for people in the City of Poughkeepsie as well as across the United States to pursue collective healing projects with a focus on positive, mindful embodiment through self- and community-care” (mission on website). As the organization has grown, Women’s Power Space has attracted many Vassar students as interns for a variety of reasons.

Mary Talbot ’16 initially became involved with WPS for practical experience and she said, “Women’s Power Space allowed me to get involved and learn on the job, whereas working for a more establish non-profit might require prior learning experience in fundraising.”

Alessandra Seiter ’16 became interested because of her history of healing from trauma through yoga and she commented, “I’ve experienced firsthand how powerful yoga can be for healing, whether in individual or communal capacities (or both!)” In addition to her interest in yoga, she added, “Abby and I had lived together in Ferry a couple of years ago, so she knew of my background with yoga and my interest in community organizing, and reached out to me to help start the organization.”

In regards to the Vassar bubble that we all know too well, Abigail Hiller ’17 said, “WPS has given me opportunities to get off campus, and get involved.” Contrastingly, Juliana Struve ’15 wanted to focus the global outlook of her Women’s Studies classes at Vassar and continued, “I was particularly interested in seeing how these ideas could be implemented on a local level, specifically in the city of Poughkeepsie.”

Whereas many Vassar students spend four years in Poughkeepsie, Abby returned to give back to the community. Seiter continued to say, “Most grads (and current students) just rest complicit in Vassar’s less-than-awesome relations with Poughkeepsie residents for their four years without thinking about the people who live just beyond Vassar’s walls.” Women’s Power Space is in no way sanctimonious, however, as “folks in the community have been asking for something like this for a while now, and we’ve found tons of community support in various Poughkeepsie nonprofits, local businesses, etc,” Seiter added.

While Abby acts legally as the organization’s director, “In meetings, we endeavor to interact as equals,” Hiller clarified. She went on to say, “I feel as if Abby and the WPS interns are more able to imagine where I am coming from than would be a different, non-Vassar group of people.” Talbot agreed and added, “Abby understands first hand the ups and downs of Vassar student life, and respects our time and energy as students.”

The interns take on a wide range of tasks during their time at Women’s Power Space. Sara Goldberg ’18 described, “I mostly work on editing and adding content to the website. I am not sure what I want to do post-grad. I’ve thought about working at a non-profit, but I never really knew what that would look like before. Since Women’s Power Space is still such a new organization, it’s interesting to see the logistics of how a non-profit grows and develops.”

This semester, Struve has taken on the role of launching the Youth Advisory Council at WPS. The YC, she said, “will consist of a group of about twelve local high school students from Poughkeepsie who will serve for one year while working on individual community engagement projects of their own design.” Webber is a research intern, which means she has “been compiling a resource base of projects, organizations, activists, yoga studios, and articles that apply trauma-sensitive, anti-racist, pro-feminist, pro-LGBTQ, and body-positive practices.” In addition to being a research intern, Webber is an apprentice-teaching artist for WPS, which she said means, “I am learning how to be a yoga teacher. Through the WPS apprentice program, I am able to learn how to teach community yoga and gain experience doing so.”

For many of the interns, working at WPS has contributed to their work in the classroom at Vassar and vice versa. Seiter, whose studies focus on structural oppressions and ideologies/institutions of violence, said, “I suppose it’s given me a lens through which to understand what’s happening in Poughkeepsie and why community healing is so important.” Hiller, who is a Women’s Studies correlate, added, “I have certainly been able to draw connections between my work with WPS and my coursework at Vassar. What I love so much about working with WPS is that I get the chance to put the many academic papers I read for class into action.”

Abby Nathanson returned to Poughkeepsie in October “after a summer of working at an experiential learning program for high school students, coordinating a trip of Hudson Valley high school students from the Youth Arts Group to Seattle, and going to yoga school to become a teacher,” she described. While she has poured a lot of her energy into WPS, she added, “I certainly never said ‘I’m going to start my own non-profit,’ and I certainly don’t see it in any way as ‘my own’.”

WPS is still a very new organization, but Abby continued, “It’s rooted in an existing women’s group organized by Ruth Faircloth called Daughters of Sarah, that has been doing true grassroots women’s organizing in the Hudson Valley for longer than I’ve been alive.” In terms of handling an organization that is a work in progress, Abby said, “The trick is to be humble, self-reflective, inquisitive, and always very, very honest as we move forward in all kinds of flawed but exciting and important ways.”

Abby predicts that WPS will take on many different forms in the future. As a white woman from outside of Poughkeepsie, she said, “This initiative is intended to be for and by women of color and for and by people from the City of Poughkeepsie, and neither of those are true of me.”

In addition to coordinating other programs, WPS hosts yoga and pizza parties every Saturday at noon at My Place Pizza on Main Street and Abby commented, “It’s political to show that we believe that we can nourish our bodies with yoga and also nourish them with pizza, and both of those are real and valid and awesome.”

Women’s Power Space is currently looking for interns for next year. Hiller emphasized, “This org is a great way to get out into the city of Poughkeepsie, meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to know, and get great experience working for a new nonprofit. Since we are so small and so busy, there are plenty of opportunities for interns to take the initiative on projects, in fact this is encouraged.”

2 Comments

  1. The article mentions a parent group called Daughters of Sarah, citing it as a “group that does grass roots organizing.” A cursory examination of websites associated with Daughters of Sarah would suggest that this group is a fundamentalist, evangelical group which seeks to proseletyze among “Repentant Israelite Women” and conducts workshops to teach wives to be more “respectful” to their husbands! Do your research, Miscellany News reporters!

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