Surrounded by the serenity and healing energy of Blue Iris Farm, with the gentle presence of animals and birds, a remarkable event unfolded in July 2023 – the inaugural Wellness Through Connection Festival. This event was a celebration of unity, rejuvenation, and the power of community, featuring a diverse range of attractions that appealed to people of all ages and backgrounds.
At Blue Iris Farm, nestled in the heart of Lebanon, Connecticut, the festival marked a special occasion that combined the beauty of the natural world with the opportunity for personal growth and well-being. The landscape of the farm provided the perfect backdrop for a day filled with positivity, inspiration, and meaningful connections.
From bounce houses and carnival food to craft activities and captivating music by the Shaded Soul Band, the festival catered to a wide spectrum of interests. However, it went beyond entertainment and indulgence – it was a gathering designed to promote wellness, mental health, and community engagement.
Sydney M. Tabor of SERAC
The festival was all about bringing people in a rural area together after the effects of COVID-19, getting them to leave their homes and see what resources and programs are available, said Sydney M. Tabor, program coordinator for Connect CT Initiative of Southeastern Regional Action Council, Inc. (SERAC).
Working with other nonprofit organizations, SERAC’s framework is threefold: prevention, treatment/recovery and advocacy.
The event was funded through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant.
Community and family support is most crucial when people are going through mental health or substance-abuse issues, Tabor said, to keep them “going in the right direction.”
The goal is to prevent crises from happening, so people don’t even think of substance abuse and escapism, she explained.
Describing the planning stage of the festival as a “divine sort of coming together” of Blue Iris Farm Owner Jamie Collins’ website launch and their joint goal of wanting to put on a big event, Tabor said. “It was almost like a match made in Heaven.”
She encourages others to visit the farm and go in the pens, saying the farm animals are “just out of this world” and “so sweet, they just come to you.”
SERAC is located at 228 West Town St. in Norwich, Connecticut. For resources and information about treatment and recovery, go to seracct.org, or call 860-848-2800.
Cathy Lyons and Yvonne Dent of Reliance Health, Inc.
“Love is a medical necessity,” is one of Reliance Health’s slogans, said Yvonne Dent, Community Support Program Service Coordinator.
People coming from unloved situations can suffer from mental health issues, added Cathy Lyons, a psycho-social rehabilitation counselor.
Reliance Health staff provides services to help people with mental-health and substance-abuse issues live independently in the community.
“Our 30+ programs provide tools and resources for individuals to move forward in their lives. Each program focuses on positive relationships and mental wellness because we believe healthy living starts with your mind,” states the nonprofit organization’s website, reliancehealthinc.org.
“We try to keep people out of the hospital,” Lyons said.
What started as a daytime drop-in center in 1976, has expanded to offer residential programs in Bozrah, Montville, Jewett City, Norwich and Canterbury, Dent said. “We have a lot of opportunities for people to live independently with a little bit of assistance.”
Additionally, Reliance Health offers outreach to the homeless to assist them in finding housing and stability.
“It makes a world of difference for people. People deserve to be able to live and have everything that everyone else is able to have. It's not their fault if they have learning or mental health/substance abuse (challenges). We have recovery programs,” Dent said.
Reliance Health, Inc. is located at 40 Broadway in Norwich, Connecticut. For more information, call 860-887-6536.
Katie Reiners, Clinical Program Manager at Natchaug Hospital
Katie Reiners said she always knew she wanted to help people. Now, she listens to people talk about their day, helps them improve the remaining hours of it and then hears how their day improved the next day.
It feels good when she sees progress and knows she is making a difference, said Reiners, a clinical program manager at Natchaug Hospital's Adult Partial Hospitalization Treatment & Intensive Outpatient Treatment program in Dayville.
“Even those really small changes, that's the best."
She began working with children five years ago at Natchaug Hospital and now completes intakes and runs adult groups.
The hospital offers a variety of inpatient, outpatient, partial hospitalizations and day programs around the state, which vary at each location. Programs focus on behavioral/mental health and substance abuse issues. Town sites include Mansfield, Norwich, Franklin, North Franklin, Willimantic, Dayville, Danielson, Enfield, Vernon, Groton and Old Saybrook.
Individuals are referred to the Natchaug Hospital’s inpatient unit through an emergency room, Reiners said.
"For any of our ambulatory (outpatient) programs, they can just call and make an appointment themselves. They don't have to be referred by anyone."
Natchaug Hospital also offers special-education programs for children.
For more information about Natchaug Hospital’s programs in Connecticut, and many other topics, such as warning signs for suicide/depression and how to talk with someone who may be addicted to drugs or alcohol, go to natchaug.org or call 860-456-1311.
Massage Therapists Lindsay Helfrich and Pam Knapp
“Everybody can benefit from something in the healing realm,” and everyone finds their niche and what “works for them,” whether it's sound healing, Reiki/craniosacral therapy, or just body touch from massage therapy, said Massage Therapist Pam Knapp of Windham, who is also an energy practitioner.
“So when you come together in a community setting and you get introduced to other vendors and other participants, it only helps amplify what the main cause and purpose is.”
Providing people with massage helps them to be “their best selves and live a better life free from as much pain” as possible, said Massage Therapist Lindsay Helfrich of Norwich, who is also a drug and alcohol counselor.
