Meet the Committee

Michael Anderson (Co-Founder)

“The Newtown Yoga festival was a way for me to do more for the community with something I did have access to – designing and marketing. It would be a different kind of event to which everyone had access – you could walk in the door for free if you couldn’t find the cash to donate, you could put a grand in the bucket, and walk away, hopefully, in a positive way. For me, yoga has been a way to improve my health, manage my stress, and it just makes you feel good – something that you’d want everyone in the community to experience.  What better way is there to share that than to put on an event?”

Michael Anderson has been practicing of yoga for 10 years.  He is trained in many different styles but the ones that resonate with him are Vinyasa Krama and Kripalu yoga.  He currently lives in Bethel, CT, working as an Art Director.


Jen Aurelia (Co-Founder)

JenniferAurelia is the founder and director of SOUND. She is a new age artist & composer, Reiki Master & sound/resonance healer, teacher and an explorer of sound and it’s effects on conscious evolution. After going through her own life crisis and awakening,  Jennifer had a vision to create a space that would be a blend of music and arts with their innate spirituality and mindful living. A holistic arts center where people can express themselves, connect and ignite their spirit through the arts, as well as quiet their mind through meditation and personal growth classes.

Her previous releases “Earth Lullaby” and “Opening” are being played worldwide on satellite and public radio and featured on such programs as Echos and Hearts of Space. She is also the creator of “The Sonic Journey Experiment” a multi-sensory and interactive sound healing concert for meditation. Her new album “Goddess Rising” was released in the spring of 2014.  Jen was recently nominated by ZMR Awards for best vocal album.

Jennifer holds her B.A. and M.A. in Music Education. She studied voice and piano at Manhattanville College and The Juilliard School. She has extensive Dalcroze Eurythmics training and studied Sound Healing with Jonathan Goldman. She is also a Usui Reiki Master, and Quantum Touch practioner. Jennifer was a choir director and general music teacher in the NY public school system for 15 years before starting SOUND.

Along with composing and teaching piano and voice at SOUND, Jennifer’s greatest joys come from spending time with her two children Grace & Myles, walking her dog Amicus, being with the trees and snuggling with her babies.

For more information about Jennifer and her music visit www.aureliaslight.com


Suzy DeYoung (Co-Founder)

Suzy Deyoung worked as a case manager with the Newtown Recovery and Resiliency Team to support the community after the 12/14 shootings.  Additionally, Suzy is a regular blogging contributor to Huffington Post . Suzy’s website, Trauma Informed Parent is a valuable resource of insight and information for parents of children struggling with the effects of trauma or adverse life experiences.

Prior to working with parents, Suzy worked as a producer and copywriter for a number of television programs including,  Live With Regis & Kathie LeeGood Morning America,The CBS Morning Program and Ryan’s Hope.

Suzy left television production after the birth of her first child and returned to school, receiving a Masters of Education in Parent and Child Development from Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

Suzy was born and raised in New York City where she lived until moving to Newtown CT. in 2003. She is a mother of three children.


Renee Kennedy

Renee was born and raised in the heart of Newtown, CT. She earned her 200-hour certification in 2012, and has been fortunate to further her education by studying prenatal, yin, restorative, and private yoga. Renee was devastated to hear about the events at Sandy Hook Elementary and immediately sought out a way to bring the healing energy of yoga to the community.

After meeting co-founder Jennifer Smith and the rest of the team, diving heart first into creating the festival was an easy decision. Renee’s primary role is volunteer recruitment and coordination, and her intention for the festival is to hold a space for collective healing, love, and hope.

Renee currently lives in New York City and teaches group, private and corporate yoga. For more information, please visit reneekennedyyoga.com.


Amie Meleshkewich

Amie began practicing yoga about twelve years ago.  After her very first yoga class she experienced an immediate sense of relief and realized that yoga was the answer to a more peaceful, balanced life. In February 2010 she received her 200-hour yoga teacher certification from Lotus Gardens, LLC and became registered with Yoga Alliance. In July 2012 she became a Certified Personal Trainer and Pilates mat instructor as well.  In January of 2011 she formed her own company; Flow To Fit Yoga, LLC.

Amie specializes in helping those recovering from an injury, surgery or dealing with chronic pain.  She gradually increases the intensity of each workout to build strength slowly and mindfully preventing re-injury and setbacks.

In addition to being a dedicated yogi, she enjoys running, hiking and training in Krav Maga. She has completed a Tough Mudder, Spartan Beast and many other trail runs and road races.

Amie believes in treating the whole person; body, mind & spirit and that consistency and support are the two most important factors in achieving and maintaining health and happiness.


