One Spark changed everything.
That’s how Kathryn Thomas, founder and executive director of Yoga 4 Change, describes what happened this month at the crowdfunding festival.
Her year-old nonprofit that provides yoga classes to people who would not otherwise be able to afford them received more than $32,000 in cash awards and crowdfunding contributions at the conclusion of One Spark.
Yoga 4 Change earned the most prize money and funding in the three-year history of the festival.
“Our idea was validated,” Thomas said.
A former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, Thomas sustained a non-combat injury. She discovered yoga four years ago as an adjunct to her physical therapy prior to her medical discharge.
That led to her inspiration that yoga can change lives.
She founded Yoga 4 Change in March 2014 with the mission to take yoga to people who aren’t traditional yoga students. Thomas and about 15 volunteer instructors teach classes to at-risk youth at public schools, veterans groups and people who are incarcerated.
Thomas said those involved in the effort have seen their lives changed by yoga and they want to share the experience with others. Classes are free, which allows people who otherwise would not be able to learn and practice yoga to do so.
The funds secured at One Spark could eventually lead to Thomas, her small staff and the instructors one day being paid for what they provide, she said.
In addition to more than $30,000 in cash, the exposure had a major impact on the nonprofit.
Thomas said she received after the festival about 50 local requests for classes. She has been contacted by potential Yoga 4 Change operators in Colorado, Connecticut and Hawaii and has added meetings with potential sponsors to her calendar.
“If you told me four years ago that everything happens for a reason, I would not have believed you,” she said. “I used to hunt submarines. Now, I teach yoga.”
Instructors are scheduled at Hemming Park in Downtown each Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Free classes are open to anyone who would like to spend time on the mat.
Vince Cavin, executive director of Friends of Hemming Park, said having Yoga 4 Change on the schedule is helping create a family-friendly environment in the park.
More women than men practice yoga and bringing more women to Hemming is helping change the perception of the public space.
“When you see a lot of women in a park, you have a park that people feel is safe,” Cavin said. “It hits that button that we’re trying to push.”
A new park activity is scheduled to debut May 7. Cavin said “Transcendental Thursday” will combine Yoga 4 Change with Pilates instruction to create a family-focused event each month the day after First Wednesday Art Walk.
“I’m not sure it would have worked seven months ago,” he said.
Thomas set a goal before One Spark to raise $100,000 for her organization.
She is continuing to raise support through the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida’s wegive.org website.