Meet the Committee

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 Parentis 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 has been practicing yoga for over a decade and teaching since 2012.  Her company, Yoga Connection LLC, specializes in private and corporate classes in New York City.  Always a student first, Renee has pursued additional studies in Prenatal/Postnatal Yoga, Functional Anatomy & Kinesiology, Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga, and Private Yoga.  She serves as a guest teacher in several 200-hour teacher training programs, and regularly hosts workshops and supplemental trainings for teachers and students who wish to deepen their practice.

After 12/14, Renee sought out a way to bring the healing energy of yoga to the Newtown community.  Diving heart first into creating the festival was an easy decision.  her primary role is volunteer recruitment and coordination, and her intention for the festival is to hold a space for collective healing, love and hope.

Amie Meleshkewich, E-RYT 200 & CPT

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.

Robyn Mortiboys

Robyn tried yoga for the first time at a local YMCA, looking for a good workout. Over the next months, she was amazed at the transformation in her posture, strength, and flexibility. And curiously, an improvement in her air consumption rate when SCUBA diving.

In 2015, Robyn trained at YogaWorks in SoHo under Heather Seagraves and received her 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher certification.  That same year, she founded her own yoga company, Yoga in Waves, with the mission to introduce yoga and its benefits to groups of people who might be intimidated or skeptical, like the diving community and the restaurant industry.

Since then she has found that she has been able to introduce yoga to many people, who don’t fit the mold of a stereotypical yogi who now enjoy the benefits in ways that people didn’t anticipate, with fun and accessible sequences that are adaptable to most body types, fitness levels, and ages. Robyn’s classes are constantly evolving to ensure her students are challenged safely, emphasizing anatomy and alignment.

Robyn received a BA in Theatre Arts from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2006. She plays ukulele, is married to a SCUBA Instructor, and is owned by two cats.

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 mindfulness 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 2 young children.

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

Karen  has continued to deepen her practice over 4 decades and is considered a Master Yoga Teacher/Trainer. She holds many certifications including her 500 e-RYT through Yoga Alliance as well as is a Registered Yoga Teacher School & Continuing Education Provider, is a certified Yoga Ed instructor, a certified Professional Yoga Therapist, and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

Karen is also a Medicine Woman, Shamanic Energy Healer, 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).  But her proudest accomplishment, her 2 kids – Danielle and Timothy.

For more information about Karen, visit

Sharon Poarch

Sharon’s 19 years of experience as a physical therapist and group fitness instructor allows her to create safe and fun yoga classes for adults and children of all ages and physical abilities. Her yoga training includes a 200hr certification with Stretch What Matters, an aerial yoga certification, and she is a registered Yoga Alliance teacher. She loves to see how yoga allows people to become more aware of their mind/body connections, improve balance, strength, coordination, body awareness, and manage stress. Her physical therapy training/background allows her to modify classes to various levels and to meet her students where they are. In her adult classes she typically teaches a mixed level Vinyasa style. In her children’s classes her playful, enthusiastic, inner child always guides the way!


Michael Anderson

“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

Aurélia, previously known as Jennifer Zulli, is an internationally known new age recording artist, award winning composer, singer, sound/energy healer, reiki master and teacher. She is a visionary in the field of sound and its effects on consciousness. She is the Founder and Director of SOUND (Center for Arts and Mindfulness) in a sacred historic 1840s chapel. The space and center is dedicated to offering education, support, and community for individual and collective growth, creative expression and conscious evolution.  Visit

“Magical, Mysterious, Romantic and Haunting, Jennifer Zulli’s music reflects the depth of her soul’s profound journey through this precious lifetime and her graceful skill,” Paul Avgerinos (Grammy award winning Composer, Artist and Producer).

“If there was a heaven that is where she took me,” Newtown Yoga Festival Participant

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 12/14/12.

Jennifer Smith

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.

Kathleen Snyder

Kathleen is a landscape architect, avid conversationalist and designer.  She is a registered landscape architect in the Tri-State area specializing in urban and playground design.  Kathleen believes play is an integral part of the way our children learn, develop and flourish and has a direct connection to our health, sleep and happiness as adults.  As we transition into adulthood, we often lose our sense of play.  Play is anything we do voluntarily that is pleasurable, gives us a sense of engagement, and provides us a mental break.  Kathleen practices Yoga as way to incorporate play into her weekly routine and believes it’s accessibility to all ages makes it the perfect lifelong tool.

After attending the Newtown Yoga Festival, Kathleen immediately knew she wanted to be part of the event.  With a talented and passionate committee already in place, Kathleen shares her design and organization skills to attend to details of the festival.  The Newtown Yoga Festival is a day of yoga, mindfulness, and music that align with her core beliefs by encouraging a sense of play and community engagement.

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. She also worked at The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA as the Natural Science Program Manager, as a grant writer, and as a research scientist. She is a scientist by training (marine biology, cell biology, and toxicology), but decided to raise her kids full time after they moved to CT in 1998. A couple of years ago she 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. They use natural and organic ingredients to create products without toxic or harsh chemicals, and they infuse organic oils with wildcrafted and homegrown organic herbs and flowers to create luxurious, nourishing, and healing products that your skin will love!

Johnny Vacca

Johnny is a 63 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.

Rebecca Archer

Rebecca is a teacher of Yoga, Meditation, Mindfulness, Thai Yoga, and Health Education. She has completed the Level 1 & 2 Teacher Trainings with the Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga Institute, the Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training through the Prenatal Yoga Center, the Thai Yoga Level 1 & 2 Training from the Thai Institute of Healing Arts and she has completed both the Mindfulness Fundamentals & Mindfulness Educator Essentials courses through Mindful Schools. She also enjoys teaching Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga during the summer on Candlewood Lake. Rebecca holds a Masters Degree in Public Health (MPH) from New York Medical College with a concentration in Behavioral Science and Health Promotion. Yoga has been a transformational force in her life and she feels passionately about passing on all that yoga has to offer. In both her personal and professional life, Rebecca strives for and encourages others to make healthy choices that improve overall quality of life. “Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What is a sundial in the shade?” ~Benjamin Franklin