“Touch is so important,” Knapp said, which is why she loves visiting the Windham Senior Center twice monthly. “There is no more gratitude larger than that of someone that lives by themselves and maybe has for a decade or two, and isn't receiving touch. It's just amazing how pain free they leave and how full their hearts are…It's just really beautiful to watch and to witness.”
Both independent contractors work in offices and sometimes visit people’s homes.
Kris and John Marion of Balance Rocks
Healing and connecting is what Balance Rocks is all about, Owners Kris and John Marion said.
The married couple sells crystals and artists’ wares in their Baltic shop on the weekend.
Kris also runs individual-and-group Reiki sessions, as well as sound baths (also called “sound immersion sessions”).
After guiding people into a meditative state, she uses Himalayan bowls, crystal-singing bowls, gongs, chimes or drums to create vibrations toned to individuals’ chakra energy centers.
Because we’re made up of 70 percent water, those sound waves actually realign “a lot of your cells and it brings your brainwaves down to that delta level, which is where you get your really deep breaths. That's where all of your healing happens” in the whole body, said Kris, a certified crystal/sound healer and Reiki Master, who also teaches others how to use crystals to heal themselves.
She explained that when healing vibrations break up blockages, energy starts flowing again – which causes some people to cry, laugh, feel confused or even tired the next day.
“After that, you've actually kind of resolved something that you were carrying with you from some sort of old trauma or whatever.”
Sound healing has also been proven to work very well with people with addictions, because cleared blockages help people to really think within themselves and then make the best decisions, Kris said. “So they're finding it's really allowing people to slow down and center their mind.”
John added, “It gives you the ability to work on that root cause a lot easier than not knowing what it is. You're clearing out some of the garbage to be able to open yourself up and say, ‘What is this all about?’”
Some schools are starting to test sound healing - giving children a choice of having a sound bath or going to detention, Kris said.
Balance Rocks is located at 156 Willimantic Rd. in Baltic, Connecticut. For more information, call 860-373-0476.
Chris Proulx of Lebanon
Visitor Chris Proulx of Lebanon said she enjoyed her free chair massage, adding she could have sat there all day. “It felt good...I knew my shoulders were tense and tight. I've got some added stresses right now, but that's just life.”
Additionally, Kris Marion of Balance Rocks made her realize that she has some “clogging” in her body. Proulx said she can learn a lot through Reiki, including how to relax herself.
She pointed out that there are a lot of behavioral-health services available to people that they don't know about. “Some are free and some go through insurances.”
Tina Rice of Yoga Me Happy CT
Tina Rice of Yoga Me Happy CT is passionate about bringing health and wellness to the community through yoga. “We have so much going on in our lives today that people don't get an opportunity to kind of fill their cup, to take care of themselves, to practice self-love and self-care.”
A practitioner for over two decades, Rice has been teaching yoga for four years. She also does aerobic exercise and is a second-degree, mixed-martial arts black belt.
“Yoga helps us to get in touch with our bodies, and in turn, get in touch with our minds. So the physical body benefits from movement, but our mental or mind benefits from stillness. Yoga is a combination of that movement and that stillness brought together."
Rice teaches at different studios and offers local and out-of-town residents free yoga classes at the Lebanon Green every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. - compliments of the Jonathan Trumbull Library. (During inclement weather, classes are held in the library's community room.)
Bee Lee Gunn and Dan Sheridan, Financial Representatives with Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management
“When you think about some of the stressors in life, if you're financially secure, that's a big load off an individual's back,” said Dan Sheridan, a financial representative of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company in West Hartford, who staffed a booth with Financial Representative Bee Lee Gunn.
Their comprehensive, financial-planning approach integrates life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, wealth management, estate planning, risk management and a retirement-income distribution plan.
Gunn said their goal is to make individual’s wealth and money work in the best ways for them by passing on generational wealth through certain tax strategies. If someone has been injured, the question is “How can we make it so that you continue to receive a paycheck?”
Sheridan said that about 95 percent of financial advisors are investment advisors. “They want to bring your old 401(k)s over, manage those assets. They don't talk to you about anything else. We do comprehensive financial planning. So you have a 60-to-85-page document that has all of your personal-professional goals (and) family planning incorporated into everything.”
The most gratifying aspect of the job is helping clients achieve financial security and peace of mind, he said, adding they know they have to earn clients’ trust.
“I'm 32 years old. I've got a wife and two kids and I help out other families very similar to myself set up their overall finances, said Sheridan, adding much of their work is done on Zoom. They also travel throughout Connecticut and to other states.
“We help people sleep at night,” which he described as “absolutely fantastic.”
For more information, call Daniel Sheridan at 860-986-3887 or Bee Lee Gunn at 413-748-8700, ext. 453.
As the sun set on the Wellness Through Connection Festival at Blue Iris Farm, the echoes of healing, unity, and community continued to reverberate. This event was more than just a gathering – it was a celebration of the interconnectedness of physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Blue Iris Farm will continue to be a sanctuary of love and renewal, where individuals can find solace, make meaningful connections, and embark on a journey of self-discovery. We invite you to join us on this path of wellness at our next event, and together, let's create a brighter, more mindful future.
For more information about upcoming events, please visit our events page on the website. We look forward to welcoming you to Blue Iris Farm, where healing and connection flourish in perfect harmony.