Karen Pierce (Co-Founder)

Karen grew up in a home where both parents were actively involved in humanitarian service in their community while raising 3 children and working multiple jobs. Following the example they set, she continued that legacy donating countless hours to volunteering while juggling work and family. When her mom became gravely ill in her mid-40’s, Karen taught her meditation and relaxation techniques for pain relief. After she died, to heal her own grief, she worked as a Hospice Volunteer for the next 10 years in honor and appreciation of her care-giving team…role modeling these same values to her two young children.

Volunteering for Newtown Yoga Festival was easy.  She wanted to help the community she’s lived in since 1971 by sharing her 30 years of yoga movement and mindfulness practices as well as her gift for organizing and project management.

Karen was introduced to meditation and yoga as a teen and has continued to deepen her practice over nearly 3 decades. She holds many certifications including her 500 e-RYT through Yoga Alliance, is a certified Yoga Ed instructor, a Professional Yoga Therapist, and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

Karen is also a Energy Worker, Space Clearer, and Professional Organizer as well as the author of Yoga Bear: Yoga for Youngsters – a children’s book published by Northword Press (2004) and Co-Contributor to Yoga in America (2009).  And her proudest accomplishment, her 2 college kids – Danielle and Timothy.

For more information about Karen, visit www.innerspacesbykaren.com


Jennifer Smith (Co-Founder)

Jenni was first introduced to guided meditation at 4 years old to cope with debilitating migraines. She discovered yoga asana in her late teens, and ultimately credits the peace of mind she found through mediation in motion for granting her the solace she needed to stick around for the next chapter.   At 18 years old, after practicing yoga in Tulum, Mexico with trailblazing yogi Deborah Khoen, Jenni enrolled in teacher training at Finding Inner Peace, a Registered Yoga School with the NYA and became a RYT in 2003..

It was while teaching yoga to the devastated community in Newtown two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that Jenni first realized what needed to be done to begin to invert the devastation.  Jenni’s passion is fueled by her belief that yoga can and should be accessible to all.  Newtown Yoga Festival is an example of this.  Eventually NYF hopes to raise a profit in order to pay for teachers to provide regular classes, and to fund additional workshops and yoga days throughout the year.

Aside from devoting herself wholeheartedly to raising her children after a divorce, Jenni’s purpose is to start up donation only events and programs which provide yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and holistic education to everyone. She believes this is the way for the heart of yoga to shine through and light the way for a peaceful, loving world. Her motivation is fueled by the gratitude she feels for being blessed with her three bright, loving young daughters, and her promise to honor those affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.


 


Johnny Vacca

Johnny is a 62 year old retired Poughkeepsie, NY native.  John is a two time cancer survivor and became a left below the knee amputee during his first battle with cancer.  He’s an advocate for individuals with disabilities to live independent lives and to promote integration into society as board president for the ILC Taconic Resources for Independence as well as a certified peer visitor for the Amputee Coalition.  John practiced yoga prior to his amputation, found it challenging to practice post-amputation, but eventually found yoga instructors comfortable enough to allow him to take his prosthetic leg off during class.  He’s a firm believer that yoga is for everyone and loves the mission of Newtown Yoga Festival, which he attended for the first time in 2015.  John brings with him his talents in technology and entertainment.  He has experience with fundraising and marketing and felt he had something to bring to the event and is passionate about supporting it.


HONORARY MEMBERS

Leda O’Callaghan

Originally from New York, Leda moved with her husband to Newtown, CT 14 years ago after receiving a position as the Director of Administration & Finance at Gathering of the Vibes a music and camping festival.

In later years, after surviving stage 3 lung cancer, as part of a gift to herself, she began taking introduction to yoga classes at Yoga Dimensions, in Newtown.  Yoga was a practice that she had been eager to take on for many years, but did not make the time to do so.  After cancer, priorities shifted and wellness surpassed “work” to the top of the list.

She became involved with the Newtown Yoga Festival as a way to heal and be connected to her community after the tragic events of 12/14/2012.


Barbara Toomey

Barbara has volunteered for a variety of organizations in Newtown (Earth Day Committee, Sustainable Energy Commission, REACH Newtown, The Nature Conservancy) and other communities for the past 20 years. I have also worked at The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA as the Natural Science Program Manager, as a grant writer, and as a research scientist. I am a scientist by training (marine biology, cell biology, and toxicology), but decided to raise my kids full time after we moved to CT in 1998. A couple of years ago I started Moongate Farm with a friend to bring all natural herbal skin care to Newtown.

Moongate Farm, LLC is a small women-owned business that sells handmade herbal skin care products, organic teas, and clothing and bags made out of recycled fabrics. We use natural and organic ingredients to create products without toxic or harsh chemicals, and we infuse organic oils with wildcrafted and homegrown organic herbs and flowers to create luxurious, nourishing, and healing products that your skin will